My twin brother called me a jerk the other day. I don’t really care since he’s my brother, but it made me think about writing. When you send in submissions, first of all, take a look at who your editors are. Read up on them if you can, so you know that if your editors are all females, you’re not going to be sending that blatantly sexist poem of yours that you’ve been itching to test out. Wink, wink.
You can be a jerk in writing though. Ask Bret Easton Ellis; he’ll tell you, right as he starts bragging about how awesome he is (overrated in my opinion). The key is to write something that isn’t offensive outright, but that is a commentary of some sort; otherwise, it directly reflects you as an author to those you wish to market to—people like us editors!
So what can you write?
You got it: social satire. That’s where it’s at. If you want to write sarcastic commentary that directly judges society’s views and/or other people’s lives, then this is the only way to go. Social satire is an excellent writer’s device, but you have to be careful. Reading American Psycho will surely tell you how consumerism is bad and blah, blah, blah. I don’t care what kind of suit your character’s chosen to wear for the ten-thousandth page, Ellis. But the point is that where American Psycho lacks in readability and general skill, it makes up for in its ability to employ the strategy of using social satire well. In essence, there is a method to the madness. And though you might not enjoy reading it, the book effectively illustrates a society more concerned with having the perfect color and print of a business card than that homeless man across the street.
Now, as you might have guessed, my title is actually a play on another book that uses social satire well, one that I actually enjoyed reading: Stephen Colbert’s I Am America (and So Can You!) This book is hilarious but insightful. It utilizes social satire throughout but does it in a much different way than American Psycho. American Psycho is brutal, unforgiving, and relentless. It hits you over the head time and time again with what it wants to get through to you about society. But I Am America (and So Can You!) employs the wittier side of social satire. While you may not agree with everything he’s saying in the book, you find yourself laughing anyway. Or, as the inside cover puts it, “You may not agree with everything Stephen says, but at the very least, you’ll understand that your differing opinion is wrong.”
Now, I know you’re dying to see an example of this social satire that Colbert uses in his book, and I am dying to give you one. Here’s one section in which Stephen discusses the role of the father in a family:
“One of Pop’s most important jobs is protecting his little family. That’s why he needs to sleep with the 9mm under his pillow. And pack it with hollow point pullets. At the least sign of movement in his castle past 8 PM, he should wake up firing. Let God, Allah, or Hanuman the monkey god sort them out, am I right?” (left hand margin reads “I am.”)
“Publisher’s Disclaimer: Do not sleep with a 9mm under your pillow and shoot at shadows immediately upon waking.” (left hand margin reads “Do it.”) (p 8)
In this excerpt and in the chapter as it goes in, Colbert provides a critical look at the roles family members play and how he thinks they should be. He’s so funny sometimes that you cannot tell when he is being serious, so it’s easy to overlook things you might disagree with about serious issues. Want more proof? When tackling issues of class, Colbert creates a satirical chart to help readers determine which class they belong to if they do not already know.
One of the questions read,
“What keeps you up at night?”
Answers by class:
Lower: “Sound of your own weeping”
Middle: “Growing suspicion you’ve been duped”
Upper: “Should my topiary animals be alphabetized by plant or by animal they represent?” (p 163)
The point here is that you can be a jerk using Ellis’s method—writing through serious extremes (and using characters who are obvious jerks and such to comment on society), or you can write like a jerk through wit like Colbert does—dancing along the line of serious issues through sarcasm, while still voicing societal opinions. You just have to decide which voice your better at writing in, and then you can’t be afraid to try writing something on an issue you feel passionate about. So try out a new poem or story using some social satire, and send it to us!
Bottom line: I am a jerk, and so can you!
~Emily Bowers, Assistant Editor