(SNN) - When a person writes editorials and satire pieces as a profession, the hope is to create an article that gets read, that gets noticed and even maybe gets talked about. If people are discussing an issue in a different light, you’ve done your job and your editor will stay off your back for a while. That’s the best case scenario.
Or, you can write something you think is funny and insightful and all is does is touch a nerve in people that you didn’t expect would be that raw. At this point you are suddenly Public Enemy Number One in the minds of the offended and your professionalism is questioned as much as the marital status of your parents at the point of your birth.
The latter is what happened to Chris Selley. He is a columnist with the National Post; a newspaper whose scope is almost as pan-Canadian in spirit as the average Torontonian. His piece on the tragic floods in Calgary blew up in his face like a dollar store firecracker. He had included in the column, the suggestion that if the same flood had occurred in Edmonton, the city would be a “smoking hole in the ground by this time infested with twitchy-eyed, machete-wielding savages.”
Of course the opinionosphere went berserk. Edmonton’s mayor, Stephen Mandel, got in such a frothy lather over Selley’s attempt at satire, the stench of the arena deal that clings to him was almost overpowered. “It was quite disgusting,” Mandel spat, lashing out at Selley. “I see no satire mentioned in it. I see no joke in it. I see just a vicious, malicious, nasty comment that needs to be repudiated in a way of the highest order.”
Selley claims he was mocking a Calgary Herald report for saying that pitching in and not looting people’s homes was “the Southern Albertan way”. I can only imagine, if the writer had left out the word “southern”, Selley would have suggested BC folks or Saskatchewanians were the ocularly-challenged machete enthusiasts.
I can see Selley’s point. Why limit fine community-spiritedness to just them? Wouldn’t the vast majority of Canadians react with bravery, resolve, conscientiousness, etcetera, etcetera?”
Instead of attacking the editorialist, however, the public anger rose against Selley. The attempt at humour was covered by CTV, CBC, and many other media outlets with a much more national perspective than the Post. A Twitter handle was created so Edmontonians and others could react to the perceived slight, although the posts on #MacheteSomethingYEG were more tongue-in-cheek than knife-in-back.
As a fellow satirist, I feel kind of bad for Selley. I've had packed luggage hiding in the shed for just such an occasion for so long, none of the clothes fit me anymore. On the other hand, however, I can’t help but be reminded that at least he is being read.
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