Political satire is a humorous, ironic, or sarcastic examination of the political arena in an attempt to expose absurdity and hypocrisy. A combination of humor and political analysis, political satire can skew more toward bringing laughs or toward activism, depending on the content and the intent of the satirist. There are many different forms of political satire, including prose, editorial cartoons, and fake news. A controversial issue, satire with a political bent may be viewed anything from mere folly to unpatriotic or even rebellious behavior in some parts of the world.
Politicians, political parties, legislation, and the political media are all common targets of satirical review. In some cases, attempts at satire may simply break down into joke telling, such as making fun of a congressperson's voice or strange outfits. True satire attempts to rise above simple comedy, with the aim of exposing an underlying absurd truth or paradox: a congresswoman who endlessly preaches family values being caught in numerous extramarital affairs, for instance, would be an easy target for an examination of hypocrisy. When political rhetoric fails to match up with reality, the opportunity for satire is truly born.
The main challenge of political satire is striking a balance between humor and apt political analysis. When a satirist goes too far toward simple jokes, a satirical piece can become mere mockery, without the bite and intent of true satire. Losing sight of humor in favor of analysis, however, can take a piece out of the realm of comedy altogether, transforming it into a simple political attack, rather than an examination of political ridiculous from a humorous standpoint.
The many different forms of political satire have been developed into artistic mediums over the centuries. Prose satire often takes the form of newspaper articles or short stories; one of the best known prose satirists is the 19th century writer, Mark Twain. Editorial cartoons also developed significantly during the 19th and 20th centuries, and usually use a single cartoon panel to poke fun at a particular politician or political event. Fake news, such as fake newspapers or television shows, provide news-like coverage of real political events from a satirical point of view, often skewering the mainstream media as well as the news itself.
The court jester, in all his many cultural forms, is perhaps the first and best representation of political satire. Employed by royalty and nobility, the jester would make fun of various court officials, including the king or queen, for the entertainment of the court. While the jester had the opportunity to expose real instances of absurd, immoral, hypocritical behavior, he also could end up in very real danger of imprisonment or execution should his jokes fall flat.