Mirroring the Political Climate: Satire in History



We would like to think today’s satire is fresh, groundbreaking, original, and different in the age of The Daily Show—but it’s not. In fact, there is a history of satire that extends as far back ancient Greece (see Aristophanes) and Rome (see Juvenal).1 The Age of Enlightenment was a fecund period for satire in Britain (see Pope and Gay2), and we look to Jonathan Swift as the hero of historical satire.3 The success of our modern satire has produced imitations abroad; there is a version of The Daily Show that airs in, of all places, Iran. In short, there is a tremendous amount that has been written about the history and expansion of satire. This study is going to stick to American satire, not for any jingoistic reasons but for practical ones. I encourage interested readers to go back and go abroad to get a handle on the amazing satirical precedent that has been set and the remarkable imprint satire is making internationally. To help point readers in the right direction, I footnote often.


American Politics Political Climate Comic Book Late Night Political Criticism 
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  1. 1.
    I have also been directed by very smart people to Ralph M. Rosen, Making Mockery: The Poetics of Ancient Satire, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 3.
    The best collection from Swift comes from Cambridge Press: English Political Writings 1711–1714, edited by Goldgar (2008).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Mary Alice Wyman wrote a book on Seba Smith and Elizabeth Oakes Smith called Two Pioneers (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Press, 2006) that contains more information about the author of “Major Jack Downing” and his wife, a poet.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    John Adler has written a well-respected book about Nast and Tweed called Doomed by Cartoon. (New York: Morgan James, 2008)Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Twain’s writings On the Damned Human Race have been edited by Janet Smith and published by Hill and Wang, New York (1962),Google Scholar
  6. Ron Powers wrote a definitive biography, Mark Twain: A Life (New York: The Free Press, 2006) and Mr. Twain released his own autobiography decades after his death: Volume I. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.Google Scholar
  7. Garry Wills wrote an authoritative biography of Henry Adams called Henry Adams and the Making of America (New York: Mariner Books, 2007)Google Scholar
  8. and Adams, too, wrote an autobiography, which was released while he was still alive: The Education of Henry Adams; it was re-released by the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, in 2008.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Terry Teachout has published a biography of Mencken titled The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken, (New York: Harper Perennial, 2003), and Mencken himself worked with Alisatire Cooke to publish a collection of his writings (New York: Vintage Books, 1990).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Andres Schiffrin’s Dr. Seuss & Co. Go to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of America’s Leading Comic Artists addresses this as well (New York: New Press, 2009).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Zoglin has written a book about stand-up in the 1970s called Comedy at the Edge. New York: Bloomsbury, 2008; I highly recommend readers with a greater interest in this area to read this book.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    David Simmons wrote a book titled The Anti-Hero in the American Novel which more deeply explores the connection between literature and the counterculture of the 1960s (New York: Palgrave, 2008).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    The most definitive work on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour is a book written by David Bianculli titled Dangerously Funny. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.Google Scholar

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© Alison Dagnes 2012

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