Note: Today’s regularly scheduled MicroFiction piece has been bumped to Wednesday in order to give everyone a little more time to think about Political Satire in time for the competition on Friday.
Political Satire tops the list of genres NYC Midnight writers are scared of getting. I think a lot of that fear comes from the fact that people don’t understand it as a genre. So before we get into what it is, let’s start by debunking a common myth:
Political Satire is not a bunch of jokes about politicians.
Quips about Donald Trump’s hair or David Cameron being replaced by a cat need not apply, not matter how clever your joke is. So what is it?
Satire is a genre of writing that criticizes and attacks vice, folly and abuse, particularly of ruling parties or those in power. It is marked by anger and a desire to change or destroy that which it attacks. It has a definite target and often uses humor to make a specific point. It does not simply “make fun” of a subject but seeks to inspire change. – TV Tropes
Here are examples that have elements of the genre, but not quite there:
- The Jungle & Uncle Tom’s Cabin – these seek to inspire change, but they don’t use humor to illustrate their points.
- Animal Farm – that’s an allegory. Political Satire often uses allegorical elements, but a straight allegory is not the same thing as satire if it doesn’t have the humor.
Jokes about political candidates might be funny, but political satire doesn’t have to be overtly about politics to make a political point.
The plot of a political satire piece usually has nothing to do with the subject or message you’re trying to get across. For example, both “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift and “Baby Cakes” by Neil Gaiman are, on the surface level, stories about eating babies. But the point they’re trying to make is very different.
Swift’s piece is about British policies regarding the Irish and the cruelty and indifference towards the plight of the impoverished. Gaiman’s piece (originally a short story but linked as a comic) will make anyone consider converting to vegetarianism.
Some points on this:
- You don’t necessarily have to agree with the points in your political satire piece. Gaiman has said, “For the record I wear a leather jacket and eat meat, but am quite good with babies.”
- Hyperbole is your friend. Obviously neither Swift nor Gaiman was actually advocating eating babies. But if you’re really good, your satire might get mistaken for the real thing.
- Political satire is timely. Remember: it’s meant to inspire change. So while you could write a piece similar to Swift’s regarding politics of a bygone era, it doesn’t really fit the spirit of the genre because the issue is already over.
- Some issues are pretty timeless. For example, Aristophanes’ Lysistrata is about women going on a sex-strike to protest a war. It’s been adapted several times, most recently in the film Chi-Raq by Spike Lee.
Since we’re talking about Flash Fiction in particular, let’s look to the following examples of sketch comedy for ideas. These are quick skits and would easily translate into a complete story that will fit in under 1,000 words and will give you a more modern take on what Political Satire is.
- “What if Bears Killed One in Five People?” is a political satire of the issue of rape on college campuses.
- Amy Schumer parodies a commercial to satirize the regulations limiting accessible birth control (and one other issue, if you watch through to the very end.)
- Key & Peele use a skit about the zombie apocalypse to make a point about racism.
I hope you recognize these skits and the comics who produced them – hopefully Political Satire will be a little less scary when you realize you’ve already been exposed to it. I suggest you check out more of their sketches, as well as South Park and The Colbert Report for other examples.
So, with that in mind, how do you write a Political Satire piece for the Flash Fiction Challenge? Well, my advice is to pick an issue to write about. What do you care about? What’s in the news today? Read through your Facebook feed and current events news pages to get ideas. Embrace your inner snarkiness and start joking about it about!
Have any examples of your own or questions to share with the class? Leave them in the comments below!