What is Satire?

Fighting Fire with Satire
“If you have to explain satire
to someone, you might as well
give up.” -B. Humphries
What is Satire?
Write down as many words that you can think
of that are the elements of the word “satire.”
Did you think of any of these?
incongruity parody
reversal hyperbole
invective humor
inversion irony sarcasm understatement
travesty burlesque
farce malapropism
anachronism deflation mock criticism
juxtaposition sarcasm wit comedy
What is Satire?
Satire is a technique employed by writers to expose and
criticize foolishness and corruption of an individual or a
society by using humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule. It
intends to improve humanity by criticizing its follies and
Why satire?
Satire gives us a broad or specific look at the human
condition in order to improve upon ourselves.
Popular Satirical Conceits
*Conceit = trope, theme, motif, figurative language
Exaggeration: To enlarge, increase, or represent something beyond normal
bounds so that it becomes ridiculous and its faults can be seen.
Incongruity: To present things that are out of place or are absurd in relation to
its surroundings.
Reversal: To present the opposite of the normal order (e.g., the order of events,
hierarchical order).
Parody: To imitate the techniques and/or style of some person, place, or thing.
Rules of Satire
Humor: Satire without an element of humor is simply criticism
Attack: Satire without attack is merely comedy
Suitability: Satire of an undeserving object or person is just mean or unnecessary
Clarity: Satire that does not have a clear argument is ineffective
Efficacy: Satire that does not unnerve its audience or make its audience think does not
succeed as satire.
Example of Satire
“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to
pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He
commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit
that we just don’t want to do it.” (Stephen Colbert)
How is this satire? What is Colbert’s purpose of this statement?
Satire: Colbert (a devout Catholic) is making commentary through satire--he is criticising inherent
human flaws (laziness, selfishness) and the incongruous nature of Christianity.
Purpose: Colbert is discussing the greater flaws of American society, a society that poses as a Christian
nation and yet thwarts the inconveniences of Christian teachings in order to be self-serving. Colbert
implores that Americans admit that they seek righteousness without the legwork.
Types of Satire
*From the Roman
satirist Horace (1st
century BC)
*From the Roman
Satirist Juvenal (1st
century BC)
*From the Greek
Satirist Menippus (3rd
century BC)
*Playful mockery--this
type of satire is clever
yet gentle. It allows the
reader to laugh at
society and him or
*Attack and criticism-this type of satire uses
contempt and abrasive
criticism. This type of
satire is hard to identify
because it is often void
of traditional humor.
*Criticizes mental
attitudes rather than
single-minded people,
bigots, racists,
braggarts, etc.
Horatian Satire Example
Ig Nobel Prize:
The name itself is a parody of the Nobel Prize.
○ Ig Nobel = Ignoble, which means “not honorable in either character or
The Ig Nobel Prize is given to real research that upon initial investigation or
introduction seems ridiculous. It is poking fun at scientific research.
Winning examples include:
Public Health Prize: “Microbiological Laboratory Hazard of Bearded Men”
Peace Prize: “Are Full or Empty Beer Bottles Sturdier and Does Their FractureThreshold Suffice to Break the Human Skull?”
Horatian Satire: A Study
Types of Horatian Satire we will be reviewing:
In Literature:
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (1475)
The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce (1911)
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (2000)
In Film:
Best in Show (2000)
Juvenalian Satire Example
Political Cartoons
cartoons often
use this type of
satire--this is
why many
people don’t
understand the
“humor” in these
What is this cartoon saying?
It it criticising Americans in many ways, including
general attitude (apathy) towards politics and overall
dress/demeanor. Notice: The American public is
more interested in voting for American Idol
contestants than for the president. Also, look at the
caricature of the millennial generation: Big boobs,
short skirts/midriffs, tattoos, wild hair, piercings, etc.
Does this mean that young people are more interested
in pop culture / image than politics?
Juvenalian Satire: A Study
Types of Juvenalian Satire we will be reviewing:
In Literature:
A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift (1729)
Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut (1961)
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)
In Film:
American Beauty (1999)
Dissecting Satire: The Simpsons
“Marge vs. The Monorail”
Look at:
● Opening Scene
● Characters and family
● Analysis of events and plot
● Allusion and allegory