Satire: It’s No Joke

Have You Ever?

Your school recently had to replace its principal. The new principal seems like a nice enough person, but you’re not sure if he's a good fit for the job. He hasn’t learned the school’s organizational system and thus often misplaces important documents. Though he apologizes profusely, it’s almost December, and he still constantly makes mistakes that faculty members have to correct.

Your friend is on the school newspaper and commissions you to write a poem about the new principal. While you try to keep a positive tone, you can’t help but slip in some criticism. You don’t understand how someone so incompetent got the job, and that confusion is evident in your piece. It’s titled “I’ll Get It Next Time, Promise” and includes plenty of praise for his bravery for leading “even if, to him, the path seems unclear” and his perseverance for “barrelling down every desolate road not marked on his map.”  Your poem doesn’t end up getting published but is informally leaked to students. Everyone finds it profusely funny. Eventually, even some teachers find a copy of the poem. If the upperclassmen are to be believed, the principal’s assistant, upon finishing the poem, would mutter, “Why am I covering for that man? We could find someone more qualified and capable to actually do his job.”

The Explanation

Your poem, “I’ll Get It Next Time, Promise,” is a satirical work. While on the surface, you appear to be complimenting the new principal, your poem’s tone clearly exposes all his flaws as a leader. Such points only serve to have the reader question why this man is in charge at all.

Definition of Satire

Satire is a work that reveals flaws, absurdities, and/or vices of a person or another work. It is used especially as social, moral, or political commentary. Satire uses a variety of tools like humor, irony, exaggeration, and ridicule to make a statement. The aim of satire is to alert the public of a problem and force a change.

The History

The word “satire” comes from the French or Latin “satire,” which itself developed from the earlier Latin “satura,” meaning “poetic medley.” When the term “satire” was first used in the 1500s, it exclusively referred to satirical poems that denounced vices or foolishness. As satire grew in popularity, it came to refer to any work that exposed the immorality or stupidity of a person, piece, idea, or concept.

Using It

Satire is evident everywhere. People will always find something or someone foolish or immoral. While satire is not exclusively political, political satire is also common. Political cartoons and several modern comedians cover current events and make insightful commentary using satire. 

Satire can be a powerful weapon against corrupt or absurd happenings. It teaches its audience to be skeptical and think critically by pointing out holes and contradictions in reasoning. The better informed you are on a topic, the better you can make your satirical piece: you can avoid repeating the same joke and use information to take a well-informed stance. Satire can be a great form of protest. By effectively pointing out flawed logic using wit and humor, satire can sway people to see the absurd and immoral for what they truly are.

Think Further

  1. What are more techniques and tools that can be used to make good satire?
  2. What other forms of satire are there beyond political? When and where are they used?
  3. When was the last time you encountered satire?  Was it effective? Why or why not?


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Learn More

  1. Griffin, Dustin H. Satire: A Critical Reintroduction. The University Press of Kentucky, 1994, ISBN: 0-813101844-1.
  2. Highet, Gilbert. Anatomy of Satire. Princeton University Press, 1972, ISBN: 0-691-01306-3.
  3. Hodgart, Matthew. Satire: Origins and Principles. Transaction Publishers, 2010, ISBN: 978-1-4128-1060-9.
  4. Knight, Charles A. The Literature of Satire. Cambridge University Press, 2004, ISBN: 978-0-521-83460-5.
  5. Simpson, Paul. On the Discourse of Satire: Towards a stylistic model of satirical humour. Queen’s University Belfast, 2003, ISBN: 978-90-272-3333-2.