Laugh or cry: when satire becomes reality

As real-life politics begins to reflect satire, Alexandra Sadler defends the magic of parody.

Alexandra Sadler
21st February 2017

The current shitstorm that is contemporary politics seems to be almost beyond satire. There have, and always will be, controversial and ill-thought policies, but it seems that in 2017 those in the political sphere have really been making an effort to outdo themselves.

Thanks to Trump’s administration and our ever brilliant Brexit efforts, satirical comedians have endless material to choose from.

You could argue that satire has become pretty irrelevant due to the new bizarro spectacle that is contemporary politics, but I’d argue that if anything satire has become all the more important.

One of the primary functions of satire is to criticise politics, to take something taboo and confront it head on. This, more than ever, is so important, particularly in the case of Trump, where some of the mainstream media outlets are afraid to confront controversial topics (read: basically everything that has happened since Trump’s announcement to run for President) for fear of losing access to the White House.

Satire does not have this problem. Satirical shows, comedy shows and comedians themselves often confront controversial topics habitually, and so it is no change of pace to include recent events.

However, it’s also increasingly difficult to be satirical and make something even more ridiculous than it already is. That’s the appeal of satire at the moment, much of it is so funny because it’s almost true.

Satire also has the ability to cut through the bullshit that often surrounds political scandals. It presents a simple and bold message that can create an indelible impression of events or people. Additionally, the reactions to current satirical television shows are just as telling as the satire itself. Trump’s reactions to Saturday Night Live impressions are remarkable in that he is so forcefully and negatively reacting to them, and reacting to them at all. I would argue that the reactions of the Trump administration to latest satirical efforts underline the role of satire in a democratic state. If leaders cannot cope with criticism, and yes most of it is criticism, and if doesn’t overstep the line, then how would they deal with the more important global or national issues? The power of satire is closely linked to the power of freedom of speech, a pillar of democracy, and is a sign of a tenacious democracy.

However, a word of warning. The power of satire is often limited to those who agree with it. We find satire funny because it’s reinforcing our views, rather than undermining them. This isn’t necessarily an issue by itself, but if we don’t consider other opinions, then how can we work to change them? Laughing at satire is therapeutic, but satire alone will not solve political issues. Satire still has an important role in exposing and criticising politicians and administrations, but to have any real impact, we must start listening to those that we don’t agree with.

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