Poe’s Law

‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’

Arthur C. Clarke  – Profiles of the Future, 1973

‘ Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing. ‘

Nathan Poe – Creation & Evolution forum // Christianforums.com , 2005 – Poe’s Law

In 1992 Tim Robbins directed his first feature ‘Bob Roberts’ – a political comedy following the campaign of a fictional senatorial hopeful. The character is a folk singer with political aspirations who cynically exploits his fame for political gain. Tim Robbins (and his brother) recorded several songs for the soundtrack aping the style of, amongst others, Bob Dylan with titles such as ‘The Times They are a Changin’ Back’.

Robbins, being an accomplished musician, made sure that these songs were truthful to the morally dubious character of Roberts without being outright parodies of the ultra-conservative southern folk singer stereotype (the film never explicitly states if Roberts is Democrat or Republican) or even it could be argued, any element of parody at all. Because of the songs’ inability to be distinguished from the real thing out of context, Robbins decided to never release a soundtrack to his movie; fearing that they could be used in ways directly opposite to their intent.

Tim Robbin’s was well aware of the effects of Poe’s Law before it had been given that catchy sobriquet, that snappy tweet friendly shorthand of what is a multi-faceted and  complicated concept.

The law was originally coined by Nathan Poe in response to ‘trolls’ on Christianforums.com, people who would deliberately post outlandish opinions just to get a rise from genuine visitors to the site. He observed that no matter how extreme or fanciful a concept somebody posited, without clear acknowledgement of its own disingenuous joke it would always be read as if genuine. Originally applied to traditional fundamentalist viewpoints, Poe’s Law works with any number of heartfelt subjects that fuel obsession in people.

This leads to a couple of interesting variations.

We all have prejudices whether innate or socially constructed and this can lead us to take things at face value. Sometimes I forget that, as an Englishman, some parts of religious America are as foreign to me as polytheistic areas of Hindu Asia. Yet because superficial similarities of shared race and language differences are heightened I’m more prone to mock the Bible belt than I am to ridicule someone who honestly believes in a blue elephant headed god because of those very prejudices .

Which leads us to The Landover Baptist Church Forum.

It took me a long while to workout that this was indeed a fake forum, yet one that was populated in part by users ignorant of its true purpose; both believers and otherwise. It is a perfect case study in Poe’s law as it demonstrates the two essential elements:

  1. People opposed to viewpoint not getting the irony.
  2. People who are sympathetic to the viewpoint not getting the irony.

The LBC forum is a near perfect parody of fundamentalist Christian beliefs which also, whether by design or by accident, highlight non believers attitudes towards people of faith. Take this “Down’s Syndrome is a lifestyle choice” thread –   – quite obviously a joke, but it evokes responses of indignant rage and incredulous accusations. Anyone on that forum agreeing with that particular original post I can only assume is in on the joke but the site is littered with many taking sides with the outrageous claims or even backing them up with further scripture .

While clearly set up to parody fundamentalism, the LBC forum brings out a kind of knee-jerk response from a lot of liberal users, Christian or otherwise, who are more than willing to accept that there are genuine lunatics out there who really believe that Down’s Syndrome is a choice . Both parties expose themselves to ridicule, and yet the forum was initially set up to spotlight the inherent insanity of fundamentalism. It ultimately shows that we’re all as biased and an uninformed as the next person. People’s readiness to take offense at something says more about them than those who they believe they oppose.

The perpetrator of the deceit is like the arsonist – that most easily captured of criminals – who must be present to observe the effects of their crime for it to have meaning. If no-one knows it’s a joke, then it didn’t happen and it just got lost in the white noise of on-line unfiltered thoughts. Even a Poe’m (yeah I just coined that, deal with it) as beautifully staged and internally self affirming as LBC still has tell-tale sign of fraud; it must, or it would just be the very thing it tries to expose. Something that Tim Robbin’s songs could easily have become.

The problem isn’t when a Poe’m is misinterpreted as the real thing but more if the genuine article is considered to be fraudulent; the flip side of Poe’s law is also as likely. The Moon landings have often been bound up in conspiracies saying that they were faked, and the Holocaust of WW2 is often denied – both examples that are so unlikely that, as with the reactions to fundamentalist points of view, they are  immediately met with skepticism.

A long-held belief shared by us at the DMReporter is that ‘no joke is funnier’ – that is to say the more deadpan and straight-faced you are, the more conceptually perfect the joke is. This is why the first Naked Gun movie is better than it’s sequels – the character of Frank Drebin never realises that he’s in a comedy, but by the third in the franchise he’s a gurning buffoon deliberately playing up the laughs.

We’ve long abandoned the premise that we are in any way a legitimate news source or in any way affiliated with the Daily Mail. One reason for this is that there are only so many templates for that format we can use to mock the Mail, the other was that the sheer number of people not ‘in’ on the joke began to mean that what ever underlying point we were making would often go unheeded. It’s also sometimes hard to compete.

