Satire, the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose
and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of
contemporary politics and other topical issues.
Here is an attempt at defining its features:
diminution of someone, of something, of an event, to increase his ridicule;
the exaggeration of someone, something, an event, to increase his ridicule. In
press drawing, it is the process of caricature;
the juxtaposition of people, things, events, of unequal importance, which
discredits the whole because of a flagrant imbalance;
the parody that aims to imitate, by more or less subtle mockery, the techniques
or the style of a person, a thing, a place, in order to ridicule himah1
For a long time attributed to the Greeks – . As Greek writers referred
to earlier forms of satire themselves.
is now believed that satirical aspects to writings can be found since the first
instances of organised governments.. As Greek writers referred to earlier forms of satire themselves.
The paternity of satire is credited to the Greek poet Archiloque of
Paros. The son of a freed slave and a very poor man, who was very proud of his
origins. It is said that this pride was the cause of his first poem. Indeed, he
was promised a girl named Neoboule, whose father canceledcancelled
the wedding a few days before its happening, having found a better party for
his daughter. Archiloque was so outraged that he wrote the first satire in a
new poetic meter: the iamb. It is said that Neoboule’s father and his daughter
hanged themselves after hearing this very virulent poem. Legend has it that the
people targeted by Archiloque contracted skin diseasesah2 .
Aristophanesah3 , a poet of the Greek Classical era , however, is the
father of satire the way Socrates is of philosophy, as the quality of his works,
such as “The Knights”, still resonate in our century as
works of genius.
“Politics, these days, is no occupation
for an educated man, a man of character.
Ignorance and total lousiness are better.”
? Aristophanes, The Knights
I speak of Latin satire as the Satirical genre was defined in their
culture with works of Horace and Juvenal that set its image and features for a
In medieval times satire was a window to society where comedic shows went
from town to town showing a ridiculous and invented peopleah4 . As well as small fables called “Fablio” that often-portrayed
lovers and their jealous husbandsah5 .
The Renaissance and Classical period saw the revival of political Satire.,
Shakespeare and Moliere famously included features of satire in their comedies,
“All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history
books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have
arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing” (,
Moliere). The writer Boileau ah6 wrote what can be described as satirical works,
inspired by the Latins; those were attacks on contemporary writers that he
The 19th century saw the rise of cartoon political
satire cartoons. As Tthe
first installations of free speech in western constitutions (France, USA,
Netherlands) made explicit obvious criticism
possible even if it was still
often censored. The abundance and low cost of print permitted the quick
reproduction of drawings, and in a still largely analphabetic society,
political cartoons became accessible and reached all layers of society.
Those cartoons then became the first source of political commentary of
the masses., Iit
is believed that, already at the end of the18th century the American revolution,
would not have seen the day or at least be as successful were not for the
omnipresent cartoons ridiculing the British overlordsah7 .
With the arrival of radio, cinema and television satire
found new avenues to explore and so it did.,
works of Charlie Chaplin are probably the greatest achievement of the genre.,
TV the creation of what is considered
the first English satirical news program —”That
was the week that was” in the 1960’s — started
an international demand for such shows. Stand up, as well, and probably even
more radically so, created a space for socio-political satireism.
History shows us that satire has been present and influential throughout
the existence of organised power structures, I would like now to focus on its
1. Contemporary Satire: The Trump
Since the election of Trump, “the valve opened”. Laughter has become
“the antidote to anxiety,” the New York Times summarized. The
“stand up” comedians who animate the “Late night shows”, an
institution of American television, are letting off steam. And with them a
country wondering how long the tragicomedy will last – and how, especially, it
The comedians have suspended all restraint. During the campaign, Donald
Trump was the target of an average of 40 weekly jokes, according to a study by
the Centre for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University, Virginia,
on the four major satirical evening shows. Between January and April, more than
a hundred per week were directed at him.
The comedians are served by the news. As Trevor Noah, who works on
Comedy Central, said, “Every morning we say, ‘I cannot believe what Trump
said yesterday!’ And at night we remember even more clearly: “What was he
saying yesterday already? ”
It often is enough to quote. In his last interview, for example, in the
plane bringing him back from Paris, the President explained that he was now in
favour of a “transparent” wall on the Mexican border, in case the
traffickers would throw drug bags over the fence, which would fall in someone’s
hands. “He thinks in comics,” admired Seth Meyers, on NBC.
It’s no longer parody, it’s comic fighting, a rawness rarely seen
before, since maybe the Latin authors. On CBS, Stephen Colbert showed his
middle finger directly (although through television so not so directly,
something that I will address later in this paper) to the Ppresident.
