Paul Prezzia | Tuesday, November 23, 2010
I was greatly disappointed with Ryan Williams’s latest piece, “The evil lurking in Harry Potter.” (Nov. 18) I tried to read it in light of the generally high standard of his writing; I can only conclude that it was a satirical misfire. (Even the Letter to the Editor regarding this piece on Friday all in all had higher irony content!) One of the first rules of satire is to seriously engage with the arguments of those one lampoons. Is Benedict quoted saying anything like, “The books unabashedly advocate witchcraft and Satanism while openly blaspheming our Lord Jesus Christ?” Not one of his other interlocutors is quoted saying anything about Harry Potter mocking the Bible. Of course, behind this façade of moderation hides anti-intellectual bigotry, but one still would have hoped for better from Williams. It is a signal departure from his previous excellent satirical pieces.
Despite my disagreements with Williams’ conservative beliefs, I have always found his writing incisive and humorous. Consider his article on Newt Gingrich’s visit (“Where’s the protest?” Sept. 16). Plenty of people (look at the responses on the website!) believed that he was attacking the former Congressman, little suspecting the Aristophonic play here. For instance, Williams’ tongue-in-cheek conflates the Church’s opposition to public support of abortion with its condemnation of individual sins such as adultery. Or consider his hyperbolic humor in “chastising” the students who protested President Obama’s visit:
“You may argue that the circumstances are different this time, because Notre Dame is not honoring the former speaker with a degree, as it awarded Obama. But the people who opposed his presence on campus were not just upset about the decision to award him an honorary degree.”
As a columnist for a publication of The Observer’s caliber, I am sure that he knew plenty of students involved with the Obama protests (despite actually not even being a student here at the time), that he actually paid attention to what they said, and therefore expected everyone to recognize the clear irony of his tone; every single one of the undergrads I know who protested made it quite clear that indeed they were primarily protesting the award of an honorary degree to Obama.
Still, in the column title “freethinker,” the old delicious irony shines again; after all, one of the most famous men to take this label was Voltaire, a man who decidedly did not think freely when it came to Jews and the equality of races.