Satire eventually defangs itself as it becomes to more and more similar to the real thing. Case in point is the movie Forrest Gump. Is this a tale of a disadvantaged young man with learning difficulties who overcomes the bad box of chocolates that life gave him to triumph in the face of adversity and become the embodiment of the American dream? Or is it a cracked reflection of the lost hopes of a nation that repeatedly tries to deny the horrors of its own being? Is America made flesh as a retarded cripple or a good ol’ boy and true hero? I still haven’t worked out what the film maker’s intentions are; if truly a satire then it’s the most perversely insidious misinterpreted example of the form.

Lines can still be blurred even more – recently we tweeted a fake headline during the final minutes leading up to the verdict of the sensationalised Amanda Knox trial. We used a reliable comedy format of posting both possible outcomes, one for guilty and one for innocent, and then asking that tweeters to only read the appropriate one as and when.

Twenty minutes later the real Daily Mail jumped the gun and put up a story saying that Amanda Knox had been found guilty when she clearly hadn’t. Their article had interviews with people commenting on the verdict which could only have been fabricated. We’d anticipated that they would have pre-written both outcomes rather than have reported the events – but not to the degree that they did. No matter how hard we try to make it obvious that we’re primarily just trying to make people laugh and maybe take a swipe at a right-wing institution, the reality of the situation keeps catching up with the parody.

Even with a knowing wink, it is impossible to distinguish parody from the real thing.

We’re going away for a little while

This plea for help was attached to a common housebrick and thrown through our window this morning. We can’t ignore such a desperate figure so we’re off to do whatever we can.

(click to embiggen)

We’ll be back once this poor soul is either saved or put out of his misery. In the meantime if you’ve enjoyed this account, the work of Liz Jones in Somalia or the irate bombardments of PaulDacreDM then perhaps you’d vote for us the in the #fakeaccount category at the Shorty Awards.

It’s a relatively small field and if just 5% of you vote we’d stand a good chance at being able to write something positive in our bio. Click here to vote. Thank you.

Back soon.


Nominate The DM Reporter for a social media award in the Shorty Awards!Nominate The DM Reporter for a social media award in the Shorty Awards


Any graphic designers out there fancy a challenge? We are in need of a rebrand, and as you can tell from our logo it’s probably best if we don’t do it ourselves. We need something sufficiently Daily Mail to deserve a double take but just different enough so we don’t get sued.

Unpaid, apologies. But, with benefits. Comma.

Here is the brief: rebrand_commisison

If you’re interested, get in touch dailymailreporter*gmail.com


Whenever possible we will now be leaking the next days DM front page via the  #tomorrowspaperstoday hashtag. They’re all available to see on our Twitpic page too.

This hashtag is hijacked entirely from Nick Sutton who does a very good job of collating the next days papers so it would be remiss of us not to credit him. Refresh his Twitpic page for the all the latest.

Richard Littlejohn is Sacked…

He’s out. He’s off the roll-call. His name shall no-longer being appearing on the hallowed pages of the DM Twitter feed. He may still crop up from time to time in *exciting new ventures* but for all intent and purposes he is queueing with the rest of the benefit scroungers.

He’s beyond parody – the man is quite literally unparodiable. Unlampoonable. Unsatiricalable. Those three made-up words have more depth and purpose than his entire career and, frankly, we’re sick of trying to beat him. Many argued that satire died the day Dean Gaffney had colonic irrigation on Channel 5, but if there was any life left then Littlejohn has now throttled it.

Reading his latest column and trying to find jokes in there was the last straw; there’s nothing that we can write that can even remotely come close to highlighting the mediocre thought processes on display. By just mentioning his name we’re giving him more validity than he deserves.

At least with his peers there’s a glimmer of humanity within which you can have some fun; Melanie Phillips may be batshit insane but laughs can still be gleamed from her paranoid ravings about Zionist lesbians destroying Gardeners World, and the appearance of Simon Heffer has brought some good old-fashioned xenophobia back to the table.

The other columnists seem to actually believe the tripe they spew out, but with Littlejohn it’s just a white noise of misdirected hate. I’m not even entirely sure he exists anymore; like the Dread Pirate Roberts he’s replaced every few years by a junior intern – paid to collide two week old news stories together through the filter of illiterate reader suggestions or the prism of Fox News.

He’s clearly not trying anymore, and if he’s not going to try – then neither are we.

Littlejohn – you are hereby sacked from satire. You’re not welcome anymore. You have become so meta-Poe that you are no longer worth anyone’s attention. We’re ignoring you, and we urge everyone to do the same. We’re going to stop mentioning you, stop reading you, stop discussing you on Facebook and Twitter… we’re letting you slowly waltz off to the Grey Havens to be forever remembered as the man who ate himself.

It’s been a pleasure.


*Exciting new ventures. Yes. Soon. Exciting. Ventures.