Anyway, here’s the background: a few weeks ago Ebert wrote a deadpan piece titled “Creationism: Your Questions Answered”, in which he purported to explain the beliefs of Young-Earth Creationists. (It’s valid to ask what this piece was doing on his film-review site rather than on his more general-interest blog, but I’ll tread past that question.) Now, anyone who has followed Ebert’s writings over the years will know that he is emphatically not a Creationist himself (though I don’t think he describes himself as an atheist either). The piece was intended as a gentle parody: though its tone was poker-faced, there was enough in it (in my view, at least) to make his intentions obvious. ("Q. Why would God create such an absurd creature as a moose? Ans. In charity, we must observe that the moose probably does not seem absurd to itself.")
So Ebert probably didn’t expect that people would interpret this to mean that he subscribes to such ideas as the Earth being created in finished form on the night of October 23, 4004 B.C., or the remains of the Ark being visible on Mount Ararat. But this is exactly what happened, with the piece sparking thousands of comments from indignant rationalists on blogs across the WWW. The “Age of Credulity” piece is his response to the uproar, and it makes a very valid point about the decay of our instinct for satire and irony and the growing tendency to take everything we read or hear at face value.
To sense irony, you have to sense the invisible quotation marks. I suspect quotation marks may be growing imperceptible to us. We may be leaving an age of irony and entering an age of credulity. In a time of shortened attention spans and instant gratification, trained by web surfing and movies with an average shot length of seconds, we absorb rather than contemplate. We want to gobble all the food on the plate, instead of considering each bite. We accept rather than select.I’ve written earlier about my dislike of smileys, which too often serve as convenient “laugh here!” signposts, and about the common inability to appreciate delicate, understated humour (which we may as well acronym DUH), but even given my frustrations about these things I have to admit that Creationism is a special case – one where parody can be self-defeating. As Poe’s Law states:
Without a winking smiley or some other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won't mistake for the real thing. In other words, no matter how bizarre, outrageous, or just plain idiotic a parody of a Fundamentalist may seem, there will always be someone who cannot tell that it is a parody, having seen similar REAL ideas from real religious/political Fundamentalists.Anyway, if you have the time and inclination, go through the comments on the Ebert piece as well – many of them are very entertaining and/or illuminating.
P.S. Coincidentally, the moose is the favourite animal of a famous Creationist whose every campaign speech and interview is being closely followed around the world these days. On the comments section of one of the blogs I read, there was a persuasive reply to Ebert’s moose question:
Q. Why would God create such an absurd creature as a moose?
Ans. So I can kill it and make stew. The Lord be praised – Sarah Palin