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A Soviet Star for Trying

Updated: May 25, 2022

What is satire? I’ve written a short play that might be broadly classified as satire. It’s about an anonymous dictator who is deciding on whether to invade a neighbouring country. I wonder what might have inspired that! It’s a silly play, meant to entertain, and it really only communicates the obvious, that dictators are despicable human beings. So where is the satire in that? Shouldn’t satire tackle broader topics? I’m curious.


The first definition to come up for me on Google is: “the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.”


Merriam-Webster says satire “is a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn.” All right, so we can now call late-night TV ridicule satire. Is that enough?


Something makes me hesitate to use the word too liberally. Is it enough to mock the powerful? Trump and his army of the brain-dead, Putin with his cold-as-ice Bond-villain persona, they make ridicule redundant.


I see, scrolling down further, another angle on satire: “(in Latin literature) a literary miscellany, especially a poem ridiculing prevalent vices or follies.” The Latin, satura, is described as meaning “poetic medley”.


This I like better. This suggests two elements as gatekeepers. Does the satire have some artistic value on its own? And does the comment have a broader social relevance? The satire says something – in an aesthetically pleasing or interesting way – about people and society in general. I think of “Candide”.


Well, my piece is anything but “Candide”, and it does not qualify as satire, according to my own little exercise at definition. But it’s still a fun play. Having standards does not negate anything. It just raises the bar, clears the mind, issues a challenge.


We can feel two things at the same time. We can be proud of what we create for its own merits, and we can appreciate traditional categories for arts. What do we gain when we label a cheap thriller a “novel”? What does the book gain? It can still be a fun read without being shelved next to Tolstoy. Are we giving stars, like in kindergarten?


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