In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks it seems prudent to re-evaluate; what is satire?
Satire is a joke that points at an accepted idea or action within society and labelling it as ridiculous. The best satire will make you think about something from a perspective that you had not seen before, and change your own perspective in an unalterable way. It never attacks a person, but an idea or action; these may be attached to a person but the focus is always on their idea or action.
One of the best satirical works ever was the book ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell which pointed at Communism and showed it to be ridiculous as the central ethos (equality for all) will always inevitably be undermined by greed, especially those drawn to leadership and power. He did this by depicting the leaders of a farm as pigs and the followers or proletariat at sheep. So simple, yet so utterly brilliant!
For me, satire plays a vital role within society. It rightly ridicules the ridiculous and changes views. It changes views in a way that persuasive writing cannot do; the message can be given in an image and in a way that anyone can understand. Persuasive writing may make us think but satire makes us laugh, and in laughing at something that we did not realise was funny it shatters prior conceptions. Laughing not only changes our convictions but also stops the idea from ever being taken seriously again.
Good satire is a necessary medicine for society, it makes us check our idea, and it makes the world change its ways. It makes those in power realise that we are not just sheep blindly going along with what we are told, but that we engage with their ideas and actions and will hold them to account.
Also, satire is open to all ideas no matter how serious- jut because 1billion people say something is a good idea it does not make it a good idea. It is up to satirists to find the lunacy and shine as bright a torch on it as possible- this can be religion, democracy, free speech even satire itself if you so choose. The more seriously an idea is taken, the greater the opportunity for satire!
Considering the wake of Charlie Hebdo perhaps their readership were already aware of the satire on Islam and therefore continued use of similar material just started becoming an assault, and perhaps they needed to draw from different sources. Though people are not discussing it this is difficult in France, a country where free speech is not completely held to and religion is seen as an easy and accepted target. I won’t go in to the politics of free speech in France now though.
But good satire will always offend someone because people identify so strongly with ideas. It is important though to remember that people have the right to say what they want so long as they are not inciting violence a and others have the right to be offended.
But you don’t have the right to never be offended, because that idea is very offensive do it gets us nowhere!
P.S. You may wish to follow @ on Twitter who provides excellent Satire and donated some images for this blog