Timberlake: Ethics of satire: ‘Humor’ article on rape goes too far in search of laughs


Wikimedia Commons

The satirical website The National Report fails to achieve point about India’s major problem with rape, argues columnist Ian Timberlake. Other websites that use satire, including The Onion, recognize the ethics of bringing important issues to light through balanced sarcasm.

Ian Timberlake

“Every nonmarried girl age 7 to 16 will have the chance to flee to safety or get raped.”

This is one of the first sentences in a piece titled “The Assam Rape Festival In India Begins This Week.”

The piece goes on to quote the leader of the event: “This is a long-time tradition in Assam dating back thousands of years; we rape the evil demons out of the girls — otherwise they will cheat on us, and we will be forced to kill them. So it is necessary for everyone.” The trophy of the event goes to the man who rapes the most young women and is named after a 43 B.C. man who successfully raped every woman in the village.

The men who partake in the event supposedly train year-round and the women look forward to participating in the “game” because it’s better than getting stoned.

If you aren’t familiar with the reporting organization The National Report, it might take a minute to gather that this is a satirical website and that this article is entirely fake. The National Report does not advertise anywhere that it is satire, nor does it have the wide-spread reputation of The Onion.

The article even lists a phone number to contact in regards to the rape festival, which humorously takes you to Fred and Margie Phelps, who are important members of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. That might be the only entertaining bit of this entire “satire,” but most people would likely glaze over it.

I would like to believe that the point of their satire piece was to bring light to India’s major problem with rape. Rape is one of India’s most common crimes and surveys show that nearly one in four Indian men have committed some form of sexual violence toward a woman. In the last 20 years, says Arab News, the number of reported rapes in India has doubled.

This article fails to achieve that message, massively and ultimately in a distasteful manner. Satire is supposed to be full of sarcasm, hyperbole and an immense amount of wit, while simultaneously drawing attention to oft-overlooked issues.

If The National Report is going to be taken as a serious satire outlet, oddly ironic, there needs to be a message seeping its way to the audience that makes just as much a point as a well-organized persuasive piece — otherwise it comes off as inflammatory and ultimately unethical.

Indian citizens involved with the media are playing their role in stopping rape. In the research for this column, I’ve come across videos of national newscasts in India that show women being gang-raped in neighboring Arab countries, followed by the public hanging of the men who committed the act. The media is reporting on these “out-of-town” cases because the people are demanding the same be done in India. The woman’s screams and cries for unanswered help are terrifying and the justice brought to the gang-rapers that followed likely will do wonders in bringing down the prevalence of rape in India by showing first-hand evidence of the disaster and trauma it causes.

Regardless of how India decides to solve its rape prevalence, nearly every solution will be more effective than an American wanna-be satirical news outlet essentially making fun of rape in India.

While going off on a news outlet that doesn’t share the dominance of others may be petty of me, I feel like it is this kind of attitude that needs to be nipped in the bud, so to speak. Satire is not sarcasm or humor for the simple sake of it, but conscious representation of underrepresented or ignored material. Be it a friend’s attitude, a news outlet’s attitude, or a wanna-be satirical website’s attitude, there is always an ethical line, one that even The Onion knows how to manage in the most ridiculous of times.