Satire: Separating Signifier and Signified

I was watching the episode “Racial Sensitivity” of the ABC show, Better Off Ted, and was struck by the way that satire upsets the narrative expectations that images or certain words bring. The show is follows Ted and his Research Development lab at Veridian Dynamics, an evil international corporation. In this episode, Veridian installs a new automatic system that controls the  doors, the lights, the water fountains etc that operates on a light sensor—that doesn’t pick up Black people. The corporation hires White people to follow the Black people, but this problem occurs…

Throughout this episode, different iconic moments of Racism are re-created or referenced—like a new manuel “Black” drinking fountain. Some characters pick up on the how, um, problematic this policies are, while some characters blithely seem unaware (one of the running jokes of the show is how the bosses only think in terms of money in a distorted reality that ignores most of the customs of reality, like Veronica in the above clip). That these signs don’t quite signify what we expect, but still something related while being very different is confusing, and funny in a very dark way. 

The question I was turning over in my mind the whole time I watching this (and hat I pose to you) is that  I wasn’t certain if the satire separating meaning from image reaffirmed the attitudes it mocked or mocked in a way that challenged them?


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