Satire in Contemporary Culture and Its Political Ties
Satire is a technique employed by authors, performing artists, and graphic artists to criticize corruption, shortcomings, foolishness, and abuses of individuals with the use of humor, ridicule, caricature, and exaggeration. This technique has held an important place in people’s lives and continues to do so in the contemporary society. It has created awareness in people about important phenomena and acted as a transforming power until today. As Emily Nussbaum rightly states in her article “How Jokes Won the Election”, “jokes were a superior way to tell the truth- that meant freedom for everyone” (Nussbaum 1). Comedy, especially in the form of satire, intends to reveal the truth to audiences: it intends to wake people up. To this day, satire has helped many people recognize the ill intentions of certain individuals and even affected the outcome of political elections and decisions. Satire, in our contemporary culture, should continue this behavior: its main purpose should be revealing hidden truths to human beings.
In our contemporary culture, one of the primary uses of satire takes place in the political arena. Satirists criticize the actions of certain political figures with the use of humor and exaggeration. This criticism acts as an important weapon against indoctrination. Nussbaum, for instance, claims that “I had the impression that jokes, like Woody Guthrie’s guitar, were a machine that killed fascists” (Nussbaum 1). Nusbaum makes a reasonable argument in the previous sentence because satire has been fighting fascism for several centuries. To illustrate with an example, during the Gezi protests of Istanbul which took place in 2013, one of the most prominent satirical magazines in Turkey, “Penguen” published a special Gezi issue. In this issue, the caricaturists made fun of the oppression of the ruling party during the protests and illustrated how the police officials physically abused protesters in a brutal manner. The special issue of Penguen sold millions of copies and encouraged people to start an awareness campaign about the “Gezi Abuse”. When the issue was released, a strict censorship was put on broadcasting networks; therefore, the Penguin magazine acted as a great tool to inform citizens about the truth behind Gezi protests. For this reason, satire has played a crucial role in Gezi protests: one of the most significant incidents in Turkish political history. Numerous examples similar to the use of satire in Gezi protests exist and all of them show us that satire is an effective weapon against fascism, autocracy, oppression, and tyranny.
It’s evident that satire has been playing a significant role in the political climate of the United States for centuries. Satirists have always sought to find creative means to criticize the political figures they disagree with and successfully persuaded numerous individuals against these figures. South Park is a great example of this; the producers of the show have strongly criticized George Bush in the past episodes and were able to successfully portray him under a bad light. Many satirists are now trying to do the same to Donald Trump, but their task is much more challenging than it used to be. The reality with Trump’s administration is so over the top that it is difficult for satirists to come up with an exaggerated scenario that criticizes his actions. Basically, how do you get more dramatic than Trump without appearing ridiculous or losing the meaning you’re trying to convey? How do you satirize a figure who is already a walking caricature? Scott Meslow stresses this challenge in his article “Our Cartoon President Makes Us Wonder: Why Can’t Anyone Make a Decent Donald Trump Satire?” and claims that “the trouble with satirizing Trump is that Trump is essentially self-satirizing” (Meslow, 2018). As Meslow explains, Trump has been a public media figure for decades, and he has been mocked by humorists so much that nearly every single joke about him has already been made. The satirists now often realize that they are repeating themselves, and the presence of such repetition causes the audience to lose interest and makes the satirical criticism less effective. Furthermore, as a media figure, Trump is quite accomplished at responding to negative criticisms directed from satirists and quite successful at mocking them. It’s quite difficult to get under the skin of Trump; with his extreme ego and partial “immunity to satire” that came with experience, it’s challenging for satirists to personally offend Trump. Meslow says that personal offense on Trump’s part is necessary for satirists to succeed: “ And so the most successful measure of whether or not a Trump satires work might, in the end, be whether or not it personally irritates Trump” (Meslow 2018).
Moreover, Trump possesses a troll army that fights against the satirists, and this makes the satirists’ jobs even more difficult. Trump and his supporters have achieved mastery in trolling which refers to “lies, insults, and cruel pranks, emanating from anonymous abusers and presidential candidates” as Andrew Kahn explains his article “Trump Hasn’t killed Comedy” (Kahn 2017). The documentary “The World’s Greatest Troll: the Humor of Donald Trump” claims that “Donald Trump has a sense of humor that is self-deprecating, shockingly blunt… You can say that he is a master of making people feel uncomfortable. You could go a step further and say that he is the greatest troll the world have ever seen” (This Information 2016). This attribute of Trump makes him a hard target for the satirists: it’s tough to mock someone who already makes fun of himself and who is great at attacking and insulting people who oppose him. Trump and his supporters don’t hesitate to insult the satirists who criticize the Trump administration and are able to come up with creative and humorous ways to make these insults.
So, how can satirists respond to the Trump reality that is many ways “outsatirizing satire”? Absurdity and exaggeration can no longer act as the primary weapons of satire as the political reality is already extremely absurd and exaggerated. As James Mitchell states in his article “Trump Satire: Why Bother?”, imitations full of hyperbole are no longer sufficient to make a strong statement against Donald Trump. Mitchell effectively states “Pedaling in cheap imitation can only preach to the converted and further fracture an already divided country. The stock standard mockery that SNL is pushing will bait Trump to react with an insecure tweet and Spicer to call the show “mean”. It won’t change the administration or its leader because an actor caricatures him as a dullard with a toupee” (Mitchell, 2017). For this reason, as Mitchell also argues, satirists shouldn’t confine themselves to superficial criticism but instead try to respond to the Trump reality with insightful analysis. Satirists should use their intelligence to criticize the actions of the Trump administration in a logical manner instead of caricaturizing him, and tone down the hyperbole to make a more clear statement. Mitchell defines this form of satire as “constructive satire” where the satire acts as a valuable source of true information to the crowds and satirists use persuasion based on evidence to criticize political realities. In other words, the satirists should conduct their research well and gather a considerable amount of information on their opponent and then use all the shortcomings they detected to create humorous material. Constructive satirists should strive to appeal to the logos of the audience while appealing to their sense of humor.
Nussbaum, Emily. “How Jokes Won the Election.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 19 June 2017, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/23/how-jokes-won-the-election.
Meslow, Scott. “’Our Cartoon President’ Makes Us Wonder: Why Can’t Anyone Make a Decent Donald Trump Satire?” GQ, GQ, 9 Feb. 2018, www.gq.com/story/why-cant-anyone-make-a-decent-donald-trump-satire.
Kahn, Andrew. “Trump Hasn’t Killed Comedy. He’s Killed Our Stupid Idea of Comedy.” Slate Magazine, 19 July 2017, slate.com/arts/2017/07/trump-and-his-trolls-arent-killing-comedy-theyre-saving-it.html.
This Information. “The World’s Greatest Troll: the Humor of Donald Trump.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 25 October 2016. Web. 25 February 2018.
Mitchell, James. “Trump Satire: Why Bother?” Guide, 9 Feb. 2017, www.sbs.com.au/guide/article/2017/02/10/trump-satire-why-bother.