By Harvey Silverglate
Three cheers for Margery Eagan for her July 8th Boston Herald column’s deft skewering of those who have reacted with horror and, even worse, threats of future censorship toward this year’s Beverly Farms Horribles Parade, posted on YouTube. Eagan alone appears to understand the appropriateness of the biting – even crude and vicious – satire directed at the whole brouhaha over whether a group of teenage mothers-to-be in Gloucester got together to plan their deliveries at about the same time.
Most of the controversy has revolved around the question of whether the girls planned this gala as a group pregnancy, or whether so many pregnancies in one high school were simply a coincidence. (Dan Kennedy has written about this bizarre controversy competently, as usual, on his blog). But Eagan has addressed another aspect that gets to the heart of the matter: What’s wrong with satirizing the bad judgment of these girls, whether they have gotten pregnant as a group project or individually, in bringing babies into the world in a manner statistically likely to wreck the lives of both babies and mothers?
True, the satire, as reported by Eagan, was as crude as it was vicious; the parade included “floats featuring women’s legs splayed as if at the gynecologist and signs like: ‘We got Humped, Now We’ve Got Bumps.’” The good townspeople are criticizing the satirists, but, as Eagan argues persuasively, the real problem is the bevy of pregnant teens who have earned the criticism, not for having sex, but for producing a small army of babies under very unpromising life-circumstances.
If parents in town don’t want their 5-year-olds to view such a risqué Horribles parade, suggests Eagan, they should keep the kids at home. After all, the nature of the parade floats is by now well-known and utterly predictable. “The Horribles parade is a long-standing, thoroughly offensive tradition in town, fully advertised as such,” reported the columnist.
There is a point to be made in delivering harsh and heartless criticism of reckless conduct such as that exhibited by the teenaged mothers. The heartaches that accompany single-parent motherhood at such a young age invariably impact the young mothers far more than the teenaged fathers, Eagan notes. “In real life it’s girls who get left. It’s girls whose minds we must change.” Satire and parody are among the most potent social formats for delivering withering critiques in an effort to change views and behavior, even if that satire comes, unappetizingly, from over-privileged residents of a tony suburb.
One of the more disturbing developments of contemporary society is the widespread hostility to parody and satire, demonstrated by people and institutions that should know better. I’ve written and agitated at length, for example, over the hostility demonstrated by institutions of higher education toward student-authored parodies and satires about important social and political issues. That our society criticizes the satirists rather than the people being satirized tells us that we’re unprepared to face up to difficult social problems, and so we try to shoot the messenger.