S is for Satire

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

Satire pokes fun at human weakness or character flaws, often to better the human condition.  Although satire uses humor, sarcasm, irony, and parody, the purpose is not so much to entertain as derive a reaction of contempt. In satire, vices are ridiculed and the faults of public figures and policies explored through a veil of humor.

Satire derives from the word “satur” which means “full.” There are two modes of satire. Horatian is named for Horace, a Roman writer from 65-8 BC. Horatian satire is mild, light-hearted, and gentle. A popular Horatian satirist was Alexander Pope of whose work it was said, “…heals with morals what it hurts with wit.” Another Horatian example is found in CS Lewis’s “Screwtape Letters.” A more abrasive, contemptuous form of satire is Juvenal. Juvenalian satire is named for the Roman writer from the late first and early second century AD. This pessimistic approach ridicules and expresses outrage. Celebrity roasts often fall into this category. Theatre long relied on the device, even as far back as the lazzi’s put on by the Commedia Troupes from the late middle ages and early renaissance.

Television shows such as “South Park,” “Family Guy,” “The Simpsons,” “Saturday Night Live,” and talk shows incorporate satire into their scripts. Movies like the “Scary Movie” franchise do the same. Charlie Chaplin furthered his fame by satirizing Hitler. Warner Brothers allowed their Bugs Bunny characters to poke fun much the way Weird Al Yankovic, Gilbert and Sullivan, and others do. Satire factors into comics in publications like the “New Yorker” and “Punch” magazine from the 1800’s.

Some amazing examples of satire are found in the following works of literature:

“Candide” by Voltaire

“Divine Comedy” by Dante

“Animal Farm” by George Orwell

“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury

“Lord of the Flies” by William Golding

“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley

“Gulliver’s Travels” by Johnathan Swift

“Devil’s Dictionary” by Ambrose Bierce