Satire that targets the weak is not satire

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-17-10-57If making the pages of a national paper is your measure of success, then the White Moose Cafe in Dublin will I expect be feeling chuffed that their spoof ‘Prove You’re a Coeliac if you want GF Food‘ Facebook post – and the extraordinary international response it garnered – found its way into the pages of The Irish Times, and beyond.

Some laughed, some were appalled, and some fell in between. I’ve only seen a fraction of the thousands of responses, but the comedians at The WMC have kept up the facade of their joke in their comments, veering between some very funny responses, so-so sarcasm, and straightforward insults.

There is satire – and satire can be great – but good satire targets guilty parties or those in power or privilege or those whose consciences deserve a pricking. And those in power, those in privilege, in this case, are those who can and do eat anything they damn well like. I’m one of them.

They were not the target.

Yet neither were coeliacs.

Instead, the targets were those following gluten-free diets for reasons considered by the comedians at WMC to be foolish or inappropriate; people who don’t really know what gluten is, but think they should avoid it anyway, because any number of believable and convincing wellness bloggers have stated categorically that it is evil.

Those caught in the subsequent fallout and crossfire included people with NCGS, because it doesn’t exist one minute, and does exist the next, and this lack of full clarity in the world of science is viewed sceptically by those who fail to grasp how slowly good science should move.

They also included people who feel unwell and try in desperation to restrict their diets, however ill-advisedly, and whose doctors have perhaps shooed away and told them not to worry.

They also included people who, frankly, for whatever reason, have the right to put into their bodies whatever the hell they want and not put in whatever the hell they don’t want too.

Nobody wants to be the person who does not have a sense of a humour, who cannot see the funnier side of life, and nobody wants to be told as much either, especially by someone who is laughing.

And neither do I. But as much as I found myself chuckling at some of the comments, some of them were deeply nasty, and the real problem of what WMC did is that they offered a social platform for sceptical wheat-eaters with a barely suppressed grudge against those who follow restricted diets to sneer and mock and loathe – thereby reinforcing such opinions and validating bigotry among surely many of the thousands who grabbed popcorn and went along to read, and consequently magnifying the difficulty of managing social situations and eating out safely if you do live a ‘free from’ life.

When it comes to targets for satire in this contentious field, those whose consciences deserve to be pricked are those who are encouraging the cultural phenomenon of restricted eating for invalid or faddish reasons, not those who are trying – and in many cases failing – to negotiate this bizarre new landscape while keeping their sanity intact – who may not get the joke, and may be left feeling rotten, picked-on and marginalised at being called arseholes.

Targeting the latter group is targeting those who may already be victims themselves, who may be confused about what is or what is not making them unwell or – more superficially – who are young and want to look like the Instagram ideal of beauty and fitness that they are presented with daily, and who hear consistently that gluten-free living can help them achieve that. It’s mocking kids who think they’ll have fewer friends and never get laid if they’re not beach body ready, when we should be lampooning smug six-packed scientifically witless paleo-pushers.

4 Comments

  1. Micki

    Ooh I fair whooped at this Alex! It makes me so mad and I have a very good SOH thank you! Put me in mind of Ruth's piece about orthorexia and my comment about clean eating on it the other day too http://whatallergy.com/2016-08/could-an-allergy-cause-an-eating-disorder#comments. Is it me or do I detect there is a lot of 'healthy food eating' bashing around at the moment. Methinks they doth protest too much..

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  2. Alex G

    Thanks Micki – glad it amused! I'm not exactly a fan of the expression 'clean eating' but of course it can be healthy, when not taken to extremes. (Whatever happened to 'home cooking' or something? Isn't that 'clean eating'?) I think those who treat diet as a fashion accessory can be in some circumstances fair game for a pisstake, but swept up in the attacks and jokes can be people who are just trying to solve problems and feel better, and the line is not always carefully drawn …

    A.

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