October is National Sarcastic Awareness Month . Because, you know, there are soooo many people out there who remain so blissfully unaware of the sarcasm that they need to be reached. Not sure who came up with National Sarcastic Awareness Month and not exactly sure why October would be the ideal month in which to observe it. What I do know is that you are really in need of having your awareness of what it means to be sarcastic raised, the place to do it is right there in front of your TV. Let’s take a look at sarcasm on television, won’t we? Keep in mind that National Sarcastic Awareness Month is about sarcasm and not snark. So a lot of those characters routinely defined as masters of sarcasm won’t show up here. Society already killed the meaning of irony; let’s not see the same thing happen to sarcasm.
Det. Arthur Dietrich
Dietrich was a detective assigned to the 12th precinct under the captainship of “Barney Miller.” Dietrich gives us an example of a particular mode of sarcasm that is perfect for National Sarcastic Awareness Month. Dietrich has a sardonic outlook on life. My understanding of the difference boils down thusly: sarcasm expresses outright contempt while the sardonic individual is just being derisive. What made Dietrich one of the funniest characters in the detectives’ room on “Barney Miller” was that he could tread that thin line between being scornful of the parade of idiots streaming in and out the precinct without being repulsed. If you really want to see great sarcastic wit in action, forget Chandler and his friends and watch Arthur Dietrich deal his fellow detectives, suspects, witnesses and superiors.
Then there is the sarcasm of Edmund Blackadder in the collection of series and specials heretofore referred to simply as “Blackadder.” Where Det. Dietrich’s manner of sarcasm could go fully unnoticed by the object of his slings and arrows, only the most idiotic of humans could miss how utterly appropriate these shows are for National Sarcastic Awareness Month. Thankfully for Edmund, the great bulk of other characters are the show are exactly the type of people for whom the creation of National Sarcastic Awareness Month makes complete sense. Another idiosyncratic aspect of Blackadder’s type of sarcasm is that very often it comes packaged in a mouthful of loquacious dressing that also abeds his ability to deliver the sharpest of sarcastic barbs without his victims feeling the sting. For instance, here is one of my favorite examples of Blackadder’s sarcasm (probably because I wholeheartedly agree with it) which arrives in reply to being asked if he enjoys the films of Charlie Chaplin: “I find his films about as funny as getting an arrow through the neck and then discovering there’s a gas bill tied to it.”
When it comes to animation, Daria is the Queen of Sarcasm. The irony that positively drips from practically everything that comes out of the mouth of the titular character on “Daria” is about 57% responsible for the drop in sincerity that gave rise to the 21st century as the Age of Irony. That is a provable fact. If you can’t love Daria and also happen to have had your appendix out, then it may well be all the proof necessary you need that the purpose of the appendix is to house the soul.
National Sarcastic Awareness Month should be a time to focus on the ability of sarcasm to be a weapon for the physically weaker among us. On “The Honeymooners” bus driver Ralph Kramden is larger than life in every sense of the word. Some would suggest that “The Honeymooners” glorifies domestic abuse, but those killjoys are utterly missing the reality here. Ralph Kramden may be a big fat bully who threatens physical harm to his wife, but his physical dominance is always kept at bay. And one of the weapons used by his wife Alice to protect herself from the harm imagined by overly serious critics of the show is sarcastic undercutting. Alice may not be able to go mano y mano with Ralph in a physical confrontation, but she can use the power of sarcasm to mow him down three or four sizes until in some scenes, Jackie Gleason almost does look more pathetic and submissive than Audrey Meadows.
Not the Benson from “Benson” mind you, but the Benson from “Soap.” Before he was inexplicably spun off into his own series as an emasculated shadow of his former self, Benson was butler to the rich half of the two families around which the sitcom “Soap” centered. As a supporting character, Benson was infinitely more sarcastic and infinitely more interesting than he ever was as the star of his own self-titled sitcom. Which just goes to raise awareness of the fact that the sarcastic guy is always more entertaining in small doses.