What is satire? Molly Irvins said, “Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. One kind will make you chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity—like what Garrison Keillor does. The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule—that’s what I do.” Based on what Molly Irvins said, satire can be funny and all jokes but on the flip side, satire can have such a serious undertone that it comes off as ridicule. Satire is a literary term that has to be closely examined to be truly understood.
The dictionary definition of satire is the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule or the like in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc. satire is often confused with the term irony, but there are some major differences between the two. Irony is the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning. For example, saying, “oh how nice!” when you find out you have to work late on your anniversary. Satire, on the other hand, uses irony along with sarcasm and parody to scorn or expose human folly. Satire, the general term, emphasizes the weakness more than the weak person.
Most people do not realize it, but parodies are the most common form of displaying satire. It takes the serious matter and makes it funny to convey the message of the human error, and the corrupt thinking of society that people have seemed to overlook. Weird Al Yankovic has built his career off of his satirical parodies. One of his popular parodies was Amish paradise. First thing you notice from the song is the obvious Socratic irony because he used the track for Coolio’s popular rap song Gangster Paradise. Due to the fact that tune of the song was so familiar as being Gangster Paradise and he flipped it to be Amish paradise, which is the absolute opposite of a gangster, the irony was the strongest point in the parody. The sarcasm of the song is very critical because his point of view in the song is how great it is to be Amish, but you can clearly tell from the lyrics that there is a sense of mockery. For example, he says, “As I walk through the valley where I harvest my grain, I take a look at my wife and realize she’s very plain, but that’s just perfect for an Amish like me, you know I shun fancy things like electricity…” through the sarcasm he’s telling everyone, “Hey! There are people out there that are living like this!” He is exposing this community of people that live as though they are stuck in the 1800’s, but he does it in such a way that people get a good laugh out of it. In doing that he further developed Molly Irvins’ statement when she said, “One kind will make you chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity…”
To further develop the concept of the more humorous side of satire is the children’s movie Shrek. In the movie Shrek, the ogre is the hero of his fairy tale. Ogres are supposed to be the “bad guys”, but in this movie, he is the good guy and he shakes the whole foundation of a fairy tale. Some other satirical points in the movie were the fact that Princess Fiona was not a typical “damsel in distress” she was strong, intelligent, and independent. Also, the fact that Shrek accepted her in her ogre state, was a great form of satire as well as the fact that she picked Shrek over prince charming shook the whole princess theme. The whole movie ridicules society because people try to model their lives after some fairy tale dream that they have, but that is not the way the world works. It shows us that today’s woman is not helpless, that the underdog does succeed if they would just put themselves out there and try, and that the real “prince charming” is the person that will accept you for who you are no matter what.
Just like Molly Irvins said in her quote, there are kinds of satire that holds people to public contempt and ridicule. A satirical example of that is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. For example, when Huck said, “By and By they fetched the nigger in and had prayers, and everybody was off to bed,” it pointed out the fact that Miss Watson was trying to become a better Christian, yet she still owned slaves which is completely contradictory of the religion. Another example of satire in the book is the fact that Pap was so outraged at the thought of a black man voting, even though that black man was a great deal more educated than him. The book in its self is an accurate depiction of how society was during the times of slavery. Through his satire, he exposed all of the human follies of that time, but not in a way that is funny in a conventional way.
Satire takes serious issues, problems in society, and human error, and exposes them in a way that causes a person to really sit down and evaluate how silly things are in the world. In a sense, satire simplifies these follies in such a way that causes it to be embarrassing to the target or to be looked at as ridicule.