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Political satire

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

George Cruikshank (1792–1878) was one of the first to pioneer the genre of political cartoons. In this 1823 depiction, the French monarch Louis XVIII fails to fit into Napoleon's boots as his crown falls from his head.
A satire by Angelo Agostini to Revista Illustrada mocking the lack of interest from Emperor Pedro II of Brazil in politics toward the end of his reign.

Political satire is a type of satire that specializes in gaining entertainment from politics. Political satire can also act as a tool for advancing political arguments in conditions where political speech and dissent are banned.

Example of contemporary Australian political satire presented as a parody advertisement.

Political satire is usually distinguished from political protest or political dissent, as it does not necessarily carry an agenda nor seek to influence the political process. While occasionally it may, it more commonly aims simply to provide entertainment. By its very nature, it rarely offers a constructive view in itself; when it is used as part of protest or dissent, it tends to simply establish the error of matters rather than provide solutions.[1] Because of the exaggerated[2] manner of these parodies, satirical news shows can more effectively sway their audiences to believe specific ideas by overemphasizing the flaws of the critiqued subject.[3] This can be very harmful to the reputation of public figures or organizations since the satire frames them in a comical way.[4]

Origins and genres

Satire can be traced back throughout history; wherever organized government, or social categories have existed, so has satire.[5]

The oldest example that has survived until today is Aristophanes. In his time, satire targeted top politicians, like Cleon,[6] and religion, at the time headed by Zeus. "Satire and derision progressively attacked even the fundamental and most sacred facts of faith," leading to an increased doubt towards religion by the general population.[7] The Roman period, for example, gives us the satirical poems and epigrams of Martial. Cynic philosophers often engaged in political satire.

Due to the lack of political freedom of speech in many ancient civilizations, covert satire is more common than overt satire in ancient literature of political liberalism. Historically, public opinion in the Athenian democracy was remarkably influenced by the political satire performed by the comic poets at the theatres.[8] Watching or reading satire has since ancient times been considered one of the best ways to understand a culture and a society.[9][10][11]

During the 20th and 21st centuries, satire was found in an increasing number of media (in cartoons such as political cartoons with heavy caricature and exaggeration and political magazines) and the parallel exposure of political scandals to performances (including television shows). Examples include musicians such as Tom Lehrer incorporating lyrics which targeted the army and the church,[12] live performance groups like the Capitol Steps and the Montana Logging and Ballet Co., and public television and live performer Mark Russell who made satirist comments to both democrats and republicans alike.[13] Additional subgenres include such literary classics as Gulliver's Travels and Animal Farm, and more recently, the digital online magazine and website sources such as The Onion.

Well-known examples of political satire

An early and well-known piece of political satire is a poem by Dante Alighieri called Divine Comedy (c. 1308–1320). In this piece, Dante suggests that politicians of that time in Florence should travel to hell. Another well-known form of political satire through theater is William Shakespeare's play Richard II, which criticized politics and authority figures of the time.

19th and 20th centuries


One example is Maurice Joly's 1864 pamphlet entitled The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu (Dialogue aux enfers entre Machiavel et Montesquieu), which attacks the political ambitions of Napoleon III. It was first published in Brussels in 1864. The piece used the literary device of a dialogue between two diabolical plotters in Hell, the historical characters of Machiavelli and Montesquieu, to cover up a direct, and illegal, attack on Napoleon's rule. The noble baron Montesquieu made the case for liberalism; the Florentine political writer Machiavelli presented the case for cynical despotism. In this manner, Joly communicated the secret ways in which liberalism might spawn a despot like Napoleon III.[14]

The literacy rate in France was roughly 30 percent in the 19th century making it virtually impossible for people of lower classes to engage in political satire. However, visual arts could be interpreted by anyone, and a man named Charles Philipon took advantage creating two weekly magazines, La Caricature and Le Charivari – the cheaper of the two. Philipon used his papers, which had become more and more popular across France, as a threat to the King, Louis-Philippe, as the papers used satire and humor to criticize the government and King. Several attempts to suppress the two magazines were made by the monarchy which would only make the articles more critical. Philipon was eventually taken to court and sentenced to 13 months in prison following several more arrests.[15]

