Week 16 (2/12): Writing Satire

Source: Marco Verch/CC/flickr

Not all news writing and reporting has to be serious. Journalism isn’t all political scandals, court hearings, car crashes, special investigations and budget sums.

You can be funny too. And make a serious point at the same time.

The history of satire stretches back as far as the 7th Century BC and includes some of the most famous names in literature:

  • Aesop (Aesop’s Fables)
  • Aristophanes (The Frogs, The Birds, The Clouds)
  • Geoffrey Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales)
  • Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels)
  • Charles Dickens (Bleak House)
  • Mark Twain (Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court)
  • Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest)
  • George Orwell (Animal Farm)
  • Joseph Heller (Catch-22)

But as each new technology arrived the options for satirists have expanded to radio, music, film, TV and finally the internet. American giants of satire like The Onion and Andy Borowitz continue to make fans both laugh and think while British institution Spitting Image is returning to television screens, though not to universal acclaim.

But we don’t need to look overseas, as Australians were once guilty of doing, or read the old masters. Australia has its own satirical greats and 21st Century provocateurs. 

The Chaser bills itself as a satirical media empire which rivals Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in all fields except power, influence, popularity and profitability.

The newest kid on the block is The Betoota Advocate.

Focusing on sport, but like all good satirists saying so much more, “Rampaging” Roy Slaven and HG Nelson are still at the top of their game.

Australian Story recently took a close look at what makes them tick in Roy and HG: The chemistry behind Australia’s enduring comedy act.

Finally, deploying nothing but deadpan acting and razor-sharp writing, John Clarke and Brian Dawe produced some of this country’s finest satire.

With their decision to avoid tricks and stunts, impersonations and costumes, Clarke and Dawe are perhaps the best examples about the key to effective satire – the writing. At its heart satire is the manipulation of words to subvert, to amuse, to outrage.

Oxford Dictionary defines satire as “the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticise people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.”

Satire Writing Tips

yourdictionary.com has some good advice. Consider too these tips:

  • The best satire is intelligent and knowledgeable.
    • Try to appear to be serious while delivering satire, as it can be hilarious. It is subtle, but effective when at first glance, it looks like you are actually reporting on a real event.
    • Try taking things further than they have already gone. If there is a trend in a story, you could play it out to suggest what might happen down the line.
    • See if you can turn things around, like advising someone to do the exact opposite of what they should do.
    • The best satire seems light but packs a real punch underneath.

Resources

This TAFE blog examines the nuts and bolts of Writing humour and satire.

Reminder

Both your Task 3 feature and reflection are now due.

Author: veritychambers

Journalist and teacher

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