The Medusa Effect

The troubling thing about satire is that even when it’s legitimately socially conscious and critical, it runs the risk of what I’m terming “The Medusa Effect.” That is, whatever it turns its gaze upon turns to stone and solidifies its position as a mental model people have. This was the reason Dave Chappelle left his show a few years ago. He realized that people were laughing but not thinking about the absurd social injustice he was exposing. He likely recognized that (a) he was possibly complicit in perpetuating stereotypes by exploiting them for laughs and financial gain, or (b) he was making his audience more racially biased by the sheer repetition of exposure to the things he was trying to skewer. He held up ridiculous stereotypes for what they were: ridiculous. But by keeping those images and associations present in his viewers’ minds, he did nothing to challenge the persistence of these biases. Which also then begs the question: well, how do we get past such things? Can’t humor be an effective weapon? Or is it invariably in service of hegemony?

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