Poe’s Law


Not to be confused with the law of poetry enshrined by Edgar Allan Poe, Poe’s Law states:

“Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.”

The core of Poe’s law is that a parody of something extreme, by nature, becomes impossible to differentiate from sincere extremism. A corollary of Poe’s law is the reverse phenomenon: sincere fundamentalist beliefs can be mistaken for a parody of those beliefs.

8 thoughts on “Poe’s Law

  1. Would Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds qualify?

  2. I’ll agree with you on Poe’s law. Fundamentalists fundamentally have no sense of humor. I’m not sure why, it’s a riddle. I however, am a defective fundamentalist, an outlier, because I have a great sense of humor.

  3. Well, Poe’s Law does not literally state that fundamentalists have no sense of humour; it’s merely a case of “once extremism reaches a certain level, without proper notice, it can be hard to see whether it is not a parody of extremism”, and visa versa.

    You defected from fundamentalism? What kind if I may ask?

  4. Interesting thought. You mean to say that if you did not know it was fiction that someone could mistake it for a factual assessment? If that is the case, I think Poe’s Law could apply.

  5. You may be unfamiliar with the event. Although the 30-minute radio show was preceded by a disclaimer that it was, in fact, only a dramatic reenactment of H. G. Wells book, many listeners tuned in late and missed it. There was panic across the nation; switchboards (then handled by live operators) were jammed; and there were actual reports of suicides. That it was broadcast on Halloween should have been a give-away, as well as the fact that the entire invasion and resolution took place within a tiny 30-minute window, but panic and reason are, more often than not, incompatible.

  6. LOL, I did not mean I defected, I said I was a defective fundamentalist, meaning I’m neither an extremist nor lacking a sense of humor.

    Poe’s law fascinates me, because a huge range of people on the internet are fundamentalists, extremists, regardless of their political or religious persuasions, and prone to knee jerk emotionalism, which does indeed tend to make them look a bit like a parody of themselves.

  7. Funnily enough, I am familiar with this event – thanks to a parody of this phenomenon on The Simpsons. Well, one shouldn’t mock everything they do.

  8. Ah, well, for your sake as for everyone else’s I am glad to hear that.

    I fear you are right I think about the emotionalism. However, to be fair, I think far less people on the internet are as extreme as they seem. It is so easy to spout hatred and bigotry by means of the keyboard; people tend to misrepresent themselves an awful lot I feel through this medium. But that may just be my staggered optimism talking.

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