The Art of Satire

Satire is the art of writing openly about a subject or opinion while in actuality communicating another, often opposing view.

 The pinnacle of satire is often seen as Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” in which he explains how so many problems can be solved by simply using our youth as a food source. The real meaning behind the piece was that we should not dehumanize people and see any of them as less than or other than human beings. After publishing, Swift came to the sad understanding that most people are stupid. More people took the pamphlet as a serious proposal than understood it was intended to incite thought.

Satire is a high form of humor.

There are tricks to writing satire, most of which are seen in Swifts work. Since satire is not intended to be a factual report, the author can take some liberties such as making things up and selling them as actual facts. For instance, citations: In satire a common tool is to claim a reference, but be vague about it. Variations of this include citing a reference and removing it such from its context that the meaning is not as intended. The Christian Bible is often cited in this way by satirists. And to top this type of citation off, disreputable sources often create the inspiration for a satirical work where the satirist ponders what horrors would become reality if the disreputable source were actually true.

Common disreputable sources are opinion pieces and pseudo scientific papers done outside of the scientific method or any proper logic. For instance, the study linking autism to vaccinations is a bad source. For those who haven’t been paying attention, the concept that vaccines cause autism is a misread of a published medical paper which discredits a particular measles vaccine but was actually written by a doctor with significant investments in a rival measles vaccine. Most people cite this to mean that all vaccinations cause autism. The author eventually confessed that he altered or intentionally misrepresented the lab results to bias his paper.

The real trick to writing satire is to take a subject to such extremes that no rational person would identify the subject matter as a true and valid opinion, and certainly not actual facts. The more sensational the ideas, the harder they hit.

To succeed, a good satirical work will maintain earnestness throughout the work, pushing constantly at the boundaries of the rational mind, trying to invoke a emotional reflexive snap back towards normal rational thought. Ideally the reader will understand that what is written in satire is a warning of what could be true if current trends continue to migrate away from the rational.

No one reads “A Modest Proposal” and thinks that it would be a good idea to turn infants into livestock. The usual response is a very emotional defense of the humanity of all children. Though these people often see Swift as a monster, he succeeded in his goal to re-humanize people, at least a little bit.

It’s one thing to make up facts to generate satire. It’s another to make facts up or take them from prejudicial sources, as many professional commentators do today, to support opinions. The ultimate evil is to present one’s opinion as fact.


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