Sunday, June 11, 2006

The trouble with satire

The trouble with is not that it The trouble with satire is that some MBA lacking a humor gene (as most of the MBAs I know do) won’t get the joke and will turn the preposterous proposition into a business plan.

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 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 .

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 or , 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:


Anonymous said...

So You're the one responsible for outsourcing; my long search is over. Are you also the one who developed this into what Tony Blair [all hail to the great leader - the bigger the hailstones the better] calls PFI?

My understanding is PFI means 'pay for it'. Roughly a private concern finds the capital to build one of our National Health Service hospitals, and then has the right to charge as much as it likes for as long as it likes -- and also has all the service concessions, including food and cleaning.

[By the way I am told PFI is not to be confused with the previous government's PPP; but I'm afraid i do confuse them. Aren't I a naughty boy?]


Dick Margulis said...

Heck no! I don't take responsibility for any of that. I hardly think my single letter to a college paper led to the malling of the campus. My point is only that satire—when more broadly published—can come back to haunt the satirist.

I'm afraid you'll have to look elsewhere for the miscreant who unintentionally gave some PHB the idea for outsourcing.