In 1729, satirist Jonathan Swift (he of Gulliver’s Travels fame), wrote an essay entitled “A Modest Proposal“.
The theme of this essay, with tounge fimrly in his Irish cheek, was that the way to solve the crisis of the large number of poor children in Dublin was to turn them into breeding stock and to serve the rest for food, just like cattle or sheep.
Funny for its time and it still retains a high-brow, logical, and satricial bent that many modern comedians can’t hit.
However, there is another crisis brewing, not in Ireland this time, but in the pens, typewriters, and keyboards of writers around the world. Too many writers, far too many writers, are relying on the crutch of the cliched phrase “A Modest Proposal” to describe almost anything.
Whether it be sports (Texas A&M Longhorn basketball, Washington Wizards basketball), financial regulation (Glass-Steagall), the penal system (minor offenders), local education (school restructuring), and especially politics (the Canadian Parliment, the U.S. Census, Congress), those with an opinion are misusing one of the masterpieces of satire and diluting its power.
I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that for any writer (be they blogger, opinion-maker, talking head, or letter-to-the-editor variety) who uses the phrase “A Modest Proposal” and does not intend for that proposal to be about the farming and eating of Irish children that they should be forced to give up writing for a time not less than two (2) years, but not greater than twenty-five (25) years, and go out and obtain real employment.
In this punishment of working at a true job, these cliche-using hacks will actually better themselves and their society. Most notably, this betterment will be due to the fact that they are not writing.
I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of my country, by advancing our trade, providing for the job market, relieving those readers who can’t abide by cliches, and giving some pleasure to the rich.
(What?? You didn’t think I was actually going to propose that the offended writers be eaten, did you?? How trite!)