Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Top 10 Political Satires

Throughout history, no artistic medium has been off-limits for political satire. These days, we seem to be surrounded by so much political satire, that it can be a challenge to separate the comedy from the unintentionally funny! Here are 10 examples of such satire, some very old, some a current part of the cultural landscape, that include a comic strip, a Greek play from 410 B.C., and a movie starring gun-crazy marionettes.

  1. The Great Dictator

    Silent-film comedian Charlie Chaplin's 1940 film The Great Dictator, his first "talkie," was released when the United States was still at peace with Nazi Germany. It was the first feature film to satirize Adolf Hitler and Nazism and explicitly condemn anti-Semitism. Chaplin's final speech in the film, delivered as if he were speaking directly to the film's audience, tellingly warns of "machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts." Throughout the film, Chaplin, whose mustache was ironically identical to Hitler's, uses his gift for visual comedy to attack the growing threat of fascism.

  2. Lysistrata

    Written by Aristophanes and first performed in Athens, Greece in 411 B.C., Lysistrata is the story of women attempting to end a war by withholding sex from their husbands and lovers. The play has been revived and re-imagined throughout history to address contemporary conflicts and issues while delivering, in the context of a battle between the sexes, a powerful anti-war message. In 1946, the play was performed in New York City with an African-American cast, and reflected the frustration many black soldiers were feeling as they encountered racism upon their return home from fighting in World War II. Musical adaptations include two musicals and one opera, as well as a catchy and succinct song by Todd Rundgren's band Utopia.

  3. Team America: World Police

    "Gaddafi, Bin Laden, and Kim Jong Il have all died last year," says YouTube commentator Mramo101. "Maybe Team America does exist!" Created by the people that brought us South Park, 2004's Team America: World Police takes its inspiration from Fox News and what children do with Barbie and Ken dolls when mom and dad aren't around to satirize America's mindless jingoism and bloodlust in the 21st century. The film itself took more than two years to make as creators Parker and Stone had no idea how hard it would be to film an entire movie featuring only marionettes, especially in scenes involving sex, nudity, and machine guns.

  4. "A Caucus Race and a Long Tale"

    Lewis Carroll sent up the social norms and political views of the Victorian age in his two classic "Alice" books, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1871). In chapter three of Alice in Wonderland, Alice joins a dodo bird and a menagerie of other animals in a "caucus race" that requires everyone to run around in a "sort of circle" until commanded to stop. In England at that time, "caucus" was a derogatory term used by one political committee to refer to another that they disagreed with. After Alice, the dodo, and company finish their pointless race, Alice is declared the winner and awarded a thimble she herself produced earlier from her own pocket. The absurdity of Carroll's animal caucus may remind us of some of our current primaries, conventions, and elections.

  5. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

    Sacha Baron Cohen's controversial 2006 mockumentary Borat, featuring the relentlessly anti-Semitic, misogynistic journalist Borat on a journey from his home country of Kazakhstan to the United States, is simultaneously hilarious and horrifying to watch, mostly because so much of it is unscripted and those featured in the film obviously had no idea what they were getting into when they signed release forms. It is amazing that unlike Salman Rushdie, author of the controversial The Satanic Verses, Baron Cohen did not receive death threats after the film's release, although he was sued by several people. The film, which was banned throughout the entire Arab world with the exception of Lebanon, is mean-spirited at times but ultimately, its satire of racism, sexism, and religious intolerance is incredibly funny and effective.

  6. Doonesbury

    From the very beginning when Trudeau was a student at Yale University, his then-college-centric comic strip Doonesbury embraced political satire. The strip's characters include a zonked-out hippie (Zonker), a football hero who ends up in Vietnam (B.D.), and later, the Iraq War, and a drug-gobbling reporter (Uncle Duke) based on the real life writer Hunter S. Thompson. Well-known politicians sometimes appear in the strip represented only by symbols, including a floating feather for Vice President Dan Quayle and a waffle for President Bill Clinton. In 1975, the strip won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning, and has since been nominated three more times.

  7. Mumbo Jumbo

    Cited by literary critic Harold Bloom as one of the 500 most important books in the Western canon, Ishmael Reed's 1972 novel Mumbo Jumbo takes political satire and social commentary to a whole other level as actual historical and political events are interwoven into a relentless collage-like tale of time travel, political conspiracy, and dancing. The efforts of a monotheistic "Wallflower Order" to create a politically powerful black male "talking android" who will renounce African-American culture in favor of a Euro-centric worldview is just one element among many in Mumbo Jumbo's universe that resonate in today's political and cultural landscape.

  8. Duck Soup

    Considered by some to be the best of the Marx Brothers films, 1933's Duck Soup initially pissed off Depression-era audiences with its irreverent humor directed at war and the rising political crises of the time. Marx brother Groucho reportedly said of the film's political significance, "What significance? We were just four Jews trying to get a laugh." But Benito Mussolini interpreted the film as a personal insult and, to the delight of the Marx Brothers, banned it from showing in Italy. One can only imagine what Mussolini thought of the film's climactic musical number, where the brothers and cast sing, "They got guns/We got guns/All God's chillun got guns!" to the tune of the Negro spiritual "All God's Chillun Got Wings."

  9. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart

    The Daily Show, along with The Colbert Report, has become one of the more trusted resources for news. Host Jon Stewart and his team provide up-to-the-minute reports of current events that are not only incredibly funny, but usually better researched than what passes for "serious" news on the major networks. The show also includes calmer, more serious interviews by Stewart with guests from all corners of the political spectrum, including a recent conversation with heartthrob actor and creator of the New Orleans post-Katrina rebuilding initiative "Make It Right," Brad Pitt.

  10. A Modest Proposal

    Finally, we return to the past, although not as far back as 410 B.C., for author Jonathan Swift's gruesome piece of 18th-century satire, A Modest Proposal. Swift's essay calmly proposes to the reader that the population of Ireland might ease the burden of their economic plight by selling their children as food for the wealthy. Much like Baron Cohen's character Borat, who often speaks in Hebrew when making anti-Semitic remarks, Swift's heartless tone in the first-person brilliantly skewers the very people who lack any sympathy for the plight of the world's most poor and vulnerable.

Taken From Online Certificate Programs

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