Monday, 8 August 2016

What is Satire? How can you be a satirist? Is it a sacred art?

Bonjour Monsieurs, Mesdammes et Mademoiselles,

Satire is such a sassy, savvy artform. It has existed for thousands of years; in fact the word itself come from the Ancient Latin phrase lanx satura-i.e. "a full dish of various kinds of fruits." It's the oldest form of sociological, anthropological and psychological analysis! Now you may like some fruits  (Luscious Lemon, Tarty Lime) and dislike others (Wishy-washy Melon, Putrid Prune). Just by stating my likes and dislikes and attaching an adjective to certain fruits I may have committed a form of satire. Satire allows for a certain level of freedom of choice in lexical and syntactical usage. You can be black, Asian, homosexual, trans, a Leicester supporter or Mans Zelmerlow's biggest stalker but all of those character types have the choice and potential to use words to create a level of satirical discourse.

Satire is a "militant form of irony"; most satirists are unafraid of ridiculing leading figures in politics, religion, the economy even fellow satirists and artists! They confront the public discourse being espoused by the "Establishment" and expose problems and contradictions that exist within this discourse. In essence they lift a mirror up" slam bang up in the middle of society and tell everyone to take a cold, hard look at themselves and their behaviours and characteristics. Satirists may not be obligated to offer solutions to these problems, but if motivated by a strong sense of political affiliation or an affinity with a social or cultural course will strive to offer an abundance of solutions but often quietly and diligently behind the scenes.

How many different modes of satire are there?
There are 3 main modes of traditional satire. In their basic adjectival elements:

Originates from Roman Horace (65-8BC) who critiqued the dominant "philosophical beliefs of Ancient Greece and Rome" (Rankin) to gently ridicule the "absurdities and follies of humanity". 
Generally interpreted as being witty, tolerant, wise and self-effacing.
Key Horatian satirist texts include Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock, Daniel Defoe's The True-Born Englishman and Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Originates from Roman Juvenal (Late 1st Century-Early 2nd Century AD). He disagreed with many key figures of the Roman Republic; Podzemny says he utilised "the satirical tools of exaggeration and parody to make his targets appear monstrous and incompetent".
Generally interpreted as being angry, caustic, resentful and personal.
Key Juvenalian satirist texts include Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four and William Golding's Lord Of The Flies.

Originates from Greek Menippus (3rd Century BC); his works are now lost but were mentioned in the works of the Roman satirists Lucian and Marcus Terentius Varro.
Takes a prose form in the length of a novel which attacks mental attitudes as opposed to specific people. Written in the indirect third person.
Key Menippean satirist texts include Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, James Joyce's Finnegans Wake and Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

Generic Satirical Devices:
  • Humour
    • Exaggeration- extenuated body movements a la Charlie Chaplin, hand bending down to suggest "campness" in a man.
    • Understatement- getting a Presidential character like Donald Trump saying "Oopsie" after setting off 300 bombs accidentally to hit the UK
    • Deflation- e.g. Freudian Slips
    • Linguistic "games"- e.g. malapropisms, weird rhyming structures
    • Surprise endings/ absurd twists-e.g. Cinderella getting married to her own shoe once the Prince retrieves it for her/ Snow White marrying the Wicked Stepmother whilst disguised as Grumpy etc.
  • Irony- Creating incongruity or discordance between what one says or does and what one means or is generally understood by society - e.g. post punk girl duo Shampoo's 1995 song Skinny White Thing creates a false impression that skinny white men are being bullied by women because they take drugs and rape the same women, whereas it is generally the skinny white men who are bullies in a position of power.
  • Invective- Name calling, personal abuse (tends to be used by extreme Juvenalian satirists as they sail dangerously close to the Equality Act laws.)
  • Mock Encomium- praise which appears genuine on the surface but suggests blame instead.
  • Grotesque- creating a deliberate level of tension between laughter and horror, hence why it often gets labelled "black humour" by detractors.
  • Comic Juxtaposition-linking ideas together without offering an explanation to generate shock/surprise.
  • Mock Epic/Mock Heroic- Using an elevated form of diction/register/tone and devices from epic poetry to deal with low/trivial subjects.
  • Parody- Mimicking styles and techniques used by frenemies to destroy their own egotism/arguments. 
  • Inflation- Taking real life situations and blowing them well out of proportions to make it look ridiculous and showcase its faults.
  • Diminution- Taking real life situations and reducing it to make it look ridiculous and showcase its faults: e.g. a Conservative trans person who "loves showing her fake boobs to all and sundry down the Sunset Strip" advocating for all trans people to have a "pass ability test" being made to take part in a Miss Universe competition and ending up runner up to a Brazilian woman who comes out as transgender just as the crown is put on her head.
So why does a transwomen like me choose to be a satirist? What kind of satirist am I??

The main goal of satire is not to make people laugh. In fact if you focus on making people laugh without trying to highlight a key social or political fallacy that may get people to think differently it may mean you have failed to get your main point across. I've always believed the state of political satire in Britain reflects the tolerance or intolerance that categorises it; public discourse moves with the times but not every satirist moves with it. Some, like myself are progressive and take account of LGBTQIA gains over the past 60 years, since the legalisation of gay sex in 1966. Others mock the LGBTQIA community for being tolerant of those who attack its very existence; for example conservative gay Christians attack liberal gay men for showing compassion for Muslims even though a Muslim carried out a terrorist attack against them in Orlando. If gay men are adopting Trump's ridonkotone and advocating mass armament, then maybe they are deserving of mockery. Showing irrational intolerance when you expect people to be rationally tolerant of your own views makes "Keinen Sinn".

I guess if I had to answer the question "what kind of satirist am I?" truthfully I'd say that I don't have enough venom to be excessively Juvenal. I may detest some opinions that are espoused in the world today, not least by those who refuse to critique their own viewpoints because they fear looking weak and "feeble" in front of their followers. Donald Trump is someone I believe could cause great harm to the social and moral fabric of the US if he was elected, not least because he possesses no nuanced understanding of foreign policy and only wants to "build walls", not break down barriers that are keeping minority groups, including transgender people from making a real success of their lives. However I'm not truly Horatian either in my satirical strategy although I do find it relatively easy to be self-deprecating and able to check my own prejudices, especially when it comes to objectifying male gymnasts just because they have a body that could rival the sexiest of Greek Apollonian statues!

The best thing a satirist can do is try and break down labels, to try and not conform to traditional stereotypes even within creative satirical canons. What's the point in trying to change people's opinions about transgender people on the Left constantly playing up to a "victimisation narrative" if I'm not prepared to be critical of my own life decisions or reacting against  my own forms of lookism? If others who are "academic" in disposition take a swipe at my creative oeuvre and say "oh that's not real satire" or "oh it's not recognisable as a piece of merit" should I be bothered by their comments? Or should I put on my pink flamingo sunglasses, get out my red velvet death by chocolate cake and tell them to stuff themselves full of calories rather than try and get my work to conform with their narrative? Well it's a thought any Juvenalian satirist would be proud of :)