Whatever. I Was Just Being Sarcastic, Okay?
A couple of weeks ago, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and blasted Republicans for cutting funding to National Public Radio. But he did it sarcastically, saying the opposite of what he actually meant:
Viewers who watched this video could easily sense his sarcastic tone. But imagine you were reading the transcript. Or a piece of his opponent’s direct mail that quoted him. Or a biased news story that omitted the fact he was being sarcastic and just ran his words. Here is what those audiences would have seen:
“The Republican Party — no one can say they’re not in touch, they get it. They understand where the American people are…Finally my Republican friends are doing it. Kudos to you!”
Mr. Weiner’s words could easily be used to make it look like he was making the exact opposite point from what he intended. And that’s why sarcasm rarely works for media interviews or public speeches – it doesn’t translate well into print.
Mr. Weiner and I have something in common: we were both born of Jewish parents in Brooklyn, New York. I bring that up because sarcasm is a strong part of the New York Jewish culture, and his sarcastic rants likely play well to his constituents back home.
But I suspect Mr. Weiner’s mocking sarcasm plays poorly to much of the rest of the country, and he’s wasting an opportunity to persuade other people rather than just preaching to his own choir.
Of course, Mr. Weiner may not care what the rest of the country thinks. He’s rumored to be considering a run for mayor of New York City in 2013. If elected, he would join a long line of other sarcastic New York City mayors – Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, and Michael Bloomberg. Still, he’d beat all of them on the sarcasm scale – and sarcasm rarely wears well over a long campaign or during a long tenure.
I suspect Mr. Weiner will insist on remaining defiantly sarcastic. If I were his press aide, I would tell him to at least use sarcasm that translates more literally into print – (e.g. “The Republicans approach to saving the economy seems to be cutting ‘Click and Clack.’ Yeah, right, like that will do anything to save Social Security and Medicare.”) – instead of using his sarcasm to make the exact opposite point.
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Brad, I just mentioned to a workshop yesterday that sarcasm also DOES NOT work in email or in a blog. People who may not know you in person don’t know how to pick up whether your serious or sarcastic. I totally agree, it should never ever be used with the media either! Great post, as always.
Thanks for your comment, Michelle!
Ms. Media Training mentioned to me yesterday that an attorney once told her it never works in depositions either — the transcript would read as if you’re making your opponent’s case since tone of voice doesn’t come through.
It’s kind of funny that someone as sarcastic as me is the author of this post. Still, I know never to do it at the wrong times!