In this changing media and cultural environment, satire is emerging in new and innovative spaces outside of traditional media is a double edged sword: we can access and consume marginalized satire (e.g., Black Twitter, Reductress) but this conversation is increasingly niched, and continuing the disparate conversations. How can we use satire to change minds, not just provide the choir with hilarity and cut tension? Although laughing is the only way to get through pain, the purpose of satire is to draw attention to thing that seem absurd and ask the audience to think more deeply about the thing.
This past semester, I taught a 5-week course entitled, “Struggle with Satire.” It was a 1-credit diversity course for juniors and seniors. Given that we would be deep in election season, I was grateful that the class would not be focusing on political satire; instead we focused on satire that draws attention to issues related to race, class, and gender. You can see some of the content via the hashtag, #strugglewithsatire on Facebook and Twitter.
The class was originally inspired by an incident in a dormitory where a racist joke was written on a white board. When a student tried to draw attention to the problem, she was told, “It’s a joke from South Park, get over it.” I led a viewing and discussion to unpack the struggle with satire.
However, the problem was not that it was a joke from South Park, or that she did not get it. The problem was with the very nature of satire itself. Although satire can be a powerful form of social commentary, its effectiveness is based on the audience’s ability to “get” the joke. Even though we supposedly live in an age of satire, one person’s definition of good satire can be another person’s offensive insult. This is most evident with Donald Trump’s reactions to Alec Baldwin on Saturday Night Live.