Satire and the Dream of Cultural Politics
Massey University, New Zealand
In the first decades of the twenty-first century, satire has been increasingly embraced as a legitimate means by which to cover, analyse and intervene in political issues. This can be seen not only in academic discussions—where humour has been hailed as form of radical truth that speaks truth to power—but also in wider, vernacular contexts, where comedy sometimes appears as the last, best hope of popular political critique and democratic engagement. Supplanting the suspiciously sombre forms of traditional critical approaches, the rise of comic criticism has suggested the possibility of a properly critical combination of (popular) culture and politics: simultaneously entertaining, subversive and accessible.
And, yet, if satire is such a powerful and inherently critical force, we might wonder how and why—in such satirical times—our political world could spin off in such unexpected and undesirable directions. In this presentation, I explore how the appeal and limitations of satire arise from that concept’s inherent promise to bridge the worlds of popular culture and politics and consider how the turn to satire is symptomatic of the deep resonance and wide appeal of both cultural politics and political culture. However, contrary to enthusiastic claims for satire’s critical potential, I argue that the formal complexity of satire as a comic form often disrupts, and even potentially inhibits, its ability to act as a meaningful political intervention. In order to make sense of the wider political consequences of the turn to satire, I thus posit that satire’s promise to make culture directly political may ultimately undermine broader, and more effectual, notions of the politics of culture.