No doubt this newspaper regularly receives letters that begin, “Dan Casey has really done it this time.” Here is another one.
Almost every cheap shot at my native West Virginia fails to rile me, because I know we’re all liable to seek a laugh at the expense of others. Fifty-some years ago as a college student in Ohio I heard a lot of jokes for the first time—mostly about West Virginia. A couple of years after leaving Ohio, at another oasis of higher learning, in England, I heard the same jokes—but now they were about the Irish. And so I learned not to take things too personally.
Eventually I realized that the attitude of the person making the joke can be more illuminating than the joke itself. My Ohio friends were giving me some good-natured ribbing, a kind of initiation; my British pals used the same stories to bring me into their companionship by gently engaging an ancient, often violent history with the Irish.
Good jokes and successful satires contain more wit than venom. The great satirist John Dryden knew you could get away with a lot (he did) if you were good at your craft (he was). Dryden believed even the target of clever satire will be more amused than offended, unless he’s a fool—in which case he won’t even realize he’s being mocked.
By that measure Dan’s column of January 28 ("Should Virginians join the Mountain State?") is an embarrassment. How will his neighbors in West Virginia react to it? Will the folks he describes—uneducated, unemployed, malingering, impoverished, drug-addled, disabled, diabetic and fat—be amused? No way. Or, if they’re only fools at best, will they simply fail to see the mockery on display? Not a chance.
In fact, there is not even a trace of wit in the column. But there’s plenty of venom in this ham-fisted, mean-spirited attack on the usual suspects. “Look at those miserable jerks next door. They’re what’s wrong with this country.”
Enough with the adolescent snark, Dan. It’s unbecoming in a man your age.