SATIRE: A literary genre in which human or individual vices, follies, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision, irony, or other methods, sometimes with an intent to bring about improvement. It is used in graphic arts and performing arts as well. Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, the purpose of satire is not primarily humor but criticism of an event, an individual or a group in a witty manner.
Satire usually has a definite target, which may be a person or group of people, an idea or attitude, an institution or a social practice. It is found in many artistic forms of expression, including literature, plays, commentary, and media such as song lyrics. Often the target is examined by being held up for ridicule, ideally in the hope of shaming it into reform. A very common, almost defining feature of satire is a strong vein of irony or sarcasm. Also, parody, burlesque, exaggeration, juxtaposition, comparison, analogy, and double entendre are devices frequently used in satirical speech and writing.
Satire became an especially popular technique used during the Enlightenment, in which it was believed that an artist could correct folly by using art as a mirror to reflect society. When people viewed the satire and saw their faults magnified in a distorted reflection, they could see how ridiculous their behavior was and then correct that tendency in themselves.
The essential point of satire is that "in satire, irony is militant". This "militant irony" (or sarcasm) often claims to approve values that are the exact opposite of what the satirist actually wishes to promote.
The tradition of satire continues today. Popular cartoons such as The Simpsons and televised comedies like The Daily Show make use of it in modern media.
PARODY (or Lampoon): A work that imitates another work in order to ridicule, ironically comment on, or poke some affectionate fun at the work itself, the subject of the work, the author or fictional voice of the parody, or another subject. Parody is imitation with a critical difference, not always at the expense of the parodied text. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are parodies of news programs and talk shows, and both display a large amount of satiric content.
SO- Parodies are always satiric. However, satires are not always parodies. Get it? Here is a great example of satire by Jonathan Swift (1729). The text itself is a parody of the broadsides and pamphlets common in the 1700s:
“… It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an alms. These mothers, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in strolling to beg sustenance for their helpless infants: who as they grow up either turn thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native country to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to the Barbadoes… I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled ...”
Can you figure out what problem and solution Swift is discussing?
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ EDITORIAL: SATIRE
By Isaac Asimov
Something is satirical when its purpose is to castigate what are perceived as the follies and vices of human society. Satire is an ancient branch of literature and a much needed one, for folly and vice are invariably prevalent in all societies and should be eliminated, and the options for doing so are few.
The most direct method is by physical assault – by revolution. The difficulties here are many, for folly and vice invariably support a few while making many wretched, and it is the few who (as a result) have the money, the power, and (most important) the support of tradition. Revolutions are almost always bloody and violent, rarely succeed, and when they do, the very violence and difficulty of the process leaves the revolutionaries with an almost paranoid need to oppress in their turn.
Nor can folly and vice be easily removed by sweet reason. As I say, folly and vice are usually sanctified by tradition; that is, by long usage; and the very people who must suffer under their ravages are most firm in being against any change, even those that would clearly better their existence. In fact, it is usually a few of those who benefit from folly and vice who, more sophisticated and better educated (and driven by guilt and shame), object to that which benefits them. That is why revolutions, at least in their early stages, are so frequently led by liberal and idealistic aristocrats.
What is left that is neither violent nor ineffective? Satire!
Of course, satire doesn’t always do the job (after all, there is plenty of folly and vice rampant today in every society), and it sometimes helps lead to violence but, generally ineffective though it might be, it works better than anything else.
One proof of that is that satirists are almost always at odds with the societies they satirize. The “establishment” knows when it is stung and endangered, and responds by striking back, not with words (the deadly weapon of the satirist) but by the more immediately effective strategy of fines, imprisonment, torture, and even execution.
Since satirists are not particularly keen on experiencing such treatment, they generally avoid making the nature of their targets particularly clear. For that reason, they frequently make use of fantasy. Thus, Aesop’s fables are a clear and direct assault on the follies and vices of humanity, but by doing this under the guise of telling little stories of talking animals, Aesop lured those who listened to him into laughing and nodding their heads wisely. By the time it occurred to them that it was they themselves who were under attack, Aesop was safely out of reach.
Well, then, what is the mark of satire? When is a piece of writing a satire and when is it not?
You might, for instance, tell a straightforward story of events exactly as they happened (or might have happened) and present pure realism, eliciting only the emotions one would naturally expect from that particular tale. That is not satire.
