What Is the Purpose of Satire?

Jacob Queen

The overall purpose of satire is usually to make some kind of moral or political change in society through the use of critical humor. A satirist will choose a subject or person with whom he finds faults and use humor to make those faults obvious. In theory, many satirists hope that the humor will have a corrective effect, almost like a punishment for bad behavior, ultimately leading people to change the way they behave and discouraging others from behaving the same way in the future.

Satire is commonly employed in political cartoons to point out particular issues affecting society.
Satire is commonly employed in political cartoons to point out particular issues affecting society.

Since the overall purpose of satire is generally to point out the faults in people, satirists often rely on exaggeration to make a point. For example, a politician who favors heavy taxation might be depicted as a pig stealing people’s food from their plates. This sort of exaggeration shows the fault in question and puts a critical spin on it. People often remember and enjoy the satire because it’s funny and entertaining, but if it’s handled correctly, the message should ideally stick with them much longer than the initial entertainment element.

Talk show host Jon Stewart often uses satire to criticize perceived political faults.
Talk show host Jon Stewart often uses satire to criticize perceived political faults.

The terms "satire" and "parody" are often confused, but the purpose of satire makes it generally very different from parody. When people do a parody of something, they may rely on many of the same techniques that a satirist would use, including exaggeration, but their primary purpose is to make people laugh, and if the author doesn’t really care if there is a real political effect or not. Sometimes the lines between satire and parody can be blurred for a lot of different reasons. Some parodies end up working as brilliant satires in terms of effect, while some satires might miss the mark completely and have no more impact than a parody.

Since many artists consider the purpose of satire to be an important thing for society, satires have been created for nearly every artistic medium in existence. For example, a horror movie with a humorous slant, showing teenagers misbehaving and being chased by some kind of monster, can be seen as a kind of satire urging better behavior in the youth of society. A more classical example of satire is the political cartoon, which allows the satirist to explore the political issues of the day through the use of humorous imagery. Sketch comedy television shows like "Saturday Night Live" and American talk show hosts like Conan O’Brien and Jon Stewart often mix parody and satire at different times, with some moments more dedicated to pure humor while others aim to change public opinion or point out flaws in society.

Satire is often designed to look critically at an issue, but in a humorous way.
Satire is often designed to look critically at an issue, but in a humorous way.

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Discussion Comments


@fBoyle-- I don't think you've understood what a satire is.

Yes, it's exaggerated and obviously it will be biased. But you don't have to take it so seriously. The purpose is to make a point through humor. The point may not be totally correct and you may not agree with it.

I think that satire is witty. I don't mean this as an insult to anyone, but I do believe that use of satire and understanding satire is a sign of intelligence.


I think satires are very biased and exaggerated. Sometimes it seems like it's done just to attack someone. I don't enjoy satires at all.


I think that satire is a fantastic way to criticize politicians and political decisions. It can be unpleasant to criticize people openly and directly. This might not get people to think about it and it might attract negative feedback instead.

But when satire is used for criticism, people might laugh at first, but it will get them to think about the issue. I completely agree with the article in this sense. For me, political satire makes me aware of realities that I hadn't noticed before.


@indigomoth - What troubles me is that there are people out there who publish what they don't realize will be an unpopular opinion, and then turn around and claim that it was supposed to be a satire.

That really annoys me. People should own their words and just apologize if they happen to have changed their opinion.


@clintflint - That doesn't mean that you should never use satire as a way of making your opinion known. It doesn't even mean that you should try to avoid being subtle. The problem with really obvious satire is that it is usually exaggerated to the point where people don't think it's a possible situation.

To me, the real impact of satire comes when you hit that sweet spot, where someone might be nodding with agreement in the start of the piece, but then realize how wrong that opinion is by the end of it. The point isn't to preach to the choir, but to try and change the minds of people who are set against your opinion.

And, honestly, if people reading it miss the point of the piece, it shows how blind they are and how resistant to the idea that their opinions might be wrong. Which goes to show that they probably aren't going to change their mind either way.


The problem with satire, particularly when media is so prevalent in modern society, is that if it is too subtle people might not realize the point of it.

I've seen plenty of satires go wrong because someone thought their point was obvious and that they were parodying a particular group of people, but the people in question thought the satire was agreeing with their position.

And having someone agree with your position only reinforces your values. So people who hope to create negative press for a group might end up helping them by mistake.

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