The drawings that originally sent Philipon to court were drawings that turned the King into a pear over the course of the drawings. The people of France began to recognize that King Louis-Philippe really did look like a pear and could not separate the two. People began to sarcastically state that pears should be banned in the country as cutting one would be a threat towards the King, Louis-Philippe.[15]


According to Santayana, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was actually "a keen satirist".[16] "Nietzsche's satire" was aimed at Lutheranism.[17]

Kladderadatsch and Simplicissimus were two sources of political satire in Germany during the 18-19 century, both of which show how satire can be used to see cultural history in societies. Popularity in press and satirical jokes flourished in the 19th century as thousands of new magazines emerged in Germany. Magazines and newspapers began to exceed the consumption of books and became one of the most popular forms of media in Germany at the time.[18]

United Kingdom

The UK has a long tradition of political satire, dating from the early years of English literature. In some readings, a number of William Shakespeare's plays can be seen – or at least performed – as satire, including Richard III and The Merchant of Venice. Later examples such as Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal are more outright in their satirical nature.

Through the 18th and 19th centuries editorial cartoons developed as graphic form of satire, with dedicated satirical magazines such as Punch (launched 1841) appearing in the first half of the 19th century. A local satirical newspaper, The Town Crier, launched in Birmingham in 1861, has been described as setting out, through humour, to compare "municipal government as it was – in incompetent hands – with municipal government as it might be".[19][20]

The early 1960s saw the so-called "satire boom", of which the most prominent products were the stage revue Beyond the Fringe (debuted 1960), the fortnightly magazine Private Eye (launched 1961) and the BBC TV show That Was the Week That Was (1962–1963). More recent examples have included topical television panel shows such as Have I Got News for You and Mock the Week, and television series such as Ballot Monkeys, The Mash Report and Spitting Image.

Key political cartoonists in the United Kingdom include people such as Peter Brookes who has been a political cartoonist for The Times since 1992 and Nicola Jennings who features regularly in The Guardian.[21]

Comedian Tom Walker is famous for playing a political correspondent under the name of "Jonathan Pie"

Street art

Street artists like Banksy have used dark political humor and witty political and social commentaries, primarily through graffiti, to comment on various themes such as capitalism, imperialism and war.[22] Banksy's pieces which feature street art on political satire include "Stop and Search" which illustrates the character Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz being searched by a police officer. Banksy mocks politicians opinions on police brutality as innocent Dorothy is being questioned by the police which is a representation of police brutality.[23] "Bomb Hugger" is another one of Banksy's pieces which displays a young woman hugging a bomb which was dropped by military planes.[24] He criticizes the nature of war and the opinions of politicians on the subject as the woman represents innocence being directly impacted by the "dark" bomb symbol.[24]

United States

Political satire has played a role in American Politics since the 1700s. Under King George's rule, the colonies used political cartoons to criticize the parliament and fight for independence.[25] Founding father Benjamin Franklin was a notable political satirist. He employed satire in several essays, including Rules by Which a Great Empire May Be Reduced to a Small One and A Witch Trial at Mount Holly.[26]

Cartoons continued to provide commentary on American politics. In the late 1800s, editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast employed political satire to tackle issues like corruption.[25] Amongst other notable political satirists is well-known author Mark Twain, who used satire to criticize and comment on slavery.[25]

In the 1930's, political satire dominated Broadway. Lyricist Irving Berlin and playwright Moss Hart co-wrote the popular musical As Thousands Cheer. The Broadway show poked fun at politics by referencing topical news articles.[27]

Satire became more visible on American television during the 1960s. Some of the early shows that used political satire include the British and American versions of the program That Was the Week That Was (airing on the American Broadcasting Company, or ABC, in the U.S.), CBS's The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and NBC's Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. During the months leading up to the 1968 presidential election, Richard Nixon appeared on Laugh-In and repeated the program's catch-phrase "Sock it to me."[28] Other forms of satire of the 1960s and early 1970s typically used the sitcom format, such as the show All in the Family.

