Satire, Parody, and other Forms of Ridicule
Writers have been raising laughs by ridiculing people and human behavior since at least the time of the Greek dramatists.
Here are some terms to describe types of ridicule intended to make us laugh and, maybe, think.
satire (n.) – This broad term applies to literature that blends criticism, wit, and ironic humor with the aim of ridiculing or rebuking someone or something. The target of satire can be person or thing. Jonathan Swift’s savage essay “A Modest Proposal” targets the Irish landowning system. In our own time the government and individual politicians are favorite targets of satire. The verb is satirize.
parody (n.) – A parody is the imitation of a created work. Originally the word referred to a written work, but now it can also apply to graphic art or music. A parody is not necessarily intended to ridicule, but it often does. Mel Brooks’s SpaceBalls is a parody of George Lucas’s StarWars. Stephen Colbert’s TV persona is a parody of an ultra-conservative talk show pundit like Bill O’Reilly. Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” is a parody of a Homeric epic. Artist Michael Ian Weinfeld has created a parody of the famous Obama “Hope” poster: the “Pope” poster. Pianist Victor Borge made audiences laugh with parodies of the classics.
Similar to a parody is a travesty. I think of the difference in that the parody is intentionally silly while the travesty is unintentionally so. The Pyramus and Thisbe play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is intended by Peter Quince and the other workmen to be serious, but their lack of acting skill makes it funny.
caricature – We usually think of a caricature as a drawing, but the word can also refer to written descriptions that exaggerate the peculiarities of the person being ridiculed. Tina Fey’s impressions of Sarah Palin were caricatures. Cartoons of Walter Mathau exaggerate the size of his nose. Bobble-heads of celebrities are caricatures.
lampoon – A lampoon is a virulent attack on an individual. It can be written, or in the form of a drawing. In the early years of the United States, political lampoons were both common and vicious. Our own political cartoons can be seen as lampoons. The word is more frequently used as a verb nowadays, often preceded in its past participle form by the modifier “unmercifully.”
burlesque – The word burlesque has various meanings, one of which is “a strip-tease show.” In the context of satire, however, a burlesque is an outrageous imitation of something that is supposed to be taken seriously. Peter Schickele’s P.D.Q. Bach inventions are examples of musical burlesque.
spoof, take-off, send-up -all informal words for parody