Have They no Shame? Observations on the Effects of Satire

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    “Poetry makes nothing happen” (W.H. Auden, “In Memory of W. B. Yeats”, 1940): what if this is also true of satire? Surely not! Satire is the most obviously worldly of artistic modes, commenting directly on real-world events and people. When we read or view a really good piece of satire, we are confident that its targets must have shrivelled up in their hearts and changed their ways—or at least that the public subsequently rejected them, leaving them to die in ignominy. It seems our intuitive reaction is broadly wrong. At least as defined by political results, the gloomy, Audenesque conclusion is much closer to historical truth. However, if satire never (or very seldom) changes the course of history, that it achieves nothing does not follow. It functions to mobilise and express the harsh emotions of anger, contempt, disgust, and disdain on the part of creators and audiences. Some of the robustness of free political expression in liberal democratic traditions derives from the interplay of shaming and shamelessness generated by satirical practices. This chapter addresses themes and evidence from the foregoing chapters and discusses whether the emotional and cultural effects of political satire provide benefits that outweigh the almost complete lack of evidence of immediate instrumental results.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationSatire and Politics: The Interplay of Heritage and Practice
    EditorsJessica Milner Davis
    Place of PublicationCham, Switzerland
    PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
    Number of pages13
    ISBN (Electronic)9783319567747
    ISBN (Print)9783319567730
    Publication statusPublished - 2017

    Publication series

    NamePalgrave Studies in Comedy


    • Anger
    • Audience opinion
    • Disgust
    • free speech
    • Negative emotions
    • Political satire
    • Satire


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