When Saturday Night Live debuted in 1975, the show began to change the way that comedians would depict the president on television. Chevy Chase opened the fourth episode of the show with his impersonation of a bumbling Gerald Ford.[29] Chase did not change his appearance to look like President Ford, and he portrayed the president by repeatedly falling down on the stage. Some of the other famous presidential impersonations on Saturday Night Live include Dan Aykroyd's Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter caricatures, Dana Carvey as George H. W. Bush, Darrell Hammond and Phil Hartman as Bill Clinton, Will Ferrell as George W. Bush, Jay Pharoah and Fred Armisen as Barack Obama. Hartman was the first in a long string of cast members to impersonate Donald Trump, who was most famously impersonated by Darrell Hammond and Alec Baldwin, and currently James Austin Johnson impersonates him. Johnson also impersonates Joe Biden, who was also impersonated by Jason Sudeikis and Jim Carrey. Political elites like Hillary Clinton are also famously impersonated on Saturday Night Live.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Saturday Night Live gained wide attention because former cast member Tina Fey returned to the show to satirize Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. In addition to Fey's striking physical resemblance to Palin, the impersonation of the vice presidential candidate was also noteworthy because of Fey's humorous use of some of exactly the same words Palin used in media interviews and campaign speeches as a way to perform political satire.[30]

Saturday Night Live also uses political satire throughout its Weekend Update sketch. Weekend Update is a fake news segment on the show that satirizes politics and current events. It has been a part of SNL since the first episode of the show on October 11, 1975.

The Daily Show and The Colbert Report use stylistic formats that are similar to Weekend Update. On The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart used footage from news programs to satirize politics and the news media. Stephen Colbert performed in character on The Colbert Report as a right-wing news pundit. Both hosts' television programs were broadcast on Comedy Central, while The Daily Show continues to run featuring Trevor Noah as a new host. Colbert became the host of The Late Show, succeeding David Letterman.[31] With their shows, Stewart and Colbert helped increase public and academic discussion of the significance of political satire. Real Time with Bill Maher, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver are also examples of satirical news shows.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, perennial candidate Vermin Supreme was recruited by members of the Libertarian Party to run a serious presidential campaign (Vermin Supreme 2020 presidential campaign) which utilizes his satirical character to promote libertarianism.[32]

The Middle East

As early as the Ottoman Empire, political satire was used to express political dissent and mobilize public opinion through shadow puppet shows, improvised folk theater and cartoons.[33][34] The Ottoman Empire's first satirical magazine was called Karagöz, which translates to "Black eye."[33]

20th and 21st century

Turkey is home to the political satire magazine known as LeMan, which published its 1000th issue in 2010.[35] LeMan is known for its political cartoons highlighting corruption, lampooning and shedding light on serious situations using humor.

One of the most-widely read satirists is Egyptian writer Lenin El-Ramly, who is credited with over 30 scripts for films and television series and 12 plays. Another notable Egyptian satirist is Bassem Youssef.

In Syria, in the year 2001 a satirical newspaper known as the Lamplighter was first published and resonated with the public as it sold out immediately.[35] It was the first independent paper in the country since 1965 and was created by cartoonist and satirist Ali Farzat.


A 2002 example of censorship resulted in satirist Ali Farzat having to remove two articles and a cartoon about the Prime Minister from a magazine, which was deemed insulting. Farzat's newspaper was subsequently shut down and his printing license was revoked.[35]

Influence in politics


According to the findings of the 2004 Pew Survey, both younger and older audiences are turning to late-night comedy shows as not only a source of entertainment, but also for an opportunity to gain political awareness.[36] For this reason, Geoffrey Baym suggests that shows that make use of political satire, such as The Daily Show, should be considered as a form of alternative journalism.[36] Utilizing satire has shown to be an attractive feature in news programming, drawing in the audiences of less politically engaged demographic cohorts. Moreover, satire news programming can be considered alternative because satire plays an important role in dissecting and critiquing power.[36]

