Daily Bonnet founder, writer and editor Andrew Bergman shared insights into satire at the Oct. 26 Diversitas event. (LAUREN MACGILL, Winkler Times)
Diversitas, the popular speaker event that aims to provoke discussion and provide information, tackled the topic of satire by inviting Andrew Bergman of The Daily Bonnet to speak on Oct. 26.
“I started Diversitas in 2015 frankly as a way of communicating to our region the value of diversity and the strength that it brings,” organizer Peter Cantelon said. “I think it is an important thing that we talk about one another, talk about our cultures, talk about other cultures with respect and humour. When we do that we understand one another and we can speak with one another and lose some of the ignorance. When we lose the ignorance we gain an understanding.”
This was the first Diversitas event to be held in Winkler.
The Daily Bonnet is a satirical news site that focuses on Mennonites in Manitoba. Bergman founded The Daily Bonnet “accidentally” last year after writing a satirical article about an issue at Steinbach city council that he didn’t agree with.
“More people read that than anything I’d ever written on the blog before,” Bergman said. “I figured I could write more of these, so I wrote more and it sort of became its own thing. People keep reading it so I keep writing it.”
Bergman didn’t know what to expect when he started the site. “I hoped that people would not be angry, which for the most part people haven’t been,” he said. “I didn’t know what the response would be because as far as I know, no one has done exactly this type of thing before.”
Now The Daily Bonnet has just over 20,000 followers on Facebook. Some notable headlines include “Province to Enforce Demilitarized Zone Between Morden and Winkler,” “Mennonite Man Excommunicated for Switching to John Deere,” and “Winkler Man Caught at Morden Bar.”
As a proud Mennonite, Bergman has a wealth of information and topics to draw from for his comedy. “If you’re going to poke fun at something, you can probably get away with it if it’s your own people,” Bergman said. “There’s lots about Mennonite culture and traditions that are funny to outsiders, it’s peculiar, some of the things we do. I love Mennonites and I’m proud of my religious and cultural tradition. Since writing The Daily Bonnet my interest and appreciation for Mennonite history and theology has dramatically increased.”
Bergman’s presentation focused on the role of satire in the contemporary world.
Satire is generally split into two categories. Horatian satire is more gentle and lighthearted and says ‘This is foolish.” Juvenalian satire is harsh and biting and says ‘This is evil.’ The satire Bergman puts out on The Daily Bonnet tends to be from the Horatian camp.
“[Satire] speaks truth to power,” Bergman said. “It allows you to criticize things that maybe would be difficult to criticize otherwise. The use of humour draws attention, it provokes thought and discussion.”
As Bergman explained, one of the things that makes good satire is the fact that it “punches up.” The phrase refers to the target of the satire, and Bergman referenced a post by Jonathan Hollingsworth that criticized the Babylon Bee, another well-known satire site.
“The Biblical prophets found their witness not in mocking the vulnerable but in challenging the powerful,” the post reads. “Christian culture’s refusal to recognize privilege, intersectionality and the basic power dynamics means that it will always misidentify who the truly marginalized in society are. Satire that punches down rather than up is not only ignorant, it’s oppressive.”
“If you’re going to use satire it should be used to attack the authorities or people who are privileged,” Bergman added.
The Daily Bonnet, Bergman said, tends to punch sideways instead. “Oftentimes I’m writing about myself,” he said. “I am a Mennonite in all the ways that you could define who is Mennonite and who isn’t. A lot of the things I’m poking fun at are myself.”
As such, there are three critiques that Bergman tends toward. One is a critique of Mennonite culture, one is a critique of “the world” from a Mennonite lens, and then a critique of Bergman himself.
While The Daily Bonnet tends to be humorous, Bergman will sometimes write an article that is more serious. He wrote one titled, “Public Uproar as Thousands of Refugees Descend on Western Canada.” The article consisted of real quotes that had been said about refugees, including “If we cannot obtain good northern European settlers, it would be better to have no new immigrants at all.”
Of course, the quotes were actually things people had said about Russian Mennonites coming to Canada in the 1920s, including Bergman’s own grandfather.
Of course, satire can sometimes toe the line between funny and offensive, and Bergman said that line it isn’t always clear. “Sometimes I’ll write something and someone will perceive that it’s crossed the line and I don’t agree, so that line isn’t always the same for every person,” he said. “I have had ideas that I thought, ‘I’m not going to write that, it’s too far.’ I figure if I write it and it’s going to provoke anger rather than laughter then that to me would be what the line is.”
Last week, Bergman launched a new sister site to the Bonnet called Mennotoba. The site is non-satirical, and features “true stories of the Mennonites in Manitoba,” including an interview with award-winning Mennonite author Armin Wiebe.
Bergman’s stories can be found online at www.dailybonnet.com and www.mennotoba.com.
The last event for 2017 will be an introduction to Buddhism on Nov. 22.
Diversitas’ first event in 2018 will feature its first repeat speaker on Jan. 24. President of Manitoba Islamic Association Dr. Idris Elbakri will be returning in January to speak about growing up Palestinian in Israel.