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It's easy to reach the conclusion that the techies who infest the various gaming, hardware and Lunix advocacy sites are sad, humorless geeks who simply don't appreciate satire. Nothing could be further from the truth. Geeks love satire; it's just that they lack the critical faculties to recognize it. Subtlety may be lost on these people, but that doesn't mean you can't have a rewarding experience writing comedic and/or satirical pieces about technical subjects. Adequacy.org is here to show you how.
Know Your Audience.
Understanding your audience is, of course, critical regardless of who that audience is. As many an aspiring stand-up comic has discovered to his cost, jokes about domestic violence don't play well to a mixed audience. Women don't find them funny and men know better than to laugh at them in front of their wives and sweethearts. On the other hand, such jokes are fine when addressing a geek audience via the web since precious few of them have girlfriends and even if they do, web-surfing is a terribly solitary activity.
So if domestic violence flies with a geek audience, what could they possibly find offensive? Well you've got to remember that women get upset about domestic violence because it targets them. Similarly geeks get defensive about anything that targets young, middle-class, white males working (or intending to work) with technology. Of course geeks tend to take things a further than that and you can, in fact, expect them to get extremely indignant about anything that fails to further the interests of their caste at the expense of others.
While it is considered entirely acceptable in the geek community for Eric S. Raymond to explain the lack of African Americans and Chicanos in IT (and, strangely enough, in the neopagan movement) by claiming that those people just don't value education, it is completely unacceptable to suggest (even in jest) that the field needs more ethnic diversity. Of course, it's perfectly acceptable to demand more women in IT, but only for dating purposes.
There are many more points of dogma in the geek world than this, and you must agree with them if you wish to keep your audience. Here's a short list:
But there's more to understanding your audience than just knowing their biases, you must also know how to speak to them on their own level. With geeks that means appreciating their inability to distinguish satire, in which prevalent follies are ridiculed and denounced, from the mere bitter scoffs of sarcasm. While geeks admire a bitter scoff as much as the next man, the idea that serious points can be made indirectly is anathema to them. They are simply too literal minded.
This is due to a vicious circle effect. To work well with computers, you must have the ability to break a task into thousands of tiny steps ordered with exact logic. There are no layers of meaning in source code, everything does what it says it does. Everything must be taken at face value. Unfortunately, this abnormal form of communication becomes a default for geeks. Their long work hours and habit of only associating with other geeks causes them to forget how normal people communicate. The ability to be literal gets reinforced at every turn while the subtleties of everyday language are forgotten.
The preferred forms of geek fiction (Sci-Fi and Fantasy) exacerbate this problem since they are plot driven rather than character driven. Fantasy villains are just plain evil and exist to introduce conflict with the heroes (who are just plain good). The kind of sympathetic portrayal of evil present in classics such as Milton's Paradise Lost is unheard of. Even the most ambitious of Sci-Fi authors like Kurt Vonnegut and Harlan Ellison are mere fantasists. They describe scenarios, not people. Is it any wonder then that your typical geek cannot handle any written communication more complex than a pearl script?
For the humorist seeking to target a geek audience, this inability to grasp subtle nuances seems to indicate that you can't target satire to a geek audience. You can, you just need to blatantly advertise that it is, in fact, satire. We'll examine how to do this later on.
The final thing you must remember about geeks is that they are tremendously insecure. This makes sense after all as only a deeply wounded individual rejects conventional society and turns to computers for comfort. Unfortunately this limits the risks you can take as a satirist. If you make the geeks feel even moderately uncomfortable they will not continue reading to see what conclusions you reach but will instead over-react. No chiding of geeks, however gentle or well-intentioned is permitted. Unless you want your site to be on the receiving end of a DDoS attack, you will only validate the geeks feelings of self worth.
Communicating with your audience.
The first thing to remember is that praising the geeks is actually more important than being funny. As long as you are generally positive, your audience will not hold you to consistently high standards of quality. If you are downright sycophantish, you can even get away with consistently low quality.
An excellent example of this effect at work can be found at UserFriendly.org. UserFriendly is a wildly popular geek oriented comic strip that manages to combine painfully bad drawing with being painfully unfunny. The secret of User Friendly's success is the constant unix references and assumptions of geek superiority. Illiad's incessant ass kissing of the Lunix community even allows him to get away with recycling 15 year old jokes and outright plagiarism. Not bad for a guy who uses windows to create his comics.
Once you've established a generally pro-geek tone, the next step is to advertise the comic nature of your content. There are several accepted methods of doing this and you should use all of them to make your point clear. Using "A Modest Proposal" as your title is the classic approach and should make the nature of your work clear to 27.6% of the readers. An additional 38.4% can be reached by wrapping the entire text in html style <SARCASM></SARCASM> tags. By placing a notice that the work is intended as satire at the beginning and end you can bring the grand total up to 75.3%. That still leaves 24.7% of your readers missing the joke and possibly becoming irate, but you can't please all of the people all of the time.
The final step is to carefully proofread your text and remove any content that challenges established geek dogma. Congratulations, your satire is now fit for publication on the World Wide Web. Of course, you may still have questions about the tips I have provided, so I've included a sample text to help illustrate the process.
At first glance, this seems like exactly the sort of thing a geek audience is looking for. It bashes Microsoft, it calls Windows users clueless and it glorifies Alan Cox and AMD. Unfortunately it's not quite good enough. If posted in this form, it would generate a stream of responses along the lines of either "heh, I can't believe their [sic] actually doing this. Microsuck is so dumm [sic]." or "I can't find any trace of this on the Microsoft web-site. I think you made this up. Where's your journalistic integrity?" To avoid responses like this, a little extra work is required.
There, that's the kind of article a geek can appreciate.