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A sarcasm font is now the only thing that can save society from total ruin

Wink wink.

For as long as I can remember, I have had an intense fear of being Edmunded. If that doesn’t make sense, it shouldn’t – because I have made the word up.

To be “Edmunded” is to be like Lucy in C.S. Lewis’ famous children’s story The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe -  the victim of someone claiming you are lying for their own benefit.

Having discovered a world at the end of the wardrobe, Lucy tells her siblings about the adventure she shared with her older brother. But then she gets Edmunded:

And Edmund gave a very superior look as if he were far older than Lucy (there was really only a year's difference) and then a little snigger and said, “Oh, yes, Lucy and I have been playing -pretending that all her story about a country in the wardrobe is true. Just for fun, of course. There's nothing there really.”

Being misunderstood, misconstrued, and accused of lying are some of the worst sensations to me. The panic bubbles up inside and emerges as a laugh, making me look guiltier than ever. But on the internet, particularly on Twitter dot com, people seem to enjoy deliberately misconstruing one another in order to win Internet Points (£0). The greatest victim of this is the simultaneously lowest and grandest from of wit: sarcasm.

Take, for example, this smug screenshot whereby a man joking about mansplaining has been gleefully construed as an example of mansplaining itself:

To me, this man has been severely Edmunded. “This can't be real, right? No one is that clueless - right?” says one reply to the screenshot. “Bingo!” as someone playing bingo might say. The man is clearly joking (and if you really wanted to make sure, you’d just have to take a second to check his previous tweets). I feel as though people must know this (surely, they must know this?) but are wilfully misconstruing him in order to prove some kind of point. A total Edmund move.

Which leaves me asking: what is the aim? It is clearly not to teach the man the error of his alleged ways – as being screenshotted and widely mocked doesn’t tend to inspire “Yes you’re so right, I was so wrong, many thanks” sensations in people. The aim is simply to look superior, which is made all the more annoying by the inferiority inherent in not understanding the joke in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, the “just joking” brigade of hate-speech is abhorrent and doesn’t normally deserve the benefit of the doubt (“ironic” Nazism, as I’ve written in the past, can inspire genuine copycats). But when someone is using sarcasm or irony as the Sweet Baby Jesus intended – to point out the fallacies of this tragic lil world we live in – then it is beyond frustrating to watch it be misconstrued.

We now live in a time where people are being divided right down the middle on social media into camps called “Yes, Enlightened” and “No, Very Bad”. In the world of woke, one misunderstood joke runs the risk of ruining someone’s reputation. It is therefore with a heavy heart that I must suggest an immediate worldwide implementation of a sarcasm font.

Reddit uses “/s” sure, and your grandad might use a ;-). Neither of these are enough, however, for the widespread epidemic known as People, They Are Idiots.

I want everything sarcastic to henceforth be written in that one WordArt that is all wavey and blue and great for GCSE Geography projects on the Savanna. Any time a satirical article is written, the whole thing will be bright and blue so that no one need pop over to the Facebook comment section to wish the author would be forcibly taken from their bed at dawn and shot in the face.

The future of our fragmented society relies on this, more than anything else. No political policy or party can save us if we are not willing to save ourselves. There is no redemption for man, there is no salvation for our sins. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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Netflix's Ozark is overstuffed – not to mention tonally weird

Could the channel use a hit? Every time my subscription leaves my bank account, I think again that it could.

The main reason why Ozark, the new Netflix series, feels so underpowered has to do with its star, Jason Bateman (who also directs): a good actor who badly wants for charisma, he simply can’t carry it alone. Watching the first few episodes, I kept thinking of Jon Hamm in Mad Men and (a better example here) Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad, both of whom played, as does Bateman, characters around which the plots of their respective series turned. When they were on screen, which was often, it was all but impossible to tear your eyes from them; when they were off it, you felt like you were only biding your time until they returned. But when Bateman disappears from view, you hardly notice. In fact, it feels like a plus: at least now you might get to see a bit more of the deft and adorable Laura Linney.

In Ozark, Bateman is Marty, an outwardly square guy whose big secret is that he is a money launderer for the second biggest drugs cartel in Mexico. When the series opens, he and his wife Wendy (Linney) and their two children are living in Chicago, where he nominally works as a financial advisor.

By the end of the first episode, however, they’re on their way to the Lake of the Ozarks in rural Missouri. Marty’s partner, Bruce, has been on the fiddle, and the cartel, having summarily executed him, now wants Marty both to pay back the cash, and to establish a few new businesses in which future income may be cleaned far from the prying eyes of the law enforcement agencies. If this sounds derivative, it is. We’re in the realm of Breaking Bad, only where that show gave us out-of-control Bunsen burners and flesh-eating chemicals, this one is more preoccupied with percentages and margins.

Where’s the friction? Well, not only is the FBI on Marty’s tail, his wife has been cheating on him, with the result that their marriage is now just another of his business arrangements. The locals (think Trump supporters with beards as big as pine trees) have proved thus far to be on the unfriendly side, and having paid off their debts, the only house Marty can afford has a cliché – sorry, crotchety old guy – living in the basement. On paper, admittedly, this all sounds moderately promising. But hilarity does not ensue. As dull as the Lake of the Ozarks when the tourist season is over, not even Linney can make Bill Dubuque’s dialogue come alive. Her character should be traumatised: before they left Chicago, the cartel, for reasons I do not completely understand, pushed her podgy lover – splat! – off his balcony. Instead, she’s fussing about the crotchety old guy’s sexism.

Ozark is overstuffed and tonally weird, so I won’t be binge-watching this one. This completes rather a bad run for me and Netflix; after the lame new series of House of Cards and the egregious Gypsy, this is the third of its shows on the trot to bore me rigid. Could the channel use a hit? Every time my subscription leaves my bank account, I think again that it could.

And now to The Sweet Makers: A Tudor Treat (19 July, 8pm), in which we hear the sound of the “living history” barrel being scraped so loudly, those attending the meeting at which it was commissioned must surely have worn ear defenders. Basically, this is a series in which four confectioners “go back in time” to discover how their forebears used sugar (first, the Tudors; next week, the Georgians).

What it means in practice is lots of Generation Game-style faffing with candied roses and coriander comfits by people in long skirts and silly hats – a hey-nonny-nonny fiesta of pointlessness that is itself a sugar coating for those nasty things called facts (ie a bit of tokenism about slavery and our ancestors’ trouble with their teeth).

Resident expert, food historian Dr Annie Gray, strained to give the proceedings urgency, sternly reminding the confectioners that the sugar house they’d spent hours building did not yet have a roof. But who cared if it didn’t? Destined to be eaten by fake Tudor guests at a fake Tudor banquet, it wasn’t as if anyone was going to lose their head for it – not even, alas, at Broadcasting House. 

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder

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