On more than one occasion in the past 14 months, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show fame has taken a moment during his broadcast to thank South Carolina — what with Gov. Mark Sanford's Argentinian rendezvous, André Bauer's starve the stray kids proposal, Nikki Haley's affair rumors, and all that is Alvin Greene.
The same could be said for Brian Barrie, creator and editor of the satirical website theDiscust.com. The site went up on June 1, 2009, a few weeks before Sanford took his long hike south, and since then, the state has offered a wealth of opportunities to stop, stare, and laugh at the political show.
Last week, theDiscust got a big endorsement, with The State running one of Barrie's posts in its weekly Capital Roundup section. The story was a play off of the childhood fable about the emperor's new clothes. But in Barrie's story, it was GOP gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley who was trying to convince everyone she wore hardly any clothes, even though she was walking around with a lot of them. The point was to rib Haley for her lack of transparency on things like her legislative e-mails and her tax records.
The mainstream love came as a surprise, but Barrie has slowly built a following with stories about Gov. Sanford refusing a nominal discount at Harris Teeter (providing some commentary on the governor's ardent refusal of stimulus funding). And, because this is South Carolina, sometimes Barrie doesn't have to do very much work at all — like when U.S. Senate candidate Alvin Greene suggested quite seriously that the state could make Alvin Greene action figures to create jobs. TheDiscust mocked up the figures with a Lando Calrissian doll with Greene's face.
When Barrie left his job handling media for the Coastal Conservation League, he set out to start his own firm, but he worried about losing his edge.
"The problem is that every day that you don't have something fresh, your portfolio ages exponentially," he says.
So theDiscust lets Brian show off his chops in web design, writing, PR, and social media (there's even a theDiscust iPhone app).
The idea for the humorous site came from an idea Barrie had at CCL: an April Fool's story about developers of a controversial coal plant buying Hard Rock Park and tricking it out with as much energy-sapping lights as possible to keep demand up.
"It was silly and over the top and not right for the league," Barrie says. But it was great material for the site.
While some bloggers and pundits have made a name for themselves with rousing commentary on political issues (we're looking at you Jack Hunter), Barrie wanted to keep things playful at theDiscust.
"Humor is a much more effective tool for viral media, which is a lot of what I'm doing on this site," he says, noting a rant about Sanford and his frugality isn't going to get much traffic, but a funny tale about a principled stand in the grocery store is going to not just be read, but shared.
The site just about pays for itself with limited advertising, but the real value has been the new clients it has brought in for Barrie's consulting firm.
And S.C. politicos are still offering up material for some biting commentary — like one about a proposal to microchip and track anchor babies.
There's always the possibility that someone will assume that an item on theDiscust is fact, but Barrie says there is something even more frightening about a satirical piece like the anchor-baby farce.
"You start thinking somebody out there will think it's a good idea," Barrie says.