As a follow-up, I’d like to reiterate that, as Charlie Stross says, “bigotry is fractal”. Power relations are complicated because they contain their own inversions (and may run in complicated loops in certain communities), so what constitutes punching “up” versus “down” is often unclear and very environment-dependent.

Satire at its best highlights through emphasis behaviors and systems that are malfunctioning and, if eliminated or repaired, would be a net positive. For instance, consider satires of government corruption in democratic republics: the power relationships are complicated since while elected officials are often wealthier and have more direct power than their average constituent, they are at least theoretically under the thumb of those constituents & both the pressure to remain electable and various anti-corruption restrictions provide the impetus behind corruption in the first place; something like Yes, Prime Minister, by focusing on government, highlights a set of very strange circumstances that can force someone like Prime Minister Hacker to behave in the way we see actual officials behave despite his best efforts, and mostly criticizes the system. Ultimately, every character in that show is flawed, but the person with the greatest claim to ostensible power is the person we in the audience identify most with, because while he is vain and conniving and foolish, he is also naive, optimistic, and genuinely has the best interests of his constituents at heart after a fashion, and each episode shows how his tiniest motions toward exercising his power get quashed beneath the great weight of a government system designed to preserve the status quo. The humor comes from seeing one of the most powerful men in the world reduced to a petulant child by a dysfunctional system and empathizing with him.

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Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software.

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