The Babylon Bee has quickly become a major name in news satire rivaling longtime favorite The Onion. With many claiming there was a need for satire with a more conservative bent, the site has happily taken up this mantle by creating content that primarily critiques the American left.
While the Bee is increasingly popular, it garners most of its notoriety by tickling the nerves of conservatives who care more about “owning the left” than from quality satire. The Babylon Bee has a variety of issues that make them a terrible satire site, but good at slanted humor.
Below are my main gripes with their attempts at satire. Although only one article is covered in each section, they are indicative of issues that I’ve noticed for some time.
Jokes Over Critique
The purpose of satire is to use exaggeration, irony, or humor for social commentary. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this, whether it be shock-value like American Psycho‘s use of serial killing and capitalism, or tricking the reader into sympathizing with awful people like Watchmen or Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers.
Sadly, a lot of satire news sites are weak on the commentary and have an imbalance of humor over critique. The Babylon Bee is especially egregious in this regard, and though I only provide one example, truly all of them have this issue to some degree.
They’ve published many articles in response to President Joe Biden’s inauguration, but one published on that day is particularly puzzling. It compares Biden to a groundhog seeing his shadow, but seems to focus more on this joke than anything meaningful.
The most obvious intent is to state that the President is old and could die while in office, but what does this observation criticize exactly? Stating that he’s old alone doesn’t really say anything about his age or health compared to past presidents.
Another possible interpretation is that The Babylon Bee is claiming Biden is unintelligent, so he would spook himself to death by seeing his shadow. However, this is quite a stretch for, again, not a truly meaningful commentary.
The issue lies in the fact that the humor was more important than the commentary and because of this, the message being conveyed is muddled. An imbalance like this, unfortunately, seeps into many of the publication’s articles and contributes to their low-quality satire.
Caricatures of Caricatures
A good critique has to contain some nugget of truth to be effective. Making a joke with the intent to critique a fish’s inability to run a marathon doesn’t offer great social commentary because a fish would never attempt to run and never had the ability.
Obviously, this is an exaggeration, but The Babylon Bee‘s reliance on jokes over critique also causes them to, at times, satirize caricatures. This may fire up their base, causing them to roll their eyes at the liberals, but it doesn’t offer any quality commentary.
Jumping on the Bernie Sanders meme train, they recently published an article joking about Bernie using his money from the inauguration meme to buy a fourth home. Clearly, they were attempting to criticize the contradictory nature of Sanders owning multiple homes while decrying capitalism, but in this instance, they critiqued this image of Bernie rather than the actual events that transpired.
While it was true that the Sanders campaign team immediately jumped into creating merchandise based on his newly-memed image, the results did not follow this satire’s aim. According to multiple news outlets, Bernie Sanders donated all of the proceeds to Meals On Wheels.
This is what makes this Bee article a bad satire.
They could have chosen to critique that the Sanders team swiftly cashed in on the meme’s popularity, but they instead decided to make a joke about his owning multiple houses. Because of this dedication to a caricature, the opportunity for social commentary was missed by a mile.
An article from November by the publication joked about a correlation between the high death rate among Star Wars‘ stormtroopers and wearing masks. This article attempts to use this joke as a critique of masks being the ultimate cure for COVID-19, stating “wearing a mask may not be the silver bullet many think it is.”
Sadly, this article is another example of how the site misses the mark of quality satire. While this may seem like a funny way to say “masks aren’t impenetrable shields and people get sick anyway” it actually serves as a better satire of how bad science leads people to incorrect conclusions.
Comparing masked characters to those who wear masks and die anyway isn’t that far from those who claimed that wearing a mask would cause their CO2 intake to increase and cause them to be sick. In this way, The Babylon Bee contradicted their own critique. They strove to poke fun at “mask purists” but really created content that is against their position.
The Babylon Bee is certainly going to ramp up its output with a newly-elected Democratic president and a Democratic majority in Congress. Since they already focus more on their audience’s laughter over good satire, this will likely lead to even less commentary.
While satire doesn’t need to follow strict guidelines, their inability to even brush up on the basics makes them low-tier in most cases. Sure, the site has a knockout every once in a while, but until these issues are fixed, I certainly won’t be looking to them in the future.