What contributes to effective satire?

By Kedi Hickman

Jesuit News (Portland, Oregon)

Satire is a comedic way of exposing and commenting on current events in order to amuse and educate its audience.

“People use satire as a way to lightly critique social or political events or organizations by using humor as a vehicle for critique, which often goes over better than just a straightforward critique,” English teacher Ms. Mathes said. “But satire, if it’s effective, isn’t just critique, but critique with change in mind.”

And therein lies the difference, satire isn’t just comedic, it’s educational. Satire has definite purpose, and contains actual substance for debate. Once comedians and hosts start to simply make fun of people on stage, it’s not satire, it’s mockery, a form of comedy that at its core is mean spirited and aims to evoke embarrassment. 

Effective satire is not aimed at an individual, but  rather at injustices or issues that lie within organizations and institutions. The art gives satirists a platform to emphasize their perspective. 

“Journalists have a model in which they show both sides of an argument,” Jesuit High School English teacher Mr. Villareal said. “A satirist would say, ‘maybe in normal times, but not now, that side doesn’t deserve to have their ideas broadcast out for public consumption’… and satire gives them a way to do that.” 

“I’ve kind of distanced myself from a lot of current satire because it’s just too much for me, if I watch Stephen Colbert, if I watch SNL, if I  watch Trevor Noah, everything starts out in satire, but I feel like there’s a point in almost every program where it begins to stray into mockery or into sarcasm, and at that point, it loses me,” Ms. Mathes said. “Satire is an art form, it’s a literary art form, it’s a political art form, and it’s hard to do it well. Mockery is easy.Mockery is the most low-brow kind of communication.

So I hate to see people that I really respect descend into mockery.” So where is that line drawn?   

“[The goal of] satire is to make people in power uncomfortable, so much so that they change. If you look at Saturday Night Live and look at their satirical approaches to the world of politics right now, they are very much being rudely and comedically honest because they’re saying ‘this is craziness, we’re going to cut through the BS and I’m going to show you the truth and let’s change it’” Mr. Villareal said.

Photo Credit: Eric Garcetti

Leave a Reply