Another obscenity earned him a complaint with the Federal Communication
Commission (FCC), but the Telecommunications authority did not impose a
penalty. The next day, the show had an additional 18% audience, reaching 3.06
million viewers. After the revelations about Donald Jr.’s Russian contacts, Mr.
Colbert apologized to his brother Eric Trump: “We thought you were the
fool” (of the family).
Trevor Noah, who took over the Jon Stewart Daily Show, the precursor of American
television satire, has done the unthinkable. In mid-June, he organized a real
exhibition in New York of the presidential tweets, set in museum settings.
“We are living a special moment in history,” he said. “Perhaps
the last moments in history”. Thanks to Twitter we have unprecedented access to
the complicated inner life of an American Ppresident,
whether we want it or not. New Yorkers queued for hours to visit.
Saturday Night Live (NBC) is back in the spotlight thanks to Alec
Baldwin, theah8 most trump-like wig wearing comedian, and Melissa
McCarthy, whose caricature of Sean Spicer, the White House spokeswoman still on
guard, is a source of irritation to the Ppresident.
Saturday’s show (eleven million viewers) recorded its best season in
From his studio in Los Angeles, Bill Maher (HBO), a virtuoso of the mix
between opinion and satire, has also registered a rise in audience, 68%
compared to 2016. His monologues are centred on Trump – “Agent Orange, as
the Russians call it “. Jared Kushner, the son-in-law, is at 36 years old,
the second most powerful man in America -” just behind Putin “. But
also directed towards the Democrats, especially their claim to want to
“rise” when the opponent is wallowing in the gutter. “You have
to hit even lower,” he says. Trump proved it: we have passed the point
where voters are concerned about big issues. What they want is to be directed.
So just show that you have balls! ”
Libertarian’s left wing, Bill Maher finished the season, exhausted.
“It’s fun to see the wheels come off one by one from the Trump car,”
he said. Until we remember we’re sitting in the back. ”
For the academic Sophia McClennen, professor at Pennsylvania State
University, comedians have found a more effective angle than the press to cover
the Trump presidency.
The media, she told Vox, “seem to think they have to take the
nonsense seriously if they want to be taken seriously.” Now, the search
for truth is sometimes best served by satire: “When the untruths are so
absurd that we cannot help but laugh. ”
2. Argument for the
growing importance and success of political satire in our day and age.
According to a 2002 Pew Research Center study, the american audiences
for most forms of television news fellah9 considerably between 1993 and 2002, with the audience
for nightly network news down 46%, network news magazines down 54%, local news
down 26%, and CNN down 28%.
The reasons for this decline are many.,
more agreed upon researches point to a shift in technology as well as a shift
in mentalities. The arrival of internet with social media, as an example,
brought most of the youth to secondary news outlets.
However, in my opinion, the most interesting argument is the following “The
metaphoric wall between the editorial and business sides of news has dissolved
(Underwood, 1993), as have any clear distinctions between the public and
private spheres, public affairs and popular culture, and information and
entertainment.” This grave quote indicates a dissolvement of the trust between
watchers/readers and news outlets and so logically a diminution of the
previously mentioned individuals reading or watching.
The second important argument is the overall dissolve of trust between
the average individual and institutions, whether
governmental and private., Ppolls
are clear: western democracies are disabused,
the trust level has never been so low since the end WW2. Conspiracy theories
are present in all layers of society and in every groups. “9/11
was an inside job”, the “fake
moon landing” and more are not simply a product of
one’s wandering imagination they are, at least partially, believed by millions
This is where satire becomes an answerah10 .
3. The trustworthy comic.
John Stewart arrived number one on an online pole done by the Times
asking who was the most trusted news man in America, clearly showing a
distinction with a purely comic activity. Another pole, not only online this
time (where the sample is younger and the reactions more skewed) shows Stewart
as being the 4th most trusted news anchor in America. Every Daily Show episode was seen by about 2
million people in 2004. The Gguardian
reported that the Colbert report brought 10% of the news to adult Americans, on
par with the Wwall Sstreet
and USA today. John Oliver’s show is seen every week by 4 million people, add
to that millions of online views.
The public, especially young adults, watching those shows are not simply
laughing, they are informing themselves which
in turn begs the questions:
what extent do the humoristic arguments put forward by comedians influence the
journalists pretend to be comedians et and
comedians pretend to be journalists?
if yes we agree on that, should
the leniency given to the realm of humour be given to what seems to be in fact journalistic
programs dealing with polarised issues?
