How Are We To Cope, If Not Through Satire? A Refelction on ‘Satire & The Future’

On Monday 25 March, Literature Lecturers Adam James Smith and Jo Waugh delivered an event at the York Literary Festival titled ‘Satire and the Future: Can The Satirists Still Save Us?’ Words Matter Blogger Charlotte Crawshaw was on the scene!

By Charlotte Crawshaw

In a time of turbulent politics and uncertainty about the future, a question should be asked: how are we to cope, if not through satire. Drs Adam James Smith and Jo Waugh put forward this question in their event ‘Satire & The Future: Can The Satirists Still Save Us?’ as part of this year’s Literature Festival.

Rob O’Connor introduces Smith & Waugh

The pair began the session with a short sketch, in which they subtly introduced the concept of satire through a funny Brexit themed script, where the two speakers discussed the likelihood of an apocalypse in Post-Brexit Britain.

As part of their combined project ‘Satire: Births, Deaths and Legacies’ where the two lecturers explore the rise and fall of satire throughout history, as they did throughout this event.

This discussion was ideal for both newbies to satire and those more well-versed in the concept, as they gave an in-depth explanation of the many different definitions of satire throughout time, from the first ever English Dictionary to a modern definition. All of which suggest the same concept; something which is humorous often at the expense of others and often (but not always) politically charged.

As Dr Smith said in this event, at the threat of our “economy crumbling like a warm Easter egg” there is very little we can do, other than to laugh about it, and this indeed is one of the purposes of satire. Smith and Waugh explored the downfalls of satire, along with its benefits, through a story of an unfortunate weather forecaster (Robert FitzRoy) who predicted the weather wrong and as a result was subject to years of harsh satire against him. Again, this approach made the entire concept of satire so easy to understand and made the event as a whole very amenable and welcoming to those who may know less about satire than others.

The audience participation and open discussion throughout the event was something I found personally very different but also extremely interesting, being able to engage with not only the opinions of the speakers but also the audience was something I hadn’t experienced before but found quite beneficial.

Particularly towards the end of the event when we were given an array of cartoons and comics, which we had to decide whether were satirical or not. This type of audience participation makes events such as these so much more approachable and less-intimidating than similar other lecture style events, an audience member said:

Although I went in with no prior knowledge of what satire was, I came out with a better view of how to use it. Whether through making fun of politicians, or social contexts, satire will always be there to create a good laugh, and Smith and Waugh embraced that. (A. Langton).

A particularly interesting part of the event was when the duo discussed modern day satire which was likely to have been influenced by the by-gone satirists of the eighteenth century. The pair wrote an article for The Conversation which explained how the actions of twenty-first century comedian, Andrew Doyle, is a homage to the satirists of the eighteenth-century, in particular, infamous satirist Jonathan Swift.

The article itself is a brilliant read (which can be found here), and during their event Smith and Waugh explained how political satire has been around for longer than we’d expect; but posed the question, is it beneficial in any way, and has it ever been? Interestingly enough, the opinion the majority reached by the end of the event was; in the event of an apocalypse, or similarly Brexit, whilst satire won’t fix the problem, it will surely make things easier by being able to laugh about it, as people have been doing throughout history and will continue to do for years to come.

If you enjoyed the idea of this, Smith and Waugh also do a monthly podcast where they discuss satire and its implications, which can be found here.