Terms / Themes


presentation on Satire
for Galena Park ISD seniors, 2012

Oxford English Dictionary  I.1.a. A poem or . . . prose composition, in which prevailing vices or follies are held up to ridicule. Sometimes, less correctly, applied to a composition in verse or prose intended to ridicule a particular person or class of persons, a lampoon. ["lampoon" may equal "parody" or "burlesque," as when National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation parodizes or mocks a normal family Christmas.]

2.b. The employment, in speaking or writing, of sarcasm, irony, ridicule, etc. in exposing, denouncing, deriding, or ridiculing vice, folly, indecorum, abuses, or evils of any kind.

Etymology:  < French satire (= Spanish sátira, etc.), or directly < Latin satira , later form of satura , . . . in classical use a poem in which prevalent follies or vices are assailed with ridicule or with serious denunciation. The word is a specific application of satura medley; . . . alleged to have been used for a dish containing various kinds of fruit, and for food composed of many different ingredients.

Narrative of Satire

Satire.  The word “satire” comes from Greek “mixed-dish”; thus its story-line is episodic and opportunistic, involving elements of other genres including comedy, humor, wit, and fantasy.

  • The topic being satirized may be humanity or society in general, or particular classes or pastimes [e.g., Christmas, Prom, freshman year], but typically the genre satirizes politics, sex, and religion. Since laughter is pleasing and diverting and makes one feel superior, satire enjoys more liberty than other genres in treating such sensitive subjects.

  • As another disarming device, the narrator or protagonist of satire may be a "naif"--an innocent person (usually young and likeable) who appears to lack any pre-existing attitudes toward right or wrong in what s/he observes, and so makes the object of satire appear more preposterous. Examples: Candide in Voltaire's Candide, Huck in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Austin Powers, etc. Compare deadpan style.

  • As a "mixed dish," the satiric narrative may depend for its narrative integrity on the audience’s knowledge of the original story being satirized. Gulliver's Travels (1726) may begin as a satire not only of European societies but of The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1718), published only 8 years earlier.

  • In more recent instances, the Hot Shots movies may appear to be simply an unconnected series of goofy scenes unless you’ve seen Top Gun and other warrior-hero movies, in which case you know that episodes from the satire spoof or parody episodes from the original films. Young Frankenstein similarly depends on a familiarity with the original Frankenstein or at least with the cliches of old-time horror movies.

  • More recent examples:

    • Scary Movie series spoofs I Saw What you Did Last Summer, Blair Witch Project, Scream (itself a satire), etc.

    • Not Another Teen Movie (2001) parodies Pretty in Pink, She's All That, 10 Things I Hate About You, + references to American Pie, The Breakfast Club, Footloose, The Karate Kid, and other examples of the "Teen Movie" genre, with stock character types like "the Pretty Ugly Girl," "the Popular Jock," "the Cocky Blonde Guy," "the Nasty Cheerleader," and "the Token Black Guy."

Structurally, the satirical narrative will end somewhat like the original narrative, but, in terms of tone, the seriousness or pretensions of the original narrative will be deflated.

As a single-voiced example, an impersonator depends on his audience’s pre-knowledge of a celebrity’s mannerisms and foibles.


impersonation = mimesis


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