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The Evolution of Classical Satire Into Modern Day Political Humor
Satire, as defined by the Britanica Concise Encyclopedia, is an artistic form in which human or individual vices, folly, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of irony, ridicule, or other methods, sometimes with an intent to bring about improvement. Literature and drama are its chief means of expression, but it is also found in other forms of media such as film, the visual arts, and political cartoons. Satires had been present in Greek Literature, with Aristophanes as well as in Roman Literature with Juvenal and Horace. Juvenal and Horace’s satires have since then developed according to their perspectives. To Horace, the satirist is a refined man who sees stupidity and insanity everywhere, but is moved to gentle laughter rather than to rage. To Juvenal, on the other hand, the satirist is a respectable man who is horrified and angered by corruption. Horace’s satires are friendlier in tone, thus containing no dangerous attacks against powerful individuals or serious vices. Juvenal’s satires, however, are bitter accusations of the vice and folly of his own times that include most men and all women.
The Elizabethan Period proved to be the Golden Age of Satire as satirists like Voltaire, Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe wrote works that were more direct and straightforward, leaving little room for subtle irony. In Voltaire’s Candide, he showed how having a ridiculously positive outlook on life will still lead to a life with numerable tragedies. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, exposed the cruelty of humanity, and Daniel Defoe’s Jure Divino, the writer made an elaborate and learned attack on theories of the ‘divine right’ of monarchs.
Through the years, satire developed into many forms: the Persian satire, the Elizabethan satire the Anglo-American satire, the 18th, 19th and 20th century satire to name a few. Different satires have developed due to the fact that these satires are responses to the issues present in their period. What started out as poems, books and novels developed in plays, adjusting to the changing times and interests of the public. Similarly, the satires of today’s modern world had developed into political humor, as more people can relate to the issue in this medium.
Political humor is best compared to satire rather than to parody, which is only concerned with mocking an original work. Political humor seems to have developed from Horace’s satires: amusing is but still able to address the issue at hand. Political humor should not be taken as a personal attack against a politician, but rather as an unsolicited advice from an observer. Satire is, after all, developed with the intent of bringing about improvement, and political humor seems to have developed from this literary genre. Politicians who yet to become objects of political humor should not fret about being in the spotlight. According to Maureen Dowd, a columnist at the New York Times, Republican Presidential candidate Barack Obama has not been the object of any political joke by American comedians mainly because “he’s very hard to mock”. He has kept an honest image and he has remained focused and serious in his work. With that kind of attitude, any politician can escape satirical political humor.