One year ago, the Guardians Arwa Mahdawi lamented the end of satire. There was no pretension– the name of the article, “Satire is Dying Because the Internet is Killing It” says it all. In her eulogy for the humorous device and literary genre, Mahdawi identifies a major symptom of it’s impending demise: the new “satire” tag that social media giant Facebook is developing, which would be placed on shared links from publications like the Onion or Clickhole. There’s a number of reasons why satire as we know it is on it’s way out, and a major reason seems to be sensory overload. Now all of this revolves around the internet, but what does it mean for books? Will the printed word be safe?
Satire has been a means for tackling regimes, speaking out against injustices, or serving as the occasional jeremiad for a culture that has lost its way. But if modern readers are unable to pick up on the wonderful nuances that define the genre, does satirical work even serve a function? Part of the sharp edge of satire is its ability to hide behind a veil of serious reality; at the end of the day, its wit is its most defining feature. When a “satire” designation is plastered over the text itself, would that adversely affect how we, as readers, approach it?
The best humor never has to explain itself, and that’s just what a satire tag does. Let’s look at an example: Orwell’s Animal Farm, the allegorical critique of the Soviet Union. Many of us read this work when we were still in grade school, and part of the thrill that came with the assignment was watching the increasingly subversive tone reveal itself before our very eyes. Sure, the animals on the farm may have had a noble beginning, rallying under Old Major to free themselves from the mistreatment of farm life. But as Napoleon’s hunger for power on the farm increases, the novella can shift its language to be a (rather obvious) critique of Stalinism. Now, some will argue that a book like Animal Farm is known satire; having been around for so long, pretty much anyone who picks it up will already know that it is railing against the status quo. But isn’t there something to be said about the fact that the book can simultaneously serve as an erudite, learned social criticism?
Satire is more than something that can elicit a laugh. It is meant to infuriate, to draw an unsuspecting crowd and then proceed to lick it through and through. After all, what’s the point of attacking the establishment if the only people that read it are the ones who agree with you?