Sarcasm and the Web

Patrick at Popehat observes how a media outlet probably missed the fact that they were hearing sarcasm.  But there is a very good explanation of why sarcasm does not work on the web.  Think of a couple of sarcastic comments, like "Boy that Joe Arpaio is sure a friend of civil rights" or "wow, that Cynthia McKinney is one sharp legislator."  The problem is that on the web, there are likely any number of people arguing, quite seriously, that Arpaio is the greatest friend the Constitution ever had or that McKinney is a bastion of well-reasoned, sober deliberation.  We are getting to the day that without regularly reading an author on the web, it is virtually impossible to be sure a given remark is sarcasm.  I mean, if I didn't know where he stood politically, I would have initially pegged Kevin Drum's assertion that Tip O'Neil cut a deal to have poor people pay the taxes of rich people as some sort of clever joke.


  1. morganovich:

    it amazes me that we have been unable to standardize on a sarcasm font. where is adobe when you need them?

    in other first amendment fun, this woman is attempting to force website to reveal the identity of someone who has insulted her so she can sue for emotional damage.

    the irony that she lectures columbia biz school students about "not taking things so seriously" is pretty rich...

  2. Mesa Econoguy:

    Morganovich, already done that several times.

    [/double sarcasm]

    I recall a narrow brush with a columbian necktie in Manhattan after I almost transferred there, like some other current columbian presidential type authority figure, after almost transferring from a different unnamed upstate NY fancy-ass finishing school (to Columbia), where I invented the cold-fusion Columbian light saber, and defective parking ticket reimbursement device.

    Didn't Zaphod Beeblebrox go there?

  3. Matthew Brown:

    This is an example of "Poe's Law" (, originally conceived about Creationism:

    "Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won't mistake for the genuine article."

    but generalizable to any controversial statement on the Internet. It is impossible to create a parody so outrageous that it could not be meant seriously by someone; there is no position too crazy to be sincerely meant.

  4. morganovich:


  5. Mesa Econoguy:

    One of the hardest jobs in the world has to be writer for the Onion now.

    There's so much competing (real, absurd) material, and John Q. Pan Am has a greatly reduced ability to process this type of information.

    Plus, after a public school edumacation, overall brain capacity is dramatically reduced, rendering him unaware of the power of snide writing.