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Term Definition

Satire essentially operates by taking a basic prejudice or logical inconsistency within a culture and society, and then blowing it up to such a scale that even the people of that very culture or society can no longer ignore the moral logic that is at play in their everyday lives. The purpose of satire is thus implicitly to raise consciousness; it is meant to make people aware of things in a new way.  

Satire defined

Satire comes in many forms. But it is most known for its wit, irony, and the ability to make fun of the obvious. Webster’s Dictionary defines satire as “a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn; trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly.”

Authors often use satire to tell a deeper story, while keeping the environment easy going and comedic. For example, creators of Family Guy and American Dad are known for their satirical comedy. They cover areas important in our society and political issues everyone takes sides on, but it does so in a way that doesn’t take these issues to seriously.

Literary examples

Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn – “There warn’t anybody at the church, except maybe a hog or two, for there warn’t any lock on the door, and hogs likes a puncheon floor in summertime because it’s cool. If you notice, most folks don’t go to church only when they’ve got to; but a hog is different.”  

Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s travels – “that for above seventy Moons past there have been two struggling Parties in this Empire, under the Names of Tramecksan and Slamecksan from the high and low Heels on their shoes, by which they distinguish themselves.”

Both of these authors masterfully spoke of current political issues and the needs facing their culture. And, albeit from a different timeline, most people still feel the political bite and oppression from the wealthy upper-class and government leaders. 

Satire doesn’t really follow any set of rules. Some of it is clean, in the case of Twain and Swift. But others, like Family Guy and American Dad, play against society’s norms. Many times, satire delves into the taboo, while it also sticks to the reasonable. The main theme is that satire makes fun and uses irony to tell the story.

The development of satire

While the Greeks never developed a word for satire or satirical comedy, they were the founders of this literary strategy. Modern satirists consider the Greek playwright Aristophanes one of the best known writers of satire. His plays provided political and societal commentary and criticized many aspects of ancient politics and government rule. 

Many of Roman and European philosophers used satire to bring to light the oppression of the lower-class and the tyranny of the government. Quintilian, a Roman philosopher created the term satire, wrote Lucilius. And satirical poetry was popular during medieval Europe. 

However, satire grew unpopular in Rome and most of Europe during the enlightenment and advent of the Church. Many thought the poems and comedies were inappropriate and not worthy of Christian behavior. The Church banned most poets from creating new satires and destroyed many poems and works of art considered disrespectful to God and the King. 

Modern day satires have once again taken the task of providing comedy to ease the souls and make light of serious problems. Many shows on Comedy Central and Adult Swim mock the news and decisions made by the government. Cartoons, even those watched by children, have incorporated satirical elements into their shows.

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Synonyms: satire

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