Not satire

2008-03-05 00:00

The future will probably judge the mock-initiation video made by students at the University of the Free State (UFS) as no more than a “video-nasty”, a crude prank that misfired badly in today’s hypersensitive political climate. If so, the current national furore — while it may serve as a warning to similarly inclined students — may be seen as going rather over the top, awarding insensitive people stuck in a racist time warp publicity they don’t deserve. It would help if they were to own up, apologise and admit they were stupid and offensive, but it seems that’s not to happen. Instead they’re claiming the video to have been a satire on a controversial topic — the UFS diversity policy for campus residences.

Which makes it worse somehow, for, just as the students lack awareness of human sensibilities, so, too, do they apparently have no understanding of the meaning of “satire”, a refined and sophisticated art form which, from antiquity, has been used to offer sharp comment on the human condition. Satire is a rapier, not a bludgeon, and satirists are alert, intelligent people with a gift for seeing through lies and window dressing to the corrupt heart of things. Satire never attacks the weak and the vulnerable: its purpose is to prick the bubble of those who abuse wealth and power for their own ends.

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