How not to properly satirize wife-beating

I would be grateful if someone could explain to me the redeeming satirical message underlying Robert Fiorentino’s instructional video, “How to Properly Slap a Woman.” I have three theories:

  • the makers of this video misunderstand the nature of satire, i.e. that it should embarass those who espouse the beliefs being lampooned
  • the makers of this video think misogynistic partner abuse is worth the chuckles
  • the makers of this video are so subtly criticizing a culture which views wife-beating as quaint, that their critique is escaping me completely.

5 thoughts on “How not to properly satirize wife-beating

  1. Hi, I made the video and I’d be happy to answer any of your questions. Several girls were involved in making the video and I showed it to many of my other female friends and none of them were offended, they got a good laugh. Our main goal is shock value, and we’re ok with taboo topics. Ever see ‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’? There’s no topic that’s off limits and it’s a hilarious show.

    Do you seriously think anyone’s going to go out and hit their wife as a result of watching the video? It’s a joke, nothing more. Some people love it, some hate it, and I’m fine with that.

    • Thanks for writing — is it Robert? If you’d like to answer my question, it was, what are you satirizing?

      Your video doesn’t play like an absurdist sketch; it plays like a parody of period instructional videos. So it would seem you are using that convention to satirize wife-beating. But then it isn’t clear what the point of your satire is. The surface narrative is, sometimes women need a beating. The satirical narrative is — well, what is it? All your production decisions (the vintage photography, the cheesily cheerful acting) imply “parody” but then you explain that your main goal is shock value. This discontinuity — you imply satirical parody, but are actually just doing shock schlock — led me to suppose that you just don’t get how parodies work. Your video, such as it is, doesn’t work. Your signals are mixed, and your engagement of taboo topics lacks any apparent sense of humor beyond that of the somewhat anxious titter an unsophisticated viewer experiences when encountering any manifestation of taboo — whether racism, sexism, the erotic, etc.

      I didn’t suggest that your video is going to lead to a spike in partner abuse. It won’t, but then, that’s not what I’m worried about. What it does do is help, in its small way, to normalize gender discrimination. It depends upon the latent cultural concepts that men beat women and that women deserve it, and then slips past criticism through the escape route of “comedy.” However, it isn’t successful comedy, and that’s what I’d like you to consider in my response. Successful comedy can helpfully draw attention to intolerable conditions, to bigotry and injustice, by doing so in a light and non-confrontational way, or alternately by bashing through the barrier of taboo by being unapologetically brash and blunt. You do neither — you flirt with taboo, but don’t seem to hold any attitude toward the taboo.

      As this kind of failed parody proliferates, viewers become accustomed to seeing partner abuse as an inoffensive part of the social landscape, precisely because you don’t lampoon, shockingly or subtly. Thus, the perception that such abuse is “no big deal” becomes more normal.

      I suggest that you think about the qualitative difference between your video and the work of successful satirists, e.g. Dave Chappelle, Archie Bunker, Richard Pryor. You may admire “It’s Always Sunny…” but you simply aren’t doing that kind of comedy. You aren’t doing comedy at all — not until you realize that unless a comedian possesses a reaction to taboo content, he or she is just a conduit for it, whatever that content may be.

  2. I think you put way too much thought into this. Here are the facts:

    1. It’s a 2 minute video. Purposefully short, not a ton of thought put into it, the whole thing was taped and edited in very little time.

    2. The main point is that it’s something entirely inappropriate told in a completely opposite way (ritzy upper class type people in a PBS/1950s style how to).

    3. There is no agenda, no moral. It’s just a dumb 2 minute video that some people find hilarious (not you obviously, and the usual comment-hate-everything types) and others don’t. But either way it has 14,000 views on YouTube in the past 6 days so it must interest people on some level.

    4. Clearly I wasn’t going for “sophisticated humor”. If I was it would probably not be on a site called “College Humor,” which is most likely the exact opposite of sophisticated humor.

    5. I don’t think anyone’s going to watch this dumb video and go out and slap anybody. I just don’t. And if the argument stands that millions of these kinds of images over time wear away at someone’s morals and indirectly leads them toward abusive behavior then I’m just a drop in the bucket and such is life.

    • You can’t have it both ways: either your video was slapped togethe without a ton of thought, and you mean nothing by it, or, you knew what comic effect you were striving for when you made it. If the former — why are you defending it, if you didn’t have a plan? I’m saying that your joke doesn’t have a punchline, which would make sense if you put it together as quickly and offhandedly as you suggest. But if you knew what you were doing — I guess you think 14,000 hits on YouTube is a sign that you do — could you try to explain it? You offer the explanation that it is funny to see something inappropriate in a ritzy tone, that the humor is in the contradiction. This is just a description, and a shallow one, of the video. It neatly evades the question of what is supposed to be funny about it. Or, while we’re looking for meaning, what is supposed to be satirical about it.

      My criticism of your movie is that it is the kind of sophomoric effort which emerges out of, and helps to reinforce, an adolescent culture. Just as you say, you’re a drop in the bucket. If you don’t mind being a drop — that is, if you don’t mind being blithely sexist — then I hope you won’t mind that used my blog post to say so.

      Perhaps the problem is not that I put too much thought into this, but that you put in not enough.

  3. Why should I have to put a ton of thought into something? If you have something funny to say, do you first formulate exactly why it’s funny before you say it, in the event that someone writes a blog post about how not funny your comment was?

    Maybe I’m not the brilliant comic mind that you are. I don’t know why certain things are funny. Strike that – something’s funny if it makes me laugh. Making this made me laugh, the finished product makes me laugh. It has made everyone I showed it to laugh (including many women), maybe I’m just around “sophomoric people” as you say, or maybe I’m just around easy-going fun people who aren’t so tightly wound and actually have a sense of humor without having to analyze or defend it.

    Whatever the case, I put out something that clearly a lot of people are interested in, for or against, and I’m comfortable with that. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it. People need to take responsibility for themselves. I can’t babysit everyone on the internet in the event that they get offended by something. If you’re not getting offended every once in a while then you’re not living in a free society.

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