January 25, 2008

From the moment that The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs first appeared, I’ve been a fan.  With his skewering of Silicon Valley culture and his incisive, yet still humorous critiques of tech journalism, “Fake Steve” quickly developed an audience that went far beyond Mac users.  Speculation about the identity of “Fake Steve” made the pages of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Der Spiegel, Forbes, and BusinessWeek, among others.

When the New York Times finally succeeded, on October 5, 2007, in unmasking “Fake Steve” as Daniel Lyons, a senior editor at Forbes, I was afraid that The Secret Diary would quickly come to an end.  Lyons’ edgy humor, I thought, depended on his anonymity, and I figured that he’d find himself self-censoring now that everyone knew who he was.

Turned out I was wrong.  With Forbes officially behind him (they now sponsor his site), Lyons began producing more posts—often several each day—and the quality increased.  In late December, in an homage to the comic Andy Kaufman, he wrote a brilliant series of posts in which he seemed to come out of character, claiming that Apple had made him an offer that it wouldn’t be wise to refuse.  Capitalizing on the announcement that the founder of Think Secret, a longtime Apple rumor site, had agreed to shut the site down (in return, some reports suggested, for a significant cash settlement), Lyons detailed his own “negotiations” with Apple.  With each post, however, he slipped back a little more into character, until he finally told Apple, in one of his trademark phrases, “Siooma.”  (I won’t expand the acronym here; after all, Taki’s Top Drawer is a family blog.)

In all of this, Lyons has been irreverent, often crude, sometimes obscene, but always funny.  Until yesterday, that is, when he ran a remarkably unfunny post under the headline “Pope blasts media in pathetic attempt to boost his own pageviews.”  (N.B.: The post is not only obscene but includes an attack on the Eucharist as well as pedestrian attempts at “priests are gay” humor.)

Now, as readers know, I am a traditional Catholic, but my toleration for anti-Catholic humor is much higher than, say, that exhibited by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.  The Church, after all, has been around for 2,000 years, and those of us who take Her seriously as a more-than-human institution founded by Christ Himself know that a laugh or two at Her expense is not likely to do any damage.  (I remember, for instance, a comic strip by Wiley, the objectively anti-Catholic cartoonist for the Washington Post, that the Catholic League regarded as one of the worst displays of anti-Catholicism in that particular year.  It depicted Pope John Paul II in full regalia, crozier in hand, on a street in the Wild West, gunning down a heretic.  After I finished laughing, I cut the strip out and posted it on my office door.)

Most humor, though, depends on the context.  Stephen Colbert, a Catholic whose character on The Colbert Report is a hyper-Catholic, can make the occasional joke at the Church’s expense because it’s in character.  But there’s nothing in Mr. Lyons’ “Fake Steve” persona that sets the stage for such humor, especially since the document that “Fake Steve” uses as the hook for the post—Pope Benedict’s message for the Church’s “Social Communications Day”—is much more likely to offend a senior editor at Forbes than the CEO of Apple.

That’s not to say that Mr. Lyons couldn’t write a “Fake Steve” post involving Pope Benedict that would be humorous and in keeping with the conceit of The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs.  For instance, if Pope Benedict, known iPod owner and user, were to receive Bill Gates at the Vatican and to accept a Zune 2, one could easily imagine “Fake Steve” writing an irreverent, “Take that, Benny” post that might well be crude and go a bit too far for the Catholic League but still be funny.

This post, however, is written with the sense of humor of the self-proclaimed anarchist/libertarian/atheist teenager who sneaks into the school’s media center after hours to duplicate his cut-and-paste zine of incisive social commentary on the school’s last remaining mimeograph machine.  Lyons is better than that—or, at least, I thought he was.

I’d like to give Dan Lyons the benefit of the doubt and to believe that this post was just a bit of meta-humor that failed.  Pope Benedict’s message included the line that, “in order to attract listeners and increase the size of audiences, [the media] does not hesitate at times to have recourse to vulgarity and violence, and to overstep the mark.”  A skilled humorist could have used that line as the basis of a very funny post illustrating the Holy Father’s point.  The fact that Lyons is such a skilled humorist, yet the post is not funny by any stretch of the imagination, sadly removes the benefit of the doubt and proves that Pope Benedict is right.


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