Selling the Absurdity: Why Some Writers Suck at Being Satirical

I enjoy satire quite a bit. That’s not to say I’m the supreme authority on it, but I know good satire when I see it. I’ve read Jonathan Swift, Miguel de Cervantes, Kurt Vonnegut, and Voltaire all with genuine, audible laughter. They all have an ability to use the written word as an épée to foil their critics. When written appropriately, it can be quite disarming.

There are plenty of writers, especially bloggers, who think they’re up to the challenge of acquiring biting, satirical wit. That, in and of itself, is quite admirable. There’s nothing wrong with setting goals and working toward them. Satire is a higher form of comedy. Everybody loves a clown. So, why don’t you?

(I love spooking the anti-clown crowd. Say “anti-clown crowd” five times fast.)

The problem with writing good satire is not remotely believing what you’re writing. It is paramount the article be absurd to a reasonably intelligent human being. We’re not looking for MENSA candidates here, just people who can read well and be rational enough to conceptualize the argument. That way the reader can easily understand what’s being argued and think “there’s no possible way on Earth you mean that!” For example, A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift promotes cannibalism as a way to control population. This is what we call a red flag.

I love absurdity. Its abstraction turns logic on its head and draws a mustache on it for looking stuffy. It’s the rainbow bridging a tortoise and a tea cup. It’s the creative side that spilled the beans and then ate the mailbox. It’s that color I look for in any good satire.

What I find with the novice satirist is they’re not absurd enough, which leads me to suspect they believe what they are writing on some level. That’s just insulting, because then the writer becomes the essayist version of an Internet troll. Anyone who wants to make it in writing will want to avoid that perception at all costs.

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4 thoughts on “Selling the Absurdity: Why Some Writers Suck at Being Satirical

  1. That has to be the weirdest commercial that I have ever seen…beyond weird, scary.

    • I don’t have coulrophobia, and that commercial was more annoying than scary for me. However, psychologists are laying the groundwork for this to be a generally accepted fear. I say, why not? We’ve made clowns into villains for decades.

  2. Satire is the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to write. Even tougher for me than poetry. My favorite of mine ended up as a play. Uterus Starts With U Ends with Us.

    I love to read satire, but you are right. It is damn difficult to nail.

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