Satire as Political/Literary DeviceI am a HUGE Swift fan.  I think his use of satire is virtually unparalleled.  Today, on NPR's "Talk of the...

Satire as Political/Literary Device

I am a HUGE Swift fan.  I think his use of satire is virtually unparalleled. 

Today, on NPR's "Talk of the Nation (2pm hr, CST) I heard a fascinating discussion of another political/literary use of satire.  In the height of the abolitionist movement, a sympathizer created a fictional document allegedly based on the "Sharks of Africa" who wanted to keep the slave trade viable so that they (the sharks) would be guaranteed plenty of meals.  (During the Middle Passage, slaves often became very ill or died.  Their bodies were thrown overboard.  Sharks, who are easily trained to follow prey, were often seen circling slave ships.)

Given the long history of satire, what role do you think the device has today?  I am a huge fan of "The Daily Show" and the "Colbert Report," but I wonder if any current literature has the...oomph...of these literary predecessors.

(Here is a link to the discusson of historian Michael Rediker's new book, "The Slave Ship:  A Human History"

Expert Answers
sagetrieb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Michael Moore knows something about satire, I think.  His Columbine movie has a section on "the history of America" that uses .... I cannot remember their name....those little boy figures that always talk dirty and look like "leggo guys" represent the pilgrims and other characters in American history. The vignette shows in a terrifically funny way how guns and violence and fear of "the other" have been salient to our history from the beginning.  Richard Pryor did some stunning and very funny satire in his early days on racism, relations between men and women, and other political topics. A good deal of satire has gone to the evening talk shows ("satire lite") and stand-up comedies of various degrees of quality. And then there is Catch 22....There are many forms of contemporary and popular satire, but in the tradition of Swift (or Orwell)...that might be another question.

sagetrieb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Last night Terry Gross interviewed Robert Colbert, who argued that political satire such as his does not affect politics in any meaningful sense, that it, in the long run, has no effect on public policy.  It might be the main source of news received by many young voters--that he conceded--but as to changing political discourse, he doubted it.  Political satire that is comedy has been reduced to the purpose of its entertainment value, he says--not that that is bad news, for he does seek to entertain--but he does not delude himself that in satirizing decisions to go to war in Iraq, for example, he will have an impact on decisions made to pull out and end the war.

Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hey there-  I believe you mean Stephen Colbert whose new book, "I am America (and So Can You!)" hits bookshelves today.

I don't know if a single printed piece can alter a political climate, but I do believe that satire can build a following by helping dissonant voices congregate ("I feel that way too; somebody else said it, maybe I'm not alone.") 

Oh, and btw, the "leggo-like" puppets to whom you refer earlier are the creations of the "South Park" guys; the movie was called "Team USA." 



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