What Is Satire?

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Satire is the use of irony, humor, and sarcasm — and exaggerated circumstances — to expose the stupidity, ignorance, or recklessness of a particular policy or course of action. Underlying the humor, there is usually a serious political or social message; the humor makes the message easier for an audience to hear and contemplate.

Satire comes from the Latin word, satura. Derived from an earlier Greek form, Latin satire tends to fall into two main categories, Horatian or Juvenalian. The former focuses on wit and subtle wordplay, while the latter is dark and mocking. Today, political and social satire are just as popular as they were in the Classical Era.

How Do You Identify Satire in Writing?

Satire typically involves three things: imitation, ridicule, and exaggeration. They often take a real approach to problem solving and suggest a ridiculous solution, or they use exaggerated circumstances to poke fun at a cultural trend. Suggesting that Americans get rid of the age requirement for a concealed carry permit and explaining that a diaper is the perfect place for children to keep their handguns at daycare pokes fun at American gun culture.

Examples of Satire

Satire Example 1. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is a satire on conservative American punditry. Colbert’s role is so convincing that the only way you know it is satire is by noticing the exaggeration.

Satire Example 2. “A Modest Proposal,” Jonathan Swift’s famous satire, suggests that the Irish enrich themselves by selling their infants as food for the rich rather than relying on social welfare.

Satire Example 3. The Onion is a publication that features nothing but satire, like this piece about the transformation of Selena Gomez into a “sexualized plaything.”

Satire Example 4. Mark Twain’s novel, Puddin’head Wilson, tells the story of two boys who were switched at birth. No one knows the difference, despite the fact that one boy is a slave, because both boys are white in appearance. The novel satirizes the construction of race in the nineteenth-century South.

Satire Example 5. The television program South Park satirizes all aspects of American culture, including our preoccupation with religion and social media.