Or, wishing to make people angry at folly and vice, a writer might deliberately distort, making the folly and vice more apparent and ridiculous than it really is, so that the target might be the more clearly visible to those who, lulled by tradition and their concentration on narrow personal matters, would not see it otherwise. That is satire.
Almost all writing has elements of satire in it. Even in non-satirical fiction, villains are made clearly and self-consciously villainous in order to increase horror and suspense. In true satire, however, almost every element undergoes the necessary distortion, even to the point of reducing the tale to total non-realism.
The most effective English-speaking satirists were, in my opinion, Jonathan Swift, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain. For those who wrote in other languages, Voltaire might well be mentioned with those three. And it is interesting that these satirists, two of whom flourished in the 18th century, and two in the 19th, all made use not only of fantasy, but of recognizable science fictional elements in constructing some of their satire.
Jonathan Swift published the book commonly known as Gulliver’s Travels in 1727, and castigated contemporary British society under the guise of describing strange societies in unknown portions of the globe. The third part of the tale, which satirizes science itself, represents the closest approach to science fiction, and it is there that Swift describes the two satellites (as yet undiscovered) of Mars.
Voltaire, in 1752, published Micromegas in which two visitors, one from Saturn and one from Sirius, visit Earth and comment on its follies and vices. Voltaire also mentioned Mar’s two (as yet undiscovered) satellites and, as a result, the two largest craters on the smaller satellite, Deimos, are now named Swift and Voltaire.
Among Dickens’ most famous tales is A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, which is one of the great fantasies of all time and needs no description. Remember, though, that it contains time-travel elements. And so did Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court published in 1889. Both are clear satires on contemporary society.
Obviously, then, science fiction lends itself to satire. By making use of invented societies with properties that invite satirical distortion, the writer can more effectively riddle his target in the here and now.
I don’t indulge in satire very often myself, being content to take each society at its own valuation and to feel that decent and reasonable human beings can make almost any society bearable. Other SF writers frequently write satire, however, and one such satirist who springs to mind, and whom I much admire, is Frederik Pohl.
Satire isn’t easy to do. The line that separates effective demolition of a target from clumsy and offensive burlesque is a narrow one and it is up to us to select the good and reject the bad. This is difficult in itself and is made the more difficult in that the targets of the satire invariably disagree with our criteria for such selection.
One savage satire that we printed was “Soulsaver” by James Stevens, in the September, 1983, issue. It was, in our opinion, a hard-hitting and effective satire on self-righteous religious hypocrisy- a target that is by no means a new one. (The most effective satire of this type ever done was Moliere’s Tartuffe, a play that was first produced in 1664 and that got Moliere into a great deal of trouble.)
It was not to be expected that there would be no objection to this satire. We received a letter, for instance, which contained the following sentence: “Although I do admit that some vocal and NOT representative Christians have helped to force that stereotype upon the general public, I feel it is the job of publications (responsible publications) to not perpetuate those stereotypes.”
On the contrary, it is our job to strike out at folly and vice wherever we find it. If, as the reader admits, the target of the satire does exist, then why should we close our eyes to it? I am perfectly willing to admit that those who lend themselves to the stereotype are not representative of all, but then the more representative portions of Christianity should be bitterly offended by those non-representative few who hold them up to ridicule, and should fight them vigorously. If they do not do so, then the job is left to us. For instance, does the reader who took the trouble to write us to object to the story ever take the trouble to write to some of the unctuous television preachers to object to their perversion of religious principles?
The reader goes on to say “I can understand that you and Shawna might not personally hold ‘conservative’ Christian beliefs, but I DO think you should exercise more sensitivity toward those of us who do possess such a faith.”
That would be dangerous. If that were a proper way of behaving, then all satire would be dead. It is not only “’conservative’ Christians” who are sensitive. All human beings are, and no target of satire (including myself, for I have often been satirized in science fiction) enjoys the process.
Shall we refrain from any satire on Communism or Fascism because we would then be insensitive toward many people who accept such doctrines – perhaps very sincerely and idealistically? Shall we refrain from any satire on racism or on oppression societies because there are those who sincerely believe in racism and oppression, and who feel wounded if we made sardonic fun of them?
And if we do kill satire, remember that there are elements of satire in just about everything that is written. To exercise “Sensitivity” would be to institute a thoroughgoing system of censorship.
Sorry! The reader means well, but what is being asked for is totally undesirable.