RIO DE JANEIRO – Satire to me is a somewhat ambiguous term. Like “film noir”, no matter how many times I read a definition of it, I still don’t feel confident explaining it. Satire is defined by Marriam-Webster as: 1: a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn, 2 : trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly.
So okay, that makes sense, kind of simple really, so why does it deserve a word as sinister as satire? Same as film noir, do we really need such a fancy word for stylized crime dramas?
Perhaps it was my grueling State University Bachelor’s degree in Communications that shortens my patience for over-complicating language… And when it comes to humor, my preference is self-deprecating, obviously. It’s funny when I make fun of my self, but not when you do it, follow me?
This week we’re covering the law banning the satirization of political candidates, with a soft touch of course. It is a huge contrast to the freedom of speech protection granted in the U.S., or indeed many developed/western democracies.
Somehow the notion of it “creating a level playing field” almost makes sense, given the vast range of resources available to various candidates. Presumably someone could out-smear a rival with political ads, creating such an over-whelming wave of negative information that public opinion was manipulated. Imagine that.
Satire, to use the term, can cover a wide range of tone, and not always intended as funny. When it is humorous it is typically addressing a serious topic which has been over-exposed or at least in need of different presentation. It is also often very prejudicial, in the sense that it has a point, and a point of view, and therefore an oppositional point of view may not find it funny.
Also, obviously, not all humor – even on such such topics as politics, religion or art, or using the great satirical tools of irony and parody – is necessarily “satirical”; the most light-hearted satire always has a serious “after-taste”. The Ig Nobel Prize describes this as “first make people laugh, and then make them think” – a good-natured definition of satire itself.
Its political strain is perhaps the most popular form of satire, specializing in drawing entertainment from politics. In societies where political speech and dissent are forbidden by a regime, it has also been used with subversive intent as a method of advancing political arguments where such arguments are expressly forbidden. Watching or reading satire has, since ancient time, been considered one of the best ways to understand a culture and a society.
It’s hard to image not having satire in the U.S., it being a staple in the media diet; The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The Onion, Borat… not to mention all the great cartoons on magazine covers and in newspapers.
Obviously these are not all “political” all of the time, but I’d hate to see someone try to draw the line of where it reflects on a candidate or political party, and where it’s just good old fashioned fun. I guess someone gets paid to do that.