The trouble with satire
In 1965, give or take a year—at a time in our country’s history, children, when the cafeteria food served at colleges and universities was actually prepared and served by employees of the institution, if you can believe that—I was an undergraduate at Cornell. The Cornell Daily Sun was full of articles about some sort of financial shortfall at the university and the inevitability of a tuition increase or a cut in services. I wrote a letter to the editor containing a modest proposal to the effect that, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, the university should have McDonald's take over the food service in exchange for a fat fee.
This was understood, by the paper’s editors and readers, as satire. One of the editors, in fact, wrote a letter in response, taking on the persona of and signing the letter as an elderly alumnus (class of aught-eight, if I recall correctly), outraged at the very thought of sullying the pristine reputation yada yada yada. All in good fun. Now, of course, it is routine for corporate food service operations and name-brand franchises to set up shop on college and even high school campuses and exploit the semi-captive students to the benefit of the stockholders. Hooray for capitalism.
What reminded me of this long-ago incident was an article I just read in today’s New York Times. Couples are now, and have been for a few years, selling advertising and promotional opportunities involving their weddings, in order to defray the cost of an obscenely expensive shindig. Perhaps you are a hip and in-the-know person to whom this is not news. But to me it sounds like something that must have originated as a social satire in Mad or The Onion, only to have a pair of young MBAs happen upon the article and muse “Hmmm, this could work.”
So let this be a lesson to you: Don’t suggest in satirical jest a concept that you do not want to see transpire in real life. Because if you write it, apparently, some idiot will go out and do it.
Now, for bonus points, how many satirical books can you name, the premises of which have been implemented by real-life businesspeople or politicians? I’ll start: Wag the Dog.