Satire (n) –1) the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc. 2) a literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn derision or ridicule.
At an early age, long before I could tie my shoes or count to a hundred, I was exposed to sarcasm. I knew the power or a well-timed verbal barb courtesy of my mother. People often say that they don’t suffer fools gladly; well my mom is definitely one of those people. If you’re being foolish or asking a foolish question she’s going to tell you to your face EXACTLY why it’s foolish. More times than not it was directed at people that crossed my mother, but even her own family was not off limits. It may sound like a form of child-abuse to some, but to me it was training at the feet of a master. Like the oratory power of a silver-tongued politician, my mother’s wit and sarcasm is a gift and to see it in action is awe inspiring. Even if I didn’t fathom the nuances of her verbal prowess at that early age, I soon grew to appreciate it and respect it.
Having such a good teacher, I was forced to develop some self-discipline when it came to my own sarcastic tongue for fear of alienating friends, enraging teachers, and later in life co-workers and bosses. I learned that just because you have the ammunition, doesn’t mean you have to use it.
With such a pedigree it’s little wonder that I came to love satire and sarcasm in popular culture. Comedians like George Carlin, Lewis Black, Al Franken, Bill Maher, Steven Wright, Bill Murray, Monty Python, Mary Walsh, Ricky Gervais, Rick Mercer, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert. Artists like Gary Larson (Farside), Matt Groening (Life in Hell, The Simpsons, Futurama), Gary Trudeau (Doonesbury), Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes), and Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County). Authors, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Chuck Palahniuk, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Coupland. Movies like Mike Judge’s Office Space and Idiocracy, Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, any Monty Python movie, any Mel Brooks’ film, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, the list goes on and on.
Looking over that list I suppose I tend towards political satire or at least satire that challenges authority and social norms. I guess its little wonder that my favourite Looney Tunes characters include Bug Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Foghorn Leghorn. A more sarcastic, anti-establishment, bunch I can’t imagine.
I’ve been trying to develop my own satirical voice in my writing, but with all things as subjective as humour it’s difficult to tell if you’re hitting the mark or making jokes and references that only you appreciate. I guess it will have to wait until my writing group, and hopefully the public in general, passes judgment before I know if the legacy of my mother’s wit and sarcasm has been passed to my writing ability.
Right now I have an urge to go watch some of those fantastic movies I mentioned.
Who are some of your favorite satirists?