Satire: An Influence on Our Society 


Stephania Lopez

Satire plays a pivotal role in merging comedy with real world issues one tends to miss.

Junior Lucia Moglia contemplates the use of satire as a form of entertainment. (Paola Lista)

In 1871, New York City cartoonist Thomas Nast sought out justice against politician William “Boss” Tweed with the use of a unique weapon: satire.

The “boss” of the local Democratic Party of NYC, also known as Tammany Hall, had succeeded at stealing about two hundred million dollars from New York taxpayers. But his success wouldn’t last as this clever cartoonist brought out awareness of Tweed’s corruption to the masses without the use of complex descriptions or long news reports. Instead, he crafted comical drawings of the notorious Tweed highlighting his wrong-doings. An example of these drawings is a depiction of  the politician with a money bag on top of his shoulders instead of a head. Cartoons like these were the first forms of satire in our society.

“I would define satire as a way of pointing out an issue in society or a particular absurdity in a comical, exaggerated, and somewhat sarcastic, way,” history and government teacher Andrew Hart said.

For years satire has been an essential way of making our society grow conscious of different current events happening in our world. Today, we continue to be fed satire although it’s transmission has been adjusted to formats more akin to our current society.

“I believe satire is more prevalent today than it was before because we have more sources of media,” Hart said. “There’s television, there is radio, there’s phones and social media like TikTok, Instagram, Facebook. There is a constant bombardment of different ways to get access to content.”

Examples of this satirical content have recently been displayed with the release of new movies such as Netflix’s Don’t Look Up and Death to 2021, as well as classic favorites like Saturday Night Live. The type of comedy used in these programs serves to not only entertain by highlighting the ridiculousness of certain everyday events, but also foster sparks for discussions in our society.

“Satire can change a view or alter it with comedy, a form of communication most people enjoy,” Hart said. “It addresses topics, which is good for starting discussions. We need to have discussions in general.”

A basic foundation of our democracy is our ability to have informed discussions, as Hart mentioned. The way in which individuals become informed can come from many different places. For example, audiences can be exposed or educated on something that is happening due to watching one of these programs, but because it is disguised in the form of comedy the influence can be overlooked.

“Sometimes on Saturday Night Live they will have a skit based on a current press conference or political event that I hadn’t heard about,” senior Carolina De La Vega said. “It’s funny and I laugh at it, but later I usually research more about what they were addressing out of curiosity.”

Many experience this curiosity when watching satire on television, a reason why filmmakers choose to address important issues using this form of comedy. In the 2021 Netflix movie Don’t Look Up director Adam McKay uses the fictional, life-threatening, scenario of a comet coming down to destroy earth and all humankind to parallel a similar scenario we experience today—climate change.

“The movie accurately shows what type of media people want to consume, even when being warned about something serious,” Hart said. “We like things to be fun and fluffy.”

Because of that tendency to lean towards the fun and fluffy, we gravitate towards casual talk shows and comical movies/tv shows. And so, comedic movies address important issues, so we may be made aware of them while also being entertained. But this trait of satire can also be a double-edged sword.

“Satire can make a serious topic more funny, but also by making it more funny, audiences might miss the nuance of how complicated an issue may be,” Hart said.

The effect satire has on our society all depends on how it is taken by audiences. Reactions to humor are always different, because people are always different. Satire brings attention to the vices of man, but some may not prefer that form of bringing awareness because of the personal aspects some jokes may touch upon.

“I think satirical television is great if one can watch it and understand that much of what is said is a joke, and much isn’t,” De La Vega said. “To be responsible viewers we have to not let ourselves be swayed by the media, as well as know when to stop joking, especially if one doesn’t know too much about a topic.”

Netflix’s Death to 2021 is a mockumentary, in other words, a fictional documentary meant to mock and make fun of absurd events. It includes a cast of professional actors who play different roles, from the common British woman to big tech moguls, and discuss all the events of the past year in a humorous, sarcastic way.

“I watched Netflix’s Death to 2021,” junior Fiorella Lara said. “Like its predecessor, Death to 2020, I found that being able to laugh about all the crazy things that happened this past year, pandemic and all, made me feel better about it, especially since I had been so anxious all these months.”

Satire has been an important form of entertainment for the larger course of history. It’s comedic intent provokes laughter, but it’s criticism of the ridiculousness of certain events provokes deep thought.

“Sometimes things get so ridiculous that it feels right to make a joke out of it,” De La Vega said. “The jokes write themselves at this point.”

Handling and receiving satirical content is a delicate ordeal. But despite this caution, it is still a form of media we can benefit from, especially during times that feel more than surreal.