Column's satire falls on deaf (and dumb) ears

University of Georgia sophomore Amber Estes' attempt to channel Jonathan Swift ended up reinforcing a maxim from another noted satirist, H.L. Mencken: Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

Particularly if they work for the media.

The public relations major caused an unintended firestorm with her July 6 column, "How to find that perfect husband in college."

She wrote: "We have four years in college. Well, most of us at least. Only four short years to attain the thing that is most essential in securing our futures.

"That's right ladies, four years to find a husband. Every true woman knows how vital it is to find the right brilliant babe to father their children and replenish their bank accounts. A Southern belle is nothing but a pretty face and pearls without a man to eat her cooking and appreciate her cleaning."

Later, she advises to play it cool — at least until the intended makes you his girlfriend.

"Playing coy was fun, but coy does not a trophy wife make," Estes wrote. "Bake for his frat brothers, encourage him to do well on his tests, and impress his momma like it's the last round of recruitment."

Play the game right, and before long, "you'll be sipping sweet tea by the pool at the country club while some babysitter watches after Junior and Georgia Ann."

"Remember girls, the time is now to guarantee your future. Keep your eye on the handsome prize, stay focused and go get that MRS degree."

Estes figured everyone would get the joke.

Many did not.

"The first thing that came to my mind was, it's hilarious," said Jason Axelrod, opinions editor for the UGA student newspaper Red & Black, which published the column. As of Tuesday morning, it had attracted 140,000 page views on the paper's website, "unheard of for the Red & Black," he said."I was really surprised how many people took it seriously."

A correspondent for The Nation magazine was among the first to re-post the column, tweeting, "Horrifying. Every line is a horror-tweet pull quote."

The following day, Newsweek posted excerpts on its Tumblr site, asking readers to "confirm this is a satire." The Daily Mail was a bit more circumspect, writing that the column "seems to be satirical."

Calls from the cable news networks followed, though Estes has kept largely silent. She declined an interview request from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

On Tuesday, the Red & Black published her response to the controversy.

"As I was writing this piece, I expected that people would instantly identify it as satire," she wrote. "Judging by the influx of nasty emails, comments, and social media messages, I was sorely mistaken."

Estes said she was targeting those "who believe that their sole purpose in life is to find a husband," writing that they are holding back women who choose to focus on career.

She said she's managed to "laugh off the viral ridicule."

Her denouement makes it clear she hasn't lost her sense of humor.

"Be on the lookout for my next column, 'How to trap a man by saying you're pregnant.'"

"Just kidding."