Satire as a genre has really come back into the cultural foreground over the past couple of decades. From late night lampoons like “Saturday Night Live” to online news satire like “The Onion,” no public figure is safe, and nothing is sacred.
Of course satire is nothing new. It was quite popular during the European Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. The most famous examples would probably be Jonathan Swift’s trivialization of human nature and political conflict in Gulliver’s Travels. Any discussion of satire would be incomplete without a tip of the hat to Voltaire’s Candide, where he deflates everything and everyone, from clergy to philosophers and both sexes. People have been pointing their pens at society for centuries, and I’m not just talking about Swift and Voltaire. Satire is no less than two thousand years old. The Roman satirist Juvenal was scathing in his brutal critique of every strata of first-century Roman society.
Satire comes to us through slightly different means in the twenty-first century. Especially in the last couple of decades, satirical websites have exploded and taken off. People just seem to love reading them! I know my morning cup of coffee is not complete without perusing “The Babylon Bee,” a Christian news satire website. But why do we write satire, and why do we read it? What is inherent in it that attracts us?
I believe the answer to this is threefold. First of all, satire is healthy for us as a society. It enables us to identify cultural inconsistencies or problems and bring them into the public eye. Why is it that people camp outside of an Apple store? Why is a six-year-old suspended from school for biting off the corner of a Pop-Tart in a “gun” shape? What are the consequences of public figures on Twitter? Satire can address these issues almost just as effectively as news platforms, editorials, and columns. Though satire makes frequent use of hyperbole or extreme situations, there can be something quite frank and honest about it too.
Another reason is satire enables us to laugh at ourselves. Nobody likes a person who can’t take a joke. Similarly, a society that can’t laugh at themselves might be a sign of cultural immaturity. Though I am a Christian, I enjoy reading Christian satire like the “Babylon Bee” because it if fun to laugh at oneself on a regular basis. Like a caricature drawing, it accentuates a particular trait or flaw and makes it amusing.
Finally, satire enables us to approach serious things from the side of humor. In our culture, there is such an emphasis on political-correctness. Everyone offends so easily, it seems like nobody can state their opinion without getting verbally tarred and feathered. Humor lets us approach serious issues in a light-hearted way. Maybe this lessens the sting of critique. Perhaps it makes the bitter truth easier to swallow, by giving it a bright candy coating. It might even make the impact of the truth more acute.
So, to writers of satire: keep up the good work! You are doing everyone a favor, whether they realize it or not.