In his article The Daily Show: Discursive Integration and the Reinvention of Political Journalism, Baym detailed how The Daily Show, then hosted by Jon Stewart, presented news stories. For the satire news show, presenting information in a comprehensive manner was used to give viewers a greater perspective of a situation.[36] Often, Stewart studded his segments with additional background information, or reminders of relevant and past details.[36] For example, The Daily Show displayed the full video of Bush's comments regarding Tenet's resignation in 2004.[36] This was a deliberate choice by the show in attempt to give a more sincere representation of the event.[36] Moreover, it can be seen as a challenge and critique of what more traditional news shows failed to include.[36] In this way, satire news can be seen as more informative than other news sources. Notably, research findings released by National Annenberg Election Survey (NAES) concede that followers of satire news are more knowledgeable and consume more news than the general population.[36]

Meanwhile, Joseph Faina has considered the satire used in news shows as a facilitator in developing a public journalism practice.[37] Faina explains in his article that the nature of satire encourages viewers to become politically engaged, and a civic participant, in which the humor exercised by hosts elicit responses in viewers.[37] However, Faina has acknowledged that this model is somewhat idealistic.[37] Nevertheless, Faina argues that the potential still exists.[37] Not to mention, with the rise in technology and the growing ubiquity of cellular phones, it can be argued that civic participation is all the more easy to accomplish.[38]

Effects on political participation

Modern studies of the effects of political satire have shown that political satire has an influence on political participation,[39] in fact research has shown that an exposure to satire of a political nature evokes negative emotions which consequently mobilizes political participation.[39] It is documented that watching late-night comedy shows increases political participation due to the interpersonal discussions and online interaction that follows as a result of political satire.[39]

On the other hand, some scholars have expressed concern over the influence of political comedy shows, it is argued that rather than increase political participation it has the adverse effect. Rather than mobilize participation it can actually demobilize participation due to the negative analysis of political figures, leading to cynicism towards the government and electoral system.[39] Research has shown that voter attitude shifts positively in relation to political figures who find humor in their ridicule.[40] This has to do with the feeling of relating to politicians, who allow themselves to be seen as the comedians joke.[41] Political satire may also be used to cover a presidential aspect that America has a problem with. Joe Biden utilized humor in his campaign for presidency as he joked about the concern of his age.[42]


Though satire in news is celebrated as a vehicle toward a more informed public, such view is not universally shared among scholars.[43] Critics have expressed their hesitancy toward the infiltration of lighthearted practices to cover more dire topics like political affair.[43] Potentially off-color remarks, or vulgar comments made by the likes of Stephen Colbert of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, or Samantha Bee, host of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, can be used as examples of what critics are concerned about. Here, satire is believed to diminish the gravity of a topic.[37]

Baym proposes that as these shows are alternative, they have no obligation to "abide by standard practices".[36] Unlike traditional news sources, which may be required to adhere to certain agendas, like political affiliation or advertising restrictions, hosts of satire news shows are free and zealous to showcase personal contributions through their mentions of disdain, qualms, and excitement. Critics of satire in news shows thus believe that the showcasing of an overly and openly frustrated host will induce or perpetuate "cynicism in viewers".[43][37]

The Financial Times argues that political satire can contribute to "media led populism",[44] this is argued to be due to the mockery of politicians and public officials that is required to be accountable only to "audience maximisation",[44] it is argued that this form of media led populism is more prevalent in the United States than the United Kingdom, as commentators who are both Liberal and Conservative are being used more often as the "main way" in which young viewers learn about current affairs. This is particularly troublesome when commentators use polemic and sarcasm in their satire as opposed to witty humour or impersonations.

