We’re slipping toward a post-satirical world.
A Florida high schooler got a first-hand lesson of this recently. Vero Beach High School student J.P. Krause was asked to give an impromptu speech in his Advanced Placement U.S. History class. Krause was running for student body president, and he delivered an off-the-cuff political speech attacking a girl who was running against him for office.
It wasn’t a real attack. It was more of a theatrical performance. The speech, recorded by a classmate on a cell phone, was meant to be in jest, which was obvious by the laughter of the students in the room.
Rather than give a serious speech about why he should be elected, Krause chose to freelance in political humor and satire as if he were doing stand-up comedy.
The girl running against him, he told the class, was running “to advance Communist ideals” and “to expand government so you will not be able to do anything.”
Sound a little familiar? This really wasn’t about the high school student body president’s race. He was delivering a send up of President Donald Trump.
Krause went on to accuse his opponent of nonsensical things, such as wanting to raise taxes 80 percent in the school, and for being secretly more loyal to Vero Beach High’s rival school.
“She represents Sebastian River High School,” Krause said. “What I propose is that we build a wall between here and Sebastian River and make Sebastian River pay for it.”
Krause went on to win the election. But not for long. When the school’s principal, Shawn O’Keefe, saw the video, he removed Krause from office and issued the boy two hours of detention.
The reason, spelled out in a written statement, was that Krause’s speech used “insulting language” and “created a situation of public humiliation and therefore violated school district rules pertaining to harassment.”
I’m going to put aside the aspect to this story that shows the rhetoric used in elections for the highest office in the land would be detention-worthy at the high school level.
And I’m going to let the principal’s heavy-handed reaction to the boy’s speech speak for itself.
That’s because I find it more interesting to focus on how this incident rose to the level of a Fox News story, broadcast nationwide on Sunday during the weekend Fox & Friends edition.
Fox’s handling of the story was straight-forward: Student government candidate punished for making a speech that made fun of the campaign language of President Donald Trump.
You would think that Fox News viewers wouldn’t welcome a story about how Trump’s over-the-top rhetoric is fit for mockery on a high school level.
Also, the fact that a student got punished for mocking Trump doesn’t fit into the network’s pet narrative that public — i.e., “government” — schools are hotbeds for liberalism.
Yet, when you read the online comments of the Vero Beach story on the Fox & Friends website, that’s how the story landed with its viewers: It was seen as another example of liberal public schools run amok.
“Liberals once again show that they have no sense of humor unless it is at the expense of others and THEY are the ones telling the jokes,” wrote one commenter.
Another commenter, echoing the comments of many others, wrote:
“I’m sure if he were dressed and acted like Hillary and was acting like her and doing one of her speeches filled with her lies he would have been welcomed with open arms. How pitiful this country has become.”
Clearly, these people don’t understand how satire works.
Let me illustrate.
Let’s say Krause said this: “I want you all to vote for me, and not only that, I would like you to pay thousands of dollars to me for speaking fees every time I talk to you. I’ll explain it all to you in an email.”
And then the principal punished Krause for saying that.
If that was the story, then Fox News viewers would have a more plausible talking point.
But the way it really happened, a student was punished for making fun of Trump.
That’s hardly a case of the disciplining principal being another example of, as one viewer put it, “the ultralib indoctrination” of the public schools.
But here’s the real shame. It doesn’t matter in this case what the story says. Fox News viewers come equipped with their own talking points.
All you have to do is present a story that has pairs Donald Trump and a public school and the viewers know what to think — no matter what the story really tells them.
Or as one of the story’s commenters on the Fox site wrote: “‘Publick skewels’ aka propaganda boiling pots espouse freedom from political views, but proceed to implement the most leftist agendas conceivable.”
When people are incapable of allowing the basic facts to sink in, the future of satire — which requires context and subtlety — doesn’t stand a chance.