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The Language of Satire

Satire and the Media

John Clarke, renown for “The Games’, believes that Satire is an antidote to being lied to.  Satire is the great leveller, the democratic means of smirking at pretension and power.  Roy and HG use their skills of mockery to trivialise the serious and treat serious subjects trivially.   Satire is an attempt to tell the truth about situations and people however as Jonathan Swift said, “It is a kind of glass wherein the beholder sees everyone’s  face but their own,” and so it might be charged, too, of satirists who excoriate others while exempting themselves from blame. -- Joyce Carol Oates, "Showtime," The New Yorker, October 27, 2003

Purpose: Satire is used to expose and denounce hypocrisy, stupidity, absurdity, folly or vice in society or professed pillars of our society. Satire can be used to shine a light on the inanity and ugliness of human behaviour. John Oliver maintains "it can also be used to give us glimpse into other people's pain, as well as our own".

Ben Neutze in Crikey’s Daily Review extols the virtues of Shaun, Micallef’s biting satire, Mad As Hell:

It doesn’t just explain the issues; it subverts them and parodies the arguments involved so the audience is opened up to a new perspective. And it does that by being substantially funnier than most shows of its ilk – you often find yourself in the midst of a laughing fit when you come to the sudden realisation that your assumptions about a certain situation might be slightly mistaken”.

Synonyms:   Send up, Rip-off, Lampoon, tongue-in-cheek or Take the piss (mickey) out,   Take a lend of, Knock, Bagging, Diss.,...,

The essence of satire is to make the serious appear trivial; the trivial serious.

Characteristics of Satire:

Satire uses humour in poking fun, ridiculing or deriding the behaviour of people, especially those who pretend or are filled with self-importance without cause. Satire chooses targets it cares about to gently mock or send up causing laughter. On the other hand, sarcasm tends to be stinging, cutting, bitter acerbic, even savage in its criticism evoking scorn, contempt and even hatred.

Humour: In order to soften us up and lower our defences, satire adopts a light-hearted tone and spices its message with a jocular attitude so that we become more receptive.

Subtlety - The satire is implicit and may not be evident to an uninformed or innocent reader. Satire is also often topical, localised and contemporary, therefore dates easily.

Exaggeration, hyperbole, overstated/understated, caricatures, stereotypes, or distortion - Everything is not what it seems, nothing can be accepted at face value.

Techniques - devices:

A target; a simpleton, a stooge; the butt or victim of the ridicule — fall guy; generally someone who takes themselves overly seriously — or it can be a dupe or gull.

Analogy, extended or sustained; fable or travelogue with implied meanings

Inversion — the unexpected. Characters get opposite roles.

Mock — Heroic: Treating a trivial subject overly seriously by using inflated heroic language.

-Serious Treating a minor event overly serious.

-Tragic - Treating a minor incident overly tragically.

- Trvial - Treating a trivial subject in an overly-inflated manner.

Black Humour - Treating a serious or tragic incident trivially or jokingly.  it is often used by people who have to deal with stressful and traumatic situations on a daily basis to gain release.

Literal inversion — sentences inverted

Parody, Imitation, mimicry - The writer uses the same word order or style as another well known writer, but distorts the message by changing a few key words.

Our Examiner who art in Sydney,

Anonymous be thy name,

Thy mark is to come

My Paper’s done

Pun: puns are another satirical device which employs two meanings relying on the different uses of a word. Puns can be used to set the tone of the satirical piece — whether it is light hearted or serious in its intention.

 Other Techniques of Satire

Satire, the gentle teasing of something you love, owes its success to the use of IRONY.

Irony comes in many forms, but essentially refers to a discrepancy between what is said and what is meant. There is the obvious, literal or superficial meaning and on another level, an intended, deeper or opposite meaning. Irony is often subtle. There are at least 5 kinds:

1. Dramatic - The audience/reader knows something the speaker is not aware of.

2. Situational — When circumstances turn out opposite of what is expected.

3. Verbal - The words used are the opposite to the intended meaning.

4. Tonal - The writer adopts one tone but the reader responds with an opposite one. Eg: the writer calmly describes an horrific scene that arouses horror in the reader.

5. Authorial - Comments or interpretation of the author is undermined by an undercurrent or below-the-surface implication, contradicting each other.

Irony has the ability to heighten and hold the reader’s interest by giving pleasure, relief, humour and stimulus. It is an inclusive device seeming to take the responder into the composer’s confidence. Irony is seldom malicious or spiteful.

Contrast — Irony places unexpected opposites side by side.

Juxtaposition — Putting together two contrasting or opposing ideas.

Incongruity or contrast — Putting together two events, characters, things or conversations to highlight opposition and expose folly or vice.

Paradox - An apparent absurd or contradictory statement eg: “The first shall be last “.

Oxymoron - the placement of opposing words next to each other —eg: bitter sweet..