See also


  1. ^ Becker, Amy B. (July 2, 2020). "Applying mass communication frameworks to study humor's impact: advancing the study of political satire". Annals of the International Communication Association. 44 (3): 273–288. doi:10.1080/23808985.2020.1794925. ISSN 2380-8985. S2CID 221380766.
  2. ^ "What is Satire? || Definition & Examples". College of Liberal Arts. October 10, 2019. Retrieved November 13, 2023.
  3. ^ Etty, John (January 2, 2019), "A "School for Laughter": Carnivalesque Humor and Menippean Satire in Krokodil", Graphic Satire in the Soviet Union, University Press of Mississippi, pp. 73–100, retrieved November 13, 2023
  4. ^ Peifer, Jason T. (July 2, 2013). "Palin,Saturday Night Live, and Framing: Examining the Dynamics of Political Parody". The Communication Review. 16 (3): 155–177. doi:10.1080/10714421.2013.807117. ISSN 1071-4421.
  5. ^ Stinson, Emmett (2019-08-28). "Satire". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature. Retrieved 2023-02-05.
  6. ^ Stephanos Matthaios, Franco Montanari, Antonios Rengakos Ancient Scholarship and Grammar: Archetypes, Concepts and Contexts pp.207-8
  7. ^ Ehrenberg, Victor (1962) The people of Aristophanes: a sociology of old Attic comedy p.263 quotation:

    The fact that the gods could be brought down to a human or 'far too human' level is certainly rooted in the very nature of Greek religion, and there is no doubt that this attitude contributed to the gradual undermining of the old belief in the gods. [...] To tell immoral and scandalous stories about the gods did not offend average religious feeling; it troubled only advanced spirits like Xenophanes and Pintar [...] and it is clear that people no longer believed either in the story or in Zeus. Satire and derision progressively attacked even the fundamental and most sacred facts of faith, above all faith in the gods' power, and it was from this that doubt began to grow.
    The power of the gods, whose dignity and stringth were impressively reflected in most of the tragedies, however different the religious attitudes of the tragic poets were, this same power was on the same festival days belittled and questioned by the comic poets who made fun of the gods and represented traditional and sacred forms in a starling manner.

