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The Best Satire Has These 8 Traits


Satire is a creation of a literary or other work with the intention to mock or expose the flaws of an establishment or a person. When done well, it can offer a humorous perspective of something that the author feels is senseless, ridiculous, or immoral. Satire is an art form that requires intelligence and craft, so it needs to demonstrate several different elements to be delivered successfully. Try out some of the following eight features in your next piece of satire.

Example of satire
Satire can take on many forms, but often employs humor to expose flaws.

1. Irony

Irony is saying one thing when you really mean the opposite. Satire almost always uses irony in some way or another. The use of irony in satire brings attention to an issue or person and illuminates a characteristic that can be emphasized for humorous effect (for example, naming your giant tortoise "Teeny" or playfully chiding your brother, "Don't be afraid to really use that Axe spray" when he already reeks). Because such quips are the total reverse of reality, they are delightfully sharp and shocking to the audience and provide a source of humor. Irony can also represent a paradox, such as when a firehouse burns down, or a Facebook post complaining about how useless Facebook is. Be careful with irony though; it can be confused with sarcasm. Often when some people use irony, they refer to it as sarcasm.

2. Sarcasm

True sarcasm is more mean spirited and contemptuous than irony. Sarcasm is the use of irony solely to mock or show disrespect toward someone or something. For example, you could use sarcasm when saying, "Yeah, I'd love to come over tonight. Hanging out with losers is my favorite thing to do." Sarcasm can also convey irritation or disagreement with a statement (for example, when the HOA president delivers a nastygram about your weeds, you contemptuously say, "Oh sure. I'll TOTALLY spend my Saturday doing yardwork, just because you asked me to). In satire, the use of sarcasm approaches the line between humor and uncomfortable negativity, so it's a tricky tool to use in satire and can sap the humor out of your writing if you're not careful.

3. Fake Praise

Satire can offer mockery of a characteristic when the author pretends to agree with it. Certain forms of satire can feign support for a person or organization and, while doing so, simultaneously point out the unreasonable behavior that is not in fact deserving of support, according to the author. A satirical letter to your boss could illustrate this point:

Dear Boss,
I want to express my great appreciation for your wisdom in revoking our break room privileges. Everyone knows that break rooms are the gateway to riotous living and brothel visitation, and your wise restriction of our time spent there will no doubt give us a leg up on a much brighter future, both professionally and personally. Think of the time we will save by eliminating pesky birthday celebrations and other appreciative gatherings. Without this senseless merriment, our company's productivity will skyrocket! I hope to be as smart and thoughtful as you are when I grow up. Thank you, boss!
Your adoring employee

4. Statements That Are Obviously Untrue

Many works of satire bring to light elements of their subjects that are clearly not a depiction of reality. Satire must be clearly satire, or your audience will be confused, and that doesn't make for a funny design.

In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical piece called "A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to the Publick," in which he suggested that impoverished Irish families could ease their economic problems by selling their children to the rich. Through this piece, Swift uses humorous satire to demonstrate his contempt for the general indifference of the wealthy toward the poor. He begins by bringing attention to the plight of these people who are overtaxed and overcharged for rent and other necessities. Then, through his shocking suggestion that babies be used for food, he gives an obviously incomprehensible proposal – eating children – to solve the actual existing ill treatment that had brought great suffering to the impoverished members of society, but which none of the wealthy had considered immoral. Swift delivers the piece through feigned seriousness and fervor to urge the reader to consider that the behavior of the rich toward the poor was not quite as bad as cannibalism, but was pretty close. Here, Swift presents his political views through a humorous, eye-opening piece that sheds light on a subject he felt was outrageous.

5. Hyperbole

Hyperbole is an exaggeration of an idea for the sake of emphasis. Use of this figure of speech ensures that your audience will notice exactly what you're trying to say. If you've ever seen caricature art, you'll notice that facial features of the subjects are exaggerated to bring humor and attention to make the subject look foolish. In language, a writer can indicate that something impossible is happening to explain the extreme nature of the situation. For example, you could tell your buddy that you've got so much work to do that your head is exploding. The extent of your suffering is made clear, and therefore, hyperbole is without a doubt the single greatest thing in the history of the universe! (See what we did there?)

6. Political Undertones

Mockery of a government leader can involve exaggeration of his or her idiosyncrasies or attitudes that drive people crazy. This type of satire can help people express their contempt toward a leader with whom they don't agree or whom they believe is doing a poor job in leadership. The television show "Saturday Night Live" is a well-known source of political satire; it seems that very few government officials have not been represented in a sketch on this show. Will Ferrell provides a famous example with his depiction of George W. Bush. Ferrell portrays former President Bush by dressing up as him, complete with a gray wig, and emphasizes some of the characteristics that many opponents have criticized the president for, such as his lack of intelligence and obliviousness to current events. Ferrell exaggerates these characteristics, making statements that the former president would not actually say, so the humor lies in extending the imagination.

7. Personal Feelings

Writing out a piece of satire related to something that bugs you can be a therapeutic tool for expressing your feelings without hurting anyone. When writing your own satirical piece, you can start by considering what you personally think is ridiculous. Maybe you are annoyed with your roommate's tendency to leave his clothes on the floor, so you could write a mock advertisement for a new storage concept:

Introducing the Floor Closet! Why be burdened by the inability to see every article of clothing at one time? Lay your shirts and sweaters on the floor so you can pick out your daily wear at a glance. With Floor Closet, you can stay familiar with the textures and fabrics of each article of clothing as you walk over them to get from one side of the apartment to the other! Spill a beverage? No problem! Your pants will serve as a towel, protecting the flooring underneath! The incredible Floor Closet will improve your life in countless ways, and the possibilities for the future are endless – consider Floor Pantry! Stop putting your things away today!

Satire represents a statement hidden beneath a humorous delivery to draw attention to an issue that you feel strongly about. If you're creating a piece that parallels another work without any message behind it, that's not necessarily satire, it's a work of parody.

8. A Humorous Tone

Writing satire can open up a box of feelings for a lot of people, since many people write from a source of irritation. This means satire can easily get negative and turn into a lecture or be way too mean. But satire is intended to be funny, using a mocking tone instead of a reprimanding one. Be careful when you're writing your satire piece; if your mockery gets too sharp, it won't be funny anymore. Find the line between satire and undeservedly cruel, and stay on the right side of it.

Many works of satire employ several of these elements at once. Play around with these traits in your writing or artwork. Satire can help introduce laughter to subjects that can otherwise be pretty tense. By employing these tools, you can boost the humor and bite of your satirical piece.

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