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Satire and Social Commentary

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Jenna Wittwer

on 9 January 2014

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Transcript of Satire and Social Commentary

Social Commentary & Satire
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines

A literary work holding up human
and foolishness to ridicule or scorn

Wit or irony used to discredit and expose vice or foolishness
- a practice, behavior, or habit considered immoral, depraved, or degrading in the associated society. In more minor usage, vice can refer to a fault or a bad habit.

Saturday Night Live sketches
Examples of Satire
in today's society
The Colbert Report
The Simpsons
John Stewart
The Onion
South Park
Weird Al
Social Commentary
Social commentary
is the act of rebelling against an individual, or a group of people by rhetorical means, or commentary on social issues or society.

This is most often done with the idea of implementing or promoting change by informing the general populace about a given problem and appealing to people's sense of justice.
Social Commentary, Cont'd
Because there were so many 'real' factors that were influencing the lives of American citizens during period in time, and because the goal of American Realism is to portray things realistically (including the good AND bad aspects of life and society), many pieces of literature and artwork had this intent.
Satirical Social Commentary?!
Many times, issues that are serious in society are the issues that elicit the strongest responses...which also, conveniently, means that they are typically the issues that are the most difficult to address or discuss.

For hundreds of years, many authors and artists have linked
social commentary
together, finding that
using humor to approach and critique a serious issue was the easiest way to ensure that issue received attention and was re-examined.
"A Modest Proposal"
Jonathan Swift
Satirical essay written and published anonymously by Jonathan Swift in 1729

The premise of the essay is critiquing population control in Ireland in the 1700s; Swift suggests, simply, through his prose, that the poor should raise their children with the intent to sell and/or eat them or use their skin for clothing items would help solve the problem of controlling the population.

People were outraged when Swift had this essay published on the front pages of the leading newspapers in Ireland, but his essay forced the issue to be discussed and examined, not only by the public, but by the government as well.

This satirical hyperbole mocks heartless attitudes towards the poor, as well as Irish policy in general.
"for Preventing the Children of poor People in Ireland, from being a Burden to their Parents or Country; and for making them beneficial to the Publick."
"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, ad importuning every passenger for an alms."
"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.."
"Infants' flesh will be in season throughout the year.."
"I can think of no one objection that will possibly be raised against this proposal.."
Swift simply proposes, modestly...
Social Commentary Today

Disney Pixar's WALL-E is a wonderful example of social commentary by critiquing and raising the issues of
- taking care of the environment
- human obesity
- reliance on technology
Danger, Danger, Will Robinson!
it is ESSENTIAL to understand that
Social Commentary and Satire are NOT mutually exclusive!

Social commentary can exist without using humor, sarcasm, or comedy

- using satire is an easy way to bring a
difficult subject to light
- humor and satire used mocks and criticizes
the serious issue, which suggests that a
change is needed
- kind of like in Mean Girls - it's hilarious, but
it's making some pretty serious accusations
and statements about bullying and the
existence of balance within the high school
social structure
What is being
in these clips?
- what is being mocked?
- what makes these funny?

How do these clips function as
social commentary
- what social aspect is being
- what is implied that needs to
be changed?
Social Commentary...
- hopes to inspire change

- draws attention to a serious issue

- critiques a societal aspect
- behavior, attitude, misinformation, etc.

- can take the form of print, film, audio, art,
This song is frequently misunderstood.
Many people hear the chorus,
and assume that it is a nationalistic
and patriotic anthem.

But it is not.
How does this song function as
Social Commentary?
4 Techniques of Satire
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 their surroundings.
Parody: To imitate the techniques and/or style of some person, place, thing, or existing work.
Reversal: To present the opposite of the normal order (e.g., the order of events, hierarchical order).
What is being criticized?
What satirical devices are used?
Stephen Colbert
Is it just "funny"?
Or does it make a "statement"?
Full transcript