Satire – The Definitive Guide to Satire: Etymology, History & Lore

Satire is an indirect form of critique, in that it mocks or attacks an individual or idea by proxy. Satirical speech and literature is generally used to observe and judge the “evils” or morally questionable ideals held by individuals, groups and sometimes entire cultures. The attack itself is derived from what is known as the satirist’s social motive–these critiques illustrate what the satirist, within the context of their own world view, believes is “right” based upon what they ridicule as “wrong”. Jean Weisgerber’s Satire and Irony a Means of Communication states, “Satire is manifestly directed to people. It involves the victim it attacks and the public it tries to persuade, it restores to language its full status as a means of communication, its end is rhetorical.”

The purpose of satire is primarily to make the audience aware of the “truth”. The satirist makes an argument that relies upon the intellect of the listener to decipher hidden meaning, with the ideal end goal to inform, enlighten, explain and correct the audience. Due to its critical and judging nature, satire is sometimes deemed excessive or in poor taste.

Despite the aggressive, sometimes-personal attacks that are derived from works of satire, it serves a special purpose–catharsis. Satire, particularly in the form of comedy, allows both narrators and audiences to turn outrage, hatred and “other socially unacceptable impulse[s] into socially acceptable and even delightful forms.” [3] Neither the victim of the satirist’s attack, nor the satirist are subject to physical violence.

In a press release following the incident, the New Yorker explained that the cover, “satirizes the use of scare tactics and misinformation in the Presidential election to derail Barack Obama’s campaign.” Blitt went on to defend his cover as well, saying, “I think the idea that the Obamas are branded as unpatriotic [let alone as terrorists] in certain sectors is preposterous. It seemed to me that depicting the concept would show it as the fear-mongering ridiculousness that it is.”