”Written byIndio Friedmann
“Trivia quiz aside, satire is misunderstood and vilinised when in reality, it is one of our greatest tools to spark critical engagement and much needed conversation. “
Satire is sharp and cynical. Sly and subtle. It manages to escape the grasp of responsibility and the expectant apology. It can transmute beauty into the absurd and praise into ridicule.
It uses its wittiness to charm even its targeted audiences at the price of possibly your ego, and no, satire takes no prisoners. Trivia quiz aside, satire is misunderstood and vilinised when in reality, it is one of our greatest tools to spark critical engagement and much needed conversation.
Satire (well the good kind anyway), cleverly hides little easter eggs for us to find in literature, art, film, amongst other mediums. The eggs, or rather the arms of satire, include the use of sarcasm, exaggeration, wit, irony and incongruency. Placed all together, a social commentary emerges, pulling us away from ourselves. Sort of dissociative in feeling. This is not me but still the scene before me is familiar, I recognise its contents. Not every detail but it is generic enough to fulfil my own truth, alongside many others. Of course, I should be offended at my own mockery but my discomfort is rather my laughter. The headline reads “I don’t like this thing but for different, more nuanced reasons than yours.” This attack on my ego comes after an intense scroll through the warzone of facebook comments on yet another whistleblower worthy post. I can’t help but chuckle. It’s funny in all the wrong places.
Dubbed as the sensitive soul generation, us snowflakes are sure to speak up when something antagonises us (and rightly so). But the real offense strategy is to not let it control us thereafter. Yes, Trevor Noah’s anecdotes may sometimes be uncomfortably relatable but through the use of satire, they serve an even greater purpose than to personally offend your honour through a bit of dark humour. In fact, satirical creations group us, rather than divide us. And for us to get to the end, or rather even just the beginning of the rainbow, it is crucial to have the abilities to self-reflect, correct and recognise within those around us.
In order to do this, we need something to reflect off of and what a better surface than our own absurdity! That’s why artist Cara Biederman speaks to me personally, it is like having an honest conversation with myself. I can internally feel the stupidity of societal femininity but when my caricature doppelganger is right in front of me, saying the things that I only think, I can externally see it and that, well that’s just truly provoking.
That’s why I’d mostly argue personal conviction over being politically correct. When we start drawing lines of what is and is not acceptable to say (which is of course needed) this inevitably results in the linguistic extremists coming out to play. As a lover of logic, I often pick up in argumentation and reasoning that many valid points get lost in common semantics, often leading to logical fallacies (For example, “Blue is a bad color because it is linked to sadness” – this makes a claim which offers support for itself.
Lest we forget the stuffing of words into my mouth strategy, i.e. the Straw man fallacy “You say you support the Black Lives Matter movement? What, do you not support all other lives?” (We do this all the time: take an argument we disagree with and mischaracterize it so it looks weak or extreme, thus making our own side appear more reasonable)
The importance of being able to see a piece of work within its intended context is even more evident when considering today’s “cancel culture.” What might have started as a noble cause to cleanse society from all “visible” evil, has rather turned into virtual lynchings. I will always support calling out where it is due, but to cancel is to do away with the very example we can use to deter. We need a reference point of where we go from that hopefully turns into where we came from.
We shouldn’t cancel, we should control and recreate. By this I mean yes, reign in on the isms but also use them to recreate a new functional reality outside of them. That way we can separate ourselves and essentially objectify those isms. When we remove ourselves as the subject of the satirical piece in front of us, we simultaneously remove the imagined target on our backs. Instead we are part of our own objective audience allowing humour to convey perhaps a troubling event, era, reference but in a manageable format. This being through pictures, colours, caricatures, words, animation and more. But we have actually been watching cartoons since we were tots. In fact you’d be lying if you said you don’t still watch. How about a late night Rick and Morty? Or my personal favourite, F is for Family. Even these have subtle undertones of reality we are all able to connect to. That’s the genius of it, sometimes spelling it out in literal terms is not enticing, perhaps because all of the work is already done for the reader. But satire offers something special, an invitation to engage and play with content that is challenging to our inner world and challenges the rest of the world.
The magazine, Reductress, is a shining example. One of their pseudo-headlines read “US mint introduces token black woman,” where below lies an engraving of Maya Angelou on a quarter. Of course no one is denouncing this incredible achievement. But the punchline is actually in the timing, why now? The headline is designed to satirically comment on issues of racism and tokenism in US. Tokenism being the use of marginalised and/or disadvantaged groups for outward “liberal” appearances, potentially resulting in further exploitation.
The hermeneutical circle explains that we “only ever understand works of art or our own existence differently and not definitively. Thus, art showcases the power of language to reveal the world in a concentrated form” As humans, we will always have an incomplete nature of understanding. We do not define ourselves in terms of who we were a year ago. So we must remain reborn throughout our life. Staying in touch with reality, be it our own or those around us, must remain in the rational confines of its context because sometimes it really isn’t personal, it’s just cynical.