Saturday, March 24, 2012

Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand. ~Mark Twain

Mark Twain, the nom de plume of Samuel Clemens, is one the most prolific and controversial writers in the South.  Most notably recognized for Huck Finn, Mark Twain wrote a myriad of short stories, novels, newspaper articles, and more.  He is well-known for being a satirist and this is why his quote starts my blog today:  Satire.

Satire is a sector of literature that makes people laugh, sometimes for all the wrong reasons.  Modern examples such as Family Guy, The Simpsons, or Southpark come to mind; shows that I can't stand because of the topics they make comical, but when they are on, somehow I find myself watching and laughing at the absolute WORST things to laugh about.  An episode of Peter having a stroke comes to mind, not a laughing matter, but somehow they made it funny.  This type of satire is considered "Horatian Satire".  It playfully criticizes some social vice through gentle, mild, and light-hearted humor. It directs wit, exaggeration, and self-deprecating ideas toward what it identifies as folly, rather than evil.  I think Family Guy is evil, but that's my personal opinion. 

On the other side of this coin, there is Juvenalian satire, and it's not so light-hearted.  This type of satire is more contemptuous and abrasive than the Horatian. Juvenalian satire addresses social evil through scorn, outrage, and savage ridicule. This form is often pessimistic, characterized by irony, sarcasm, moral indignation and personal invective, with less emphasis on humor.

Think "A Modest Proposal" by Jonathan Swift.  The essay begins innocently by establishing the speaker as a concerned citizen genuinely sympathetic to the Irish poor, whose suffering he describes in moving detail.   The modest proposal, humbly presented and drafted at great length, argues for the many advantages of the Irish people raising their children as food to be sold at great profit to the landlords throughout the kingdom. Far from being horrified by this suggestion, as the reader surely is, the speaker continues to imagine himself as a disinterested patriot offering his countrymen a practical and effective way to reduce poverty and overpopulation.

Not quite so funny.  But, boy does it get your attention and make a point.

Satire surrounds us all the time.  Political satire is rampant, even when the candidates aren't beating the trail for votes.  How many of us have watched over and over Tina Fey satirically portray Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live.  All guilty, raise your hand.  I am guilty of satire myself in my blogs from time to time, but more notably Junvenalian satire as I "make-fun" of the stupidity of the youth I teach.  Side-note:  I do this in class, too.  They don't get it sometimes and the smart ones are usually cracking up.  That's how I figure out who has common sense at the beginning of each school year.  A few well placed satirical jokes - those laughing = kids with common sense and humor, those not laughing = it's going to be a long year!  (Not a lot laughed at the beginning of this year and man, it has drug on!  But, I digress.)

I decided to remind the world of satire today for two reasons:
  1. I'm teaching it to my juniors upon return from Spring Break and vividly praying they "get it" and find it funny.
  2. A column in the magazine "Southern Living" written by Pulitzer Prize writer and author of several best-selling books, Rick Bragg.  
I had tears rolling down my face reading his latest back page edition to "Southern Living".  It's entitled "Why, Thank You"

He starts by stating these thank-you letters come on order from his (lovely) wife.  That she claims he does not write enough of them, so he does.  And Oh. My. Gosh. HILARIOUS!  I've copied a few here for your reading pleasure:

Dear Mr. Airline Executive,
Any airline can pick people up and set them down.  I want you to know how much I appreciate your efforts to prolong that experience by extending a 30-minute flight into a 7-hour nirvana.  In this hurly-burly world, couldn't we all use more time to reflect in sumptuous airport Naugahyde?  The reason for this gift of time is not important.  We were told the plane was in perfect flying order but the weather was a tad warm, and a pilot simply could not be found who was willing to sit in that stuffy cockpit for what you pay him, which is said to be about minimum wage.  This delay made some passengers testy.  I myself do not want to be flown around by a sweaty pilot.  Yuck.

Once aboard, you still had our comfort in mind, providing not a big, wasteful cabin but an itty-bitty one, with seats designed for a Cabbage Patch doll and belts better suited as a collar for a cocker spaniel.  Then, after landing, you did not hurry us off the plane but allowed us to decompress while you searched for a ramp operator who had not yet been laid off - to increase the profits you richly deserve.

A Guy Waiting on a Train

Dear Mr. Telemarketer:
Thank you for informing me I won a Caribbean cruise, need an extended warranty on my car, qualified for a low monthly rate, can purchase inexpensive life insurance without a physical, am urged to donate to a policeman's society that will send me a sticker that is NO guarantee I will get out of a ticket, and buon giorno, am invited on an Italian adventure... 

A dozen times each day I reach for the phone thinking it might be a friend of family.  How relieved I am to learn "while there is nothing currently wrong with [my] accounts, [I] am strongly urged to call 1-555-FEARMONGER" for "a new credit opportunity."

Your Conscience

If you are not laughing, I cannot help you!  These are funny!  I hope my students think so, too.  If you want to read more satirical masterpieces, I have two recommendations for you.

See my good buddy Watson's blog - Teneo - Righteous Rants

Also, you can check out The Onion - you won't be disappointed!

Laugh on my friends, laugh on!!!

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