Before giving a possible answer to those questions, I would like to give
a brief overview of who exactly this public is. The National Annenberg Election
Survey took it upon themselves to answer this question, and analysed the Daily
Show’s demographics (this research can give a good estimate of other satirical
news networks as both John Oliver and Mr. Colbert started their television
careers and learned their trade on the Daily Show) and some observations were
to be expected, that is, 40% percent of the viewers are between 18 and 29, more
surprisingly, 27% were above the age of 44. The data also suggests a liberal
majority, as well as a higher than average level of education, attention to
news and political knowledge. In our post-trump world, it
has, however, been reported that the reach of Colbert’s late night show had
successfully reached traditionally conservative republican regions, what is
commonly called the “deep Ssouth”.
It is important to understand those demographics as, today, the
boundaries between age and politicalah11
leaning on satirical shows, are blurred, more so than on traditional news
networks. And so, the reach of political satire is wider.
effect of satire on political action and participation
I would like to go about in what could be called an inversed manner, not
starting with the possible reaction of an individual agreeing with the content
of a jocke but
with a person against itah12 .
The study realised by Hsuan-Ting Chen and Chen Gan at the Chinese
University of Hong Kong studied the sentiment of anger originating from satire,
as anger is one of the main actor that leads to political action. The study
showed that there is no clear relationship between political involvement and
satire when the satirical content is addressing issues of no prior interest to
the individual. It showed, as well, a correlation between anger and counter attitdudinal
(against ones held belief) satire. The issue here is that anger can lead to
negative political action, riots, violence etc. Examples are many and recent,
the Charlie Hebdo attack is one of its most tragic componentconsequences.
An interesting point being made is that the showing of satirical content
against one’s ideology is more likely to cause anger than if the satire is
matching one’s ideology even if the subject is outrageous.
I would like to add to this study (and it says so as well in their
report) that the research was done in Hong Kong and related to questions of
independence from or alignment with Beijing’s government. Those questions are,
indeed, more likely to create a sentiment of anger, in terms of intensity and
participation than most discussions in our western societies.
Research shows that satire is a source of political interpersonal
is one of the rare case where researchers agree, the scientific
debate, today, centres around two important opposite concepts. Tthe
first being that satire is a positive motivation to engage in political
participation; the second is that satire creates a
sentiment of scepticism towards the political world and the efficiency of one’s
participation. It appears that, while the latter is not untrue, the positive
(augments political participation) outweighs the negative on this instance.
Now that we have a clearer idea of the effects of political satire, one
must wonder: if satire has the power to work as a news network, if not more
so than a real news network in convincing
populations of political action, s.
Should they be checked, alike news networks, and if yes what would
the results be?
As I do not have the means to consider every satirical production,
I will focus on the ones reaching the most individuals. Those are American
satirical television shows.
Research found, after examining the news stories and interviews in 52
episodes of The Daily Show from early 2005, that The Daily Show might have the
potential to educate viewers about political issues and world events. This
study found that of the 222 news stories in the examined episodes, more than
half addressed political topics.
The pew research centre found that the Daily Show and Colbert Report
score higher for accuracy than CNN or Fox news, although Fox news, in the same
study of accuracy, disinforms more than it informs. It can then be said than
Satirical shows informs more than the most watched news network in American
television. Some have theorised that the satirical shows were partly to blame
for the lost of confidence in news networks. Which is an interesting argument if
it was nothowever it is not invalid:
, as one cannot accuse the person that
finds the lies or mistakes to be the cause of one’s failure.,
lies and mistakes are the cause of that failure.
John Stewart, as have many other comedians, famously stated that all he
was trying to do was make people laugh. ,
A statement that can be reproached as non-ethical, while it might
be true to his vision, it is not true of the content of the show or of the
influence that it holds of its viewers. ah13 John
Oliver, the most successful satirist working today, has faced the truth and
agreed to a role of influencer.
Satire has existed for more than 2 thousand years and it is here to
stay. With its amount of controversy, outrageousness and counter-productiveness
It is the ultimate, sometimes tasteful expression of freedom of speech and a
crucial actor in all nations where humans don’t like towant
to reflect on take power
and establish a distance
with political activity to seriously.
The effects are on the one hand, that hHumour
brings about a certain quality of information, as well as being a source of
political discussion and reaction. It runs the risk, on the other hand, of
angering the extremist and the religious orthodoxy less prone to enjoying
humour directed at them. It is part
of the public life. It gives a certain leeway of expression but
most importantly, when it is good satire, it strips down the corrupt and
enlightens the curious.