Hyperbole or Caricature — the deliberate distortion of a target by exaggerating or emphasising a salient feature. Fully blown, vices, banalities, ludicrous actions can be ridiculed when they are overstated.

Understatement - Sometimes the satirist will try an opposite effect by treating a serious subject in a trivialising manner. By understating something the composer demonstrates that they are in control of the situation and appear calm and reasonable.

Tone: The overall tone of satiric passage is light hearted, jocular or mocking. Satire seldom preaches or teaches didactically so it attempts to sugar coat its message by entertaining the audience. It is much more likely to get its message across.

 

The aim of satire is to ridicule the world, and through shame to change it.  If, however the target of your satire is shameless, its effect is limited.  John Gay’s 18th century satire of Prime Minister Robert Walpole, had the Prime Minister book a box at the theatre and loudly applaud.  John Howard was similar.  Many cartoonists, columnists and news editors gave up, as all attempts to shame Howard backfired and he gained in popularity. Most politicians prefer being pilloried rather than ignored.

 

Are the disadvantaged immune from satire?   John Oliver claims one reason he feels comfortable in Australia is because "I like the underdog mentality, because it means that you're punching up all the time"... he sets his sights on hypocrisy, wilful ignorance and hubris.  "You don't want to punch down - that's horrible".

Many people felt that an episode of the Chaser sending up "Make a Wish Foundation" was ill adivised as it "punched down".

Statement from Kim Dalton, Director of ABC TV and Julian Morrow, Executive Producer The Chaser’s War on Everything

The Chaser’s War on Everything is a satirical program aimed at provoking debate and providing social commentary on topical issues, current affairs and public life in general.

The sketch in last night’s show called ‘Making A Realistic Wish Foundation' was a satirical sketch and black comedy.

The ABC and The Chaser did not intend to hurt those who have been affected by the terminal illness of a child. We acknowledge the distress this segment has caused and we apologise to anyone we have upset.

As a result, ABC TV will edit the segment out of tonight’s repeat screening on ABC2 and on-line.

In that spirit Crikey would like to apologise for the forthcoming article ‘Terminal cancer kiddies are sick bludgers’. However, it needs to he pointed out that every year dying children cost this nation hundreds of millions of dollars in Disneyland trips, meetings with leading sportspeople and visits from high class escorts for ‘teen terminals’. We would be remiss in our mission if we did not expose the rorts perpetrated on the public purse by these children often for months at a time. Or weeks. Or days.

The Chaser was completely correct to extend their satirical scope to this privileged group of Australians, some of whom don’t even have to go to school everyday, and get to wear hats -- satire is about challenging the powerful, the privileged and the corrupt and so in respect of sick and dying children, mmm, hey, look, geese!

We are confident the Chaser will continue in its fearless mission -- of building a multi-million dollar comedy brand on public funds by desperately stringing out a third series absent of ideas using cheap shock and outrage. We support them in their mission of breaking through the barriers put up against well-connected Sydney University law students by "the man". If feelings of a few dying children are allowed to stand in the way of that, well it’s clear you -- and they -- have no sense of humour.

"Referral upwards" will kill ABC comedy

Executive Producer of the ill fated ABC arts production Vulture Guy Rundle writes:

Referral upwards. Aside from the "the colonoscopy department is fresh out of anesthetic" has any phrase ever struck more fear into those at the mercy of more powerful forces?

If one bad judgment by a comedy unit becomes a stick to beat the organisation with, or satire itself, then it will be a failure of will on the part of the ABC to stick by its talent, even when they make terrible mistakes. It's obvious to this old sketch-comedy hack how The Chaser thing happened -- a sketch-comedy show is part playground crap session, part last days in the Fuhrerbunker, and the relentless need to feed the monster that is the show can put you off balance. The "realistic wish" idea must have been hilarious in an ideas session, where rules of taste are officially suspended, and any creeping thoughts as the thing was being filmed, with actual child-actors pretending to be dying kids, would have been pushed to the back of one's mind.

So what went wrong? The ABC actually has better content supervision processes than commercial TV.

 What's to be gained from ruining someone's evening with material that is frankly, an admission that you're out of funny ideas, and need the power of shock to keep going?

The Chaser's self-described "War on Everything" persuaded them and their immediate superiors that any challenge to viewer complacency was part of their mission. That was simply rolled over from satire to slightly-desperate black humour. To have everyone up to the ABC MD poring over scripts to decide whether an Air France flight from Brazil gag is "too soon", or whether Chris Lilley can say "smegma" is going to kill comedy dead.

What's needed is a more critical reflection by producers on how satire can slide into pointless nihilism when its main purpose -- ridiculing power, received ideas, complacency etc -- becomes confused with the idea of to quote Garrison Keiller on avant-garde theatre, "not so much performing plays as confronting the audience with its own inadequacies". It's part of a wider nihilism which has infected much TV in the years of reality television, and the disappearance of real political contestation.

Come to think of it, colonoscopy is kinda referral upwards.


Tragedy evokes emotions; comedy affects thinking.


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