Satire is one of language’s most powerful weapons, and when used effectively, it can foster meaningful dialogue on important topics.
A recent letter in The Smoky Mountain News brings this point home. Lamar Marshall poked fun at Macon County officials who are lengthening their airport’s runway despite the fact that the project is being built over the remains of a former village that contains burial sites and other artifacts. Marshall belittled the officials who place more value on building the new runway than on any concerns Native Americans may have for the burial grounds of their ancestors. He used biting satire to make his point. Some Native Americans may have been offended, but in reality Marshall was arguing on their behalf.
Read the letters in this week’s edition (below) and you’ll see some of the conversation that letter provoked. Marshall is apologizing for those who may have been offended by his piece, which was criticized last week by two writers. In this edition, Cherokee Chief Michell Hicks weighs in, agreeing with Marshall’s point but questioning the use of a literary device that is often misunderstood.
Taken together, the chief’s letter and Marshall’s from two weeks ago prove the value of satire, in particular, and journalism in general. Marshal’s portrayal of Macon County officials marketing their airport as a great place to land on top of ancient Cherokee graves raised valid points about this issue. How far do we go in the pursuit of economic development and the almighty dollar? How far is too far?
The follow-up to Marshall’s letter has been emotional and, from our perspective, very positive. It has unleashed needed public discussion on an issue that had dropped off the front pages.
We applaud Marshal and those who have written to discuss this important issue, including Chief Hicks. Satire can make us wince, but in this case it has led to a fundamentally important discussion about what our society values.