Jonathan Swift Was Way Ahead Of His Time By Adam Waddle

Jonathan Swift Was Way Ahead Of His Time By Adam Waddle
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Jonathan Swift, one of the foremost prose sati...

Jonathan Swift, one of the foremost prose satirists in the English language (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a society our sense of humor has changed a great deal over the years. The jokes I hear today are more edgy, and outrageous than ever before. I think we are exposed to so much today that for something to make us laugh it has to really catch us off guard. One of the ways to achieve this is to say something from an outrageous point of view. The edgy jokes I hear today cover topics like bestiality, genocide, death, racism, and pedophilia. It seems like there is almost no topic that is taboo anymore except one…dead babies.

I do not find the concept of an actual dead baby funny, and in fact it saddens me. I do however enjoy a good dead baby joke if it is delivered with enough wit, and outright ridiculousness. I laugh because it is outrageous. I am not cold, heartless or dead inside.

So when I think about Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal being published in 1729 it blows my mind. The full title is actually, A Modest Proposal For Preventing The Children of Poor People From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick. In this essay Swift proposes that the poor sell their children as food for the rich.

The beginning of this essay describes the hardships of the poor in Ireland, and looks to be a real proposal for a solution. He then with perfect timing and delivery states, “A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout.”¬†Swift then logically builds an argument supporting his solution. He states that selling poor children to the rich will bring in money for the families that they belong to. He also points out that it would lessen the financial burdens of these poor families, because they would have one less mouth to feed.

This essay is a satire, and not meant to be taken seriously. He is mocking the attitude that the rich had against the poor during his time, and he does it so intelligently. This is the stuff that I find funny because it is F’d up, and logical in its reasoning. When people just say something that is jus F’d up I don’t find it funny. Shock value alone doesn’t make me laugh. The shocking solution, or punchline if you will, has to have some reasoning and logic behind it to make me laugh. That is a lot harder to accomplish, and I tip my hat off to Jonathon Swift for pulling it off almost 300 years ago.

To be honest I couldn’t get through Gulliver’s Travels which was also written by Jonathan Swift. It was dry, and hard for me to relate to the writing. That’s why I think it’s weird he was able to appeal to me so much in A Modest Proposal. I don’t know how people responded to it back then. My guess would be that they didn’t respond very well, since people still don’t, when it comes to that topic. But who knows maybe back then everyone told dead baby jokes, and waiting in line at the DMV was a taboo subject.

Written by Adam Waddle



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