Vol. 2, Issue 28, July 20, 2004
Education for the Otiose
The Specious Report

A Modest Proposal in an Immodest World

Ezekiel F. Watley, Esq.

Nigh unto three hundred years ago, in 1729, that peerless satirist who brought us the inimitable and enduring Travels of Gulliver, Mister Swift, put forth a small essay entitled "A Modest Proposal" which he intended as the written Equivalent of tossing a Match into a ship's Powder-keg. With matchless deadpan wit, this author proposed the outrageous and - surely unbelievable! - measure of roasting and Fricaseeing Ireland's surplus population of poor children for the tables of the Rich.

Swift discovered, alas, that there is such a thing as Too fine a stroke, for the tract did not shock or outrage contemporary readers as he must have intended. Its economics were taken as a great joke, its more incisive critiques ignored - the horrors and Injustices that plagued the seething politics of the day created such a Background Noise that many readers merely Shrugged off this carefully aimed Assault on their Sensibilities.

Then, as Now, the main rhetorical challenge in crafting Satire is capturing the attention of an audience whose Indifference has been well tested. What capacity have we to Shock with spurious and wholly fabricated Blame and Aspersions when reality does the job so much Better? Rumor may race round the world while Fact is putting on its Shoes, so to speak, but Fact often gives Rumor a good hard Push before he gets started.

I say this as I sit at my desk, finishing my second Pipe of the morning and perusing the Dailies, which end up in a crumpled pile on the floor. Many of the headlines seem not unlike those of our estimable peers, by Jove, and it often takes several Drams to get through them all. Moreover, most of the Pictures are heartily Improved with a splash or two of Elisabeth's excellent Coffee, though it is a pity to waste it in this manner.

But though we have been accused of Muddying the already murky Waters of the news, I am firmly convinced that said waters are not Harmed, and indeed are somewhat Improved, for the addition of a little shot of Scotch. At the very least, they are made more Tolerable; for the mind is given Hope that perhaps, one or two of the more Ludicrous headlines shall be of Dubious provenance and hence one may Retain a healthy sense of Skepticism when reading Any of them.

The good Mister Swift once alleged that "satire is a sort of Glass, wherein beholders do generally discover Everybody's face but their Own." As long as they discover Something, I suppose, we must be Content.


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