In Order To Write Satire, We Must First Learn What It Is

The Colbert Report / Amazon.com
The Colbert Report / Amazon.com

It can be argued that the golden age of satire was late 17th to early 18th century Britain, in which Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift figured prominently. Satire emerged out of the necessity to address absurdities and injustices in society that one would normally be sent to the guillotine for criticizing publicly and explicitly. It was (and still is) a loophole for writers; in the time of Pope and Swift, it was their hope for a promising future; and it was the gift of being able to speak their mind — albeit through their own contrived, cunning, code-like language. And it’s because of this that a lazy and all-around poor attempt at satire is so offensive.

It’s crucial that we learn how to use satire, especially in the wake of this abhorrent attempt at it. In the 18th century, as writers and people who wanted to speak out against social injustices sought solace in satire, two different forms of the writing style emerged. Characteristic of the Roman satirist Horace, Horatian satire is defined by raillery, or the attempt to gently poke fun at someone in order to grab the reader’s attention and shed light on some sort of folly. The second, Juvenalian, is named after the Roman satirist Juvenal and is defined as railing, or angry declamations that attempt to expose something and inspire anger in the reader. An example of the former is Pope’s The Rape Of The Lock and an example of the latter is Swift’s A Modest Proposal. If you remember one thing about satire, let it be this: satire is only good, praiseworthy, and effective when the writing is superb and the thought-process behind it ingenious and purposeful.

This is partly why “Anne Gus'” piece falls so flat. Talking about Asian women/White men couples, “she” says,

They are such an eyesore that I wish they would just put a big fat trigger warning on themselves, or just like wear one of those blankets that women from the Mid-East wear, jihads, or whatever, and cover up completely.

Obviously “Anne” is in need of some direction. At the very least, “she” must learn that feigning stupidity is not satire and, if anything, just lessens the validity of whatever argument she’s trying to make (which I’m still fairly uncertain about).

Which bring me to my next point: the argument. Satire is only satire if the writer has a specific intention to make a larger statement or comment — on society, politics, whatever. And in order to write satire, the argument must be coherent. For instance, Pope’s The Rape Of The Lock addresses the broad issue of absurd elitism in 18th century British aristocracy. It’s actually based on a true story about Belle Fermor (“Belinda”) — a beautiful aristocrat in early 18th century Britain — and the aristocratic baron Lord Robert Petre. After trying to court Belle and subsequently being rejected, the Baron apparently cut off a lock of her hair, causing a riff between his family and hers. It was a riff that replaced their families’ allied, invaluable relationship with a detrimental and hostile one. Pope’s writing is flawless and, in his piece, he makes a coherent argument: that the cutting of a lock of Belinda’s hair wreaked havoc on both of their families. But is the havoc sensible? Of course not, and that is where the satirical nature of this piece lies. It’s clear that Pope, while recounting the story in a mock-epic form, is simultaneously demeaning the event. Consistent with the mock-epic form, Pope portrays the Baron as a “knight” preparing for battle as his helpful sylph Clarissa bestows him with his armor: “a two-edg’d weapon from her shining case.” As if the Baron’s plan should be applauded, Pope sarcastically describes him as taking “the gift with rev’rence.” First and foremost, Pope’s piece is coherent — coherent enough to deduce the plot, and a ridiculous one at that. Whereas “Anne’s” piece still begs the question: what is she even arguing?

At no point does “her” article contain any subtleties or uncertainties; if it had, “Anne” might have had a better chance of explaining this unpalatable topic. Instead, “she” hurled out stupidities after moronic stupidities (“Asian women, are you too narrow-sighted to realize that the only reason the most privileged and devious group on this side of the Milky Way, White men, are trying to get all up in your wonton soup, is that they are heavily fetishizing you?” comes to mind) that neither made the reader laugh nor left any time for the reader to ponder the piece’s satirical nature (which, of course, there is none).

Satire is a genre of writing and, as such, comes in multiple forms. However, it goes without saying that the most enjoyable and effective type of satire is the one that makes the reader laugh. When a piece of satire has not succeeded in doing this, it seems impossible to label it as good satire (or even plain satire).

The only satire I can detect in “Anne’s” piece is in the first two sentences:

They’re everywhere. I can’t walk half a yard down the high-fashion streets of Boston with my girlfriends without being visually assaulted by them.

“High-fashion streets of Boston”? What — are you blind too? Boston is NOT high fashion. TC mark

More From Thought Catalog

blog comments powered by Disqus