  8. ^ Henderson, J. (1993) Comic Hero versus Political Elite pp.307-19 in Sommerstein, A.H.; S. Halliwell; J. Henderson; B. Zimmerman, eds. (1993). Tragedy, Comedy and the Polis. Bari: Levante Editori.
  9. ^ Aristophanes I: Clouds, Wasps, Birds, Peter Meineck (translator) and Ian Storey (Introduction), Hackett Publishing 2000, page X
  10. ^ Emil J. Piscitelli (1993) Before Socrates-Diotima Archived 2012-10-13 at the Wayback Machine The Special Case of Aristophanes: Tribal and Civil Justice
  11. ^ Life of Aristophanes, pp.42-seq
  12. ^ Robinson, Andrew (2018-04-04). "Tom Lehrer at 90: a life of scientific satire". Nature. 556 (7699): 27–28. Bibcode:2018Natur.556...27R. doi:10.1038/d41586-018-03922-x. PMID 32099219. S2CID 4613295.
  13. ^ "Mark Russell". Buffalo Broadcasters Association. Retrieved 2023-03-01.
  14. ^ Joly, Maurice; Waggoner, John S (2002). The dialogue in hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0-7391-5419-9. OCLC 859537290.
  15. ^ a b Beard, Morgan (2019). La Satire Politique et la Liberte de la Presse au 19e Siecle (Political Satire and Freedom of the Press in 19th Century France) (Thesis). Ohio University.
  16. ^ George Santayana : Egotism in German Philosophy. 1915. chapter 13.
  17. ^ Christa Davis Acampora & Ralph R. Acampora : A Nietzchean Bestiary. Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. p. 109
  18. ^ Allen, Ann Taylor (2015). Satire and Society in Wilhelmine Germany. The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-1-322-60152-6. OCLC 901296820.
  19. ^ Briggs, Asa (1993). "Birmingham: the making of a Civic Gospel". Victorian Cities (3rd ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 184–240 (197–198).
  20. ^ Cawood, Ian; Upton, Chris (2016). "Joseph Chamberlain and the Birmingham satirical journals, 1876–1911". In Cawood, Ian; Upton, Chris (eds.). Joseph Chamberlain: international statesman, national leader, local icon. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 176–210 (181–183). ISBN 9781137528841.
  21. ^ "News, sport and opinion from the Guardian's US edition | The Guardian". Retrieved 2023-11-13.
  22. ^ "Banksy: Art as a Political Weapon | Guy Hepner NYC". Guy Hepner | Art Gallery | Prints for Sale | Chelsea, New York City. 2019-07-30. Retrieved 2023-03-02.
  23. ^ "Stop and Search by Banksy". Guy Hepner | Art Gallery | Prints for Sale | Chelsea, New York City. Retrieved 2023-03-02.
  24. ^ a b "Bomb Love (Bomb Hugger) by Banksy | Guy Hepner NYC". Guy Hepner | Art Gallery | Prints for Sale | Chelsea, New York City. Retrieved 2023-11-13.
  25. ^ a b c "Political Satire as Old as Politics". Voice of America. 2016-12-21. Retrieved 2023-11-01.
  26. ^ "Probing Question: How old is political satire? | Penn State University". Retrieved 2023-11-01.
  27. ^ Santalone, Brian (2012-09-27). "Political Satire | Broadway: The American Musical | PBS". Broadway: The American Musical. Retrieved 2023-11-08.
  28. ^ Jonathan Gray, Jeffrey P. Jones & Ethan Thompson : Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era. New York University Press, 2009. p. 22
  29. ^ Jeffrey P. Jones, "With All Due Respect: Satirizing Presidents from Saturday Night Live to Lil' Bush", in Jonathan Gray, Jeffrey P. Jones & Ethan Thompson : Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era. New York University Press, 2009. pp. 39–41
  30. ^ Jeffrey P. Jones, Entertaining Politics: Satiric Television and Political Engagement. 2nd edition. Rowman & Littlefield, 2010. p. 4
  31. ^ "Stephen Colbert's Use Of Political Satire In The Late Show | Cram". Retrieved 2023-11-13.
  32. ^ Vermin Supreme for President 2020
  33. ^ a b Tamar Seeman, Sonia (2017). "The Long History of Satire in the Middle East". Pacific Standard. Retrieved 9 March 2021.
  34. ^ Kishtainy, Khaled (2009). "Humor and Resistance in the Arab World and Greater Middle East". Humour and Resistance in the Arab World and Greater Middle East: 54. doi:10.1057/9780230101753_5. ISBN 978-0-230-62141-1. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  35. ^ a b c Tamar Seeman, Sonia. "The Long History of Satire in the Middle East". Pacific Standard. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  36. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Baym, Geoffrey (2005). "The Daily Show: Discursive Integration and the Reinvention of Political Journalism". Political Communication. 22 (3): 259–276. doi:10.1080/10584600591006492. ISSN 1091-7675.
  37. ^ a b c d e f Faina, Joseph (2012). "Public journalism is a joke: The case for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert". Journalism. 14 (4): 541–555. doi:10.1177/1464884912448899. S2CID 146592279.
  38. ^ Fenton, Natalie (October 2009). Allan, Stuart (ed.). "News in the Digital Age". The Routledge Companion to News and Journalism. Taylor & Francis e-Library: 557–567.
  39. ^ a b c d Chen, Hsuan-Ting; Gan, Chen; Sun, Ping (2017). "How Does Political Satire Influence Political Participation? Examining the Role of Counter- and Proattitudinal Exposure, Anger, and Personal Issue Importance". International Journal of Communication. 11: 1. Retrieved 9 May 2021.
  40. ^ "Comedian's political humor affects potential voter's attitudes about candidates". ScienceDaily. Retrieved 2023-11-08.
  41. ^ Harris, Matthew (May 1, 2009). "The Political Application of Humor".
  42. ^ "Biden uses humor to try to defuse concerns about his age". AP News. 2023-05-08. Retrieved 2023-11-08.
  43. ^ a b c Young, Dannagal G. "Lighten up: How satire will make American politics relevant again". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved April 20, 2017.
  44. ^ a b Lloyd, John (11 September 2010). "Has Political Satire gone Too Far?". Retrieved 7 March 2021.

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