When Jonathan Swift wrote ‘A Modest Proposal’ in 1729, it was met by shock and disbelief. Swift had suggested in his essay that Irish eat their own children, and thus allow the impoverished to augment their incomes by selling their kids as food to the rich.
The essay was a great example of an author starting an essay with irony and keeping the same tone throughout the essay, for never did the tone waver and give itself away as obvious ridicule. The purpose of the essay was to highlight the inhumane conditions of the poor through satirical hyperbole, and it is regarded to be amongst the great pieces of satire ever written.
Over the years, I have realized that satire is a fading art. The age of political correctness and the culture of being to-the-point and direct, has to a large degree led to a society where lampooning and mocking has replaced subtle humour and wit.
Science has, subsequently, often failed to use the powerful weapon of satire in its defense against pseudo-scientific bullshit. When science does defend itself, it uses direct tools, many bordering on ridicule and antagonism, most of it leading to a confrontational world with a lot of fist-fights and not enough conversation.
The purpose of satire is to provide criticism, mostly of the social kind. Good satire doesn’t aim to harm or damage but to create an element of shock, the hyperbole serving as a perfect tool to focus people’s attention on the vice or idea that we wish to look more closely at. Satire is constructive, like a critic, but uses wit and humour, sometime bordering on the absurd, to create the environment where people can look at an idea or theme and reconsider it.
I decided to write this piece when one of my satirical pieces was rejected from being published as my piece was, well, truly ridiculous. It was. And in my defense, I was poking ridicule at homeopathy by taking its side. So I used the same ridiculous arguments that homeopathy has propounded for years, and with the active use of hyperbole stated that homeopathy is the future of medicine and the health problems in the world.
Which brings me to an important question: If people don’t get your satire, is your piece worthless?
I direct you to my article titled ‘Atheists Don’t Know What Love Is’ which I wrote in Blogcritics about a year ago. It was satire about the theory that love is something that only believers in God can understand or feel. Luckily most of the commenters got the sarcasm but some didn’t. The ones who didn’t, many who did seem like staunch atheists, condemned the piece in no uncertain terms. And it got me thinking, was my piece worth it if the people it hopes to fight for did not get it?
But the condemnation meant that people did feel emotions about the piece, and I think that is the starting point to any piece of satire—to be able to evoke emotions and shock the reader. Sometimes the shock makes the reader re-think his or her ideas, sometimes not. Some commenters did do exactly that. Now if I had re-titled my piece, explicitly stating it as a satire, I do not believe people would have been shocked enough to reread the piece or even bother with the deeper idea that it propounded.
Sometime more absurdity is the only way to deal with an already absurd idea.
This is one reason why I think that Blogcritics shouldn’t have a category called ‘Satire’, because satire loses all its power once you begin reading a piece you already know is a satire. It loses the element of shock when you are thrown off your comfort seat.
But, returning to my initial observation—satire around us is in short supply. You see some of it on television, but most of it works at direct ridicule of an obvious target. The most recent ‘true’ satirist I can recall is John Cleese, and that is a long time ago. All I see around me now are caricatures and parodies. I really think it is time that people resort to a little subtlety.
And of course hopefully in time, my work of satire will be published too as a piece of social and/or scientific criticism and not be discarded as ridiculous junk.Powered by Sidelines