COLUMN: Think Again – The power of satire

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I’ve always appreciated satire. When I was a high school student, I often stayed up late on Saturday to watch the satirical show Saturday Night Live. I particularly enjoyed Dana Carvey’s impersonation of former U.S. President George H. W. Bush.

I also liked reading The Onion, particularly when I was in university. I still have a well-worn copy of Our Dumb Century, an Onion publication filled with satirical stories about American history. It’s amazing how much real history you can learn by reading satire. I’ve even used some of these articles with my American history students.

At one point, I wanted to create a Canadian version of The Onion. Unfortunately, I only ended up writing one story. In that story, I reported on how Canadian politicians misinterpreted French President Charles de Gaulle’s 1967 speech as an attempt to promote Quebec separatism when all he really wanted to do was encourage people to read more books. According to my story, what de Gaulle really said was “Vive le Quebec livres!”

Don’t worry if you didn’t get the joke. There’s only a handful of Canadian history nerds reading this column who got it. Congratulations if you happen to be one of them.

Obviously, it didn’t take me long to realize that writing satire wasn’t my thing. However, I did get fairly good at writing opinion pieces, which is probably why I’ve been writing this weekly column for nearly 14 years.

Writing satire takes a unique skillset. Fortunately, local teacher Andrew Unger has that skillset in spades. His website, The Daily Bonnet, contains some of the best satire that I’ve ever read. Unger has a unique ability to poke fun at Mennonite culture in such a way that Mennonites and non-Mennonites alike can appreciate it.

With headlines such as “Mennonite Supreme Court Rules Life Begins at Baptism,” “Mennonite Man Confesses to Voting NDP,” and “Mennonite Church Signs Pastor to Massive 30-Year $1.2 Million Contract,” Unger successfully skewers some of the best-known aspects of Mennonite faith and culture.

I also appreciate how Unger often uses satire to make a serious point. For example, his 2016 article “Winnipeg Media Seeks Steinbachers Willing to Make Sensationalistic Comments on Camera” poked fun at how the Winnipeg media seem determined to always paint Steinbach in the worst possible light.

Coming at a time when Steinbach was under near constant attack in the outside media, that Daily Bonnet story said what so many of us were feeling. To this day, that story remains one of my favourites.

However, I’ve now got another Daily Bonnet story to add to my list of favourites. “Mennonite Man Already Crafting his Snarky Rebuttal to Michael Zwaagstra’s Latest Column” was published last week. The story is about a fictional Mennonite man who is so offended by something I wrote in one of my columns that he immediately drafts a response.

I have to admit that it’s quite an honour to be mentioned in The Daily Bonnet. After all, I’ve poked fun at other people plenty of times in this column, so it’s only fair that I be on the receiving end for a change.

It really is quite impressive how Unger has turned The Daily Bonnet into a cultural institution in its own right. There are people all across Canada, and even around the world, who enjoy reading The Daily Bonnet. It’s a great way for people to learn that Mennonites in our region really do have a sense of humour.

I hope Unger keeps writing his satirical stories for many years to come. He is doing a great service for our community.

Michael Zwaagstra is a high school teacher and a Steinbach city councillor. He can be reached at mzwaagstra@shaw.ca.

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