The Babylon Bee Comes to Harvard

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Harvard Salient on February 29, 2024 and is crossposted here with permission.

CEO Seth Dillon gave an address titled “Humor in American Politics.”

On February 27th, the Harvard Republican Club hosted Seth Dillon, the CEO of satirical news outlet The Babylon Bee, for a speech titled “Humor in American Politics,” which aimed to address the role of satire in an increasingly hostile political environment. Through remarks peppered with jokes and amusing anecdotes, Dillon defended the importance of free speech and advocated comedy as a means of advancing truth. “Humor,” he said, “is a serious business.”

From its conception, the Bee was designed to challenge the left’s domination of comedy and entertainment. Dillon observed that most other outlets, like Saturday Night Live or the Onion, focus their jokes on mocking the right. The name of the site refers to the Biblical exile of the Jews in Babylon, to whom Dillon analogized conservatives ostracized by the culture around them. In fact, Dillon started as a reader who appreciated the Bee precisely because it told jokes that others did not. After connecting with its work, Dillon offered to invest in the site before buying it and becoming its CEO.

Dillon testified that the left has been increasing its campaign to silence right-wing thought. Two years ago, The Babylon Bee was banned from Twitter for a joke that allegedly misgendered Admiral Rachel Levine; it was not until Musk purchased the platform that the Bee was restored. But other platforms are still causing trouble. One of Dillon’s talks on censorship was recently—and quite ironically—removed from Vimeo for alleged hate speech.

According to Dillon, the left wishes to use mob pressure to “raise the cost of speaking so high that we [conservatives] would rather keep our mouths shut.” Conservatives cannot allow themselves to be bullied into silence, however, without sacrificing their integrity. Worrying about being deplatformed or getting canceled simply does “the tyrant’s work for him.”

Dillon also discussed the process of creating political satire. Referencing the Rachel Levine joke, he noted that comedy has become more difficult. The satirist’s job is to caricature reality, but reality itself has become absurd: it is “hard to think of jokes that are funnier than what Democrats are doing in real life.” In fact, over one hundred of the Bee’s fake headlines have become true following their publication. Dillon joked that the Bee’s predictive abilities are eclipsed only by The Simpsons’.

There are, to Dillon, four purposes of humor: to undercut bad ideas, to present truth, to expose tyrants by angering them, and to unify people. As such, humor needs to be indiscriminate. No group should inherently be off-limits to humor.

Dillon also highlighted what he sees as absurd elements of leftist thought. A great tragedy of woke ideology is its creation of different standards for different groups based on the supposed power differentials between them, which undercuts the cause of equality that the system is supposedly meant to further. Dillon also noted the arrogance inherent in the idea of “punching down”; concerns about punching down assume that the humorist and his critic are both superior to the subject of the joke.

During the question-and-answer period, Dillon clarified his stance on free speech. While he vehemently defended free speech in the public sphere, he argued that standards are different in private life or for private companies. For instance, last year, Dillon fired one of his employees for swearing at a DeSantis campaign staff member.

One attendee asked about the distinction between satire and bullying. Dillon boiled it down to purpose; the Bee’s goal, he said, is never simply to insult an individual. Doing so would be bullying. Instead, their jokes are aimed at challenging the status quo or pointing out broad social problems.

And a great many problems there are. As Dillon told the audience, sometimes all you can do is throw your head back and laugh.

Photo by on Flickr 

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