#FunnyNotFunny–Satire as Activism Online

Anyone who is mourning Jon Stewart’s retirement or who is a fan of John Oliver knows the power of satire. Its current proliferation is a powerful weapon in the activist arsenal, one employed to great effect since Jonathan Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal.” Online, it’s an equally powerful tool. The offhand remark by Nobel-winning biochemist Tim Hunt about the trouble with female scientists in the lab spawned, for example, this brilliant piece by Allie Rubin and a proverbial “Twitter storm” under the hashtag #distractinglysexy.

Satire (and sarcasm) has found a quite comfortable home on the web as a way of making the conditions of adjunct instructors visible. On YouTube, there’s “True Adjunct Tales,” an animated and anonymously voiced series depicting the regular humiliations of adjunct life:

On Twitter, satire is one of the go-to methods for social justice activists, some of it aimed squarely at the corporatization of higher education. It’s surprising how pithy and satirical one can be in 140 characters. Take, for example, Associate Deans (@Ass_Deans) and @College_Manager. Here’s a taste of both.

AssDeans3 College Manager1

Posting on Twitter as yourself is always more dangerous, even with tenure, as Prof. Steven Salaita found out. (And if unfortunately phrased, the Twitter storm response can get crazily out of control.) Hence the preponderance of Post- and Alt-Acs doing satirical tweets. Even the pseudonymous don’t keep it up for long because nothing is truly anonymous on the web. For now, post-Acs Gordon Haber (@gordonhaber) and Rebecca Schuman in her private guise of @PanKissesKafka, along with the anonymous Shit Adjuncts Say (@AdjunctsSay) and @AdjunctHulk (who has apparently been busy at the movies this year) offer the adjunct and post-ac perspective on the same subject: how corporatization affects our ability to be effective instructors and scholars, or even speak for ourselves.

Gordon Haber2PanKissesKafka1


Note that @AdjunctsSay should not be confused with Shit Academics Say (@AcademicsSay), which is satire in its own right and arguably both wide-reaching and entertaining, but not adjunct satire.

The best part of social media is that it’s international, just like contingency. @PlashingVole, for instance, does a very nice number in British academic satire for contingents. Here’s a favorite:


Twitter satire is the equivalent of Death by a Thousand Cuts and provides negative press for its target that’s very difficult to counter without sounding whiny (as Tim Hunt discovered). Strong hashtags like #NotYourAdjunctSidekick (which was morphed by @NickySaeun from @Suey_Park‘s #NotYourAsianSidekick) can spread across the Twitterverse and help propel a powerful movement like #BlackLivesMatter or FightFor15. (The galvanizing story of Duquesne adjunct Margaret Mary Vojtko went viral in part because of a hashtag–#IAmMargaret Mary–that became the headline of an Inside Higher Ed story.) Twitter “storms” can be collected on Storify to make permanent public testimony, which is useful for documenting trolling and tenuresplaining. Bad behavior (and bad arguments) on the net can also be preserved for posterity on the Wayback Machine.

But it’s not just Twitter or Facebook that gives you room for satire. The web is a giant playground with plenty of room for games, like the choose-your-own-adventure “Adjunct” by Ishmael Gilgamesh (who else?) a “riveting interactive survival horror adventure about being shit out of luck.”  Here’s what happens if you choose adjuncting (spoilers!): Be an ADJUNCT

Ow. That’s a little close for comfort. Go play. It beats writing a CV.

Used with caution, satire is a great tool. Just think: it could even make you the next AssDean or College Manager or–even better–a #Radmin. Got more examples we should know about? Please add your own with links in the comments.

-Lee Kottner


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