Satire in Rhetoric - DigitalRhetoricCollaborative (2023)

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Satirical Rhetoric is a literary device used in literature, art, media, speech, and music to ridicule various aspects of popular culture, most commonly a political topic, in order to draw attention to social or cultural criticism and bring about change, and/or improvement. [1]


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  • 1 Elements of Rhetorical Satire
    • 1.1 Rhetorical Satire in Multiple Modes
  • 2 Artifact Analysis
    • 2.1 Effective Rhetorical Satire
    • 2.2 Failed Artifact Analysis
  • 3 Additional Resources
  • 4 References

[edit] Elements of Rhetorical Satire

Satire is an effective rhetorical tool because it is designed to make criticism approachable through humor. While it may contain comedic elements, satire differs from comedy because it pokes fun at specific aspects or flaws in people or institutions.

Effective satire successfully uses sarcasm, humor, innuendo, subtlety, ambiguity, and irony to address archetypal figures rather than particular individuals, exaggerate flaws in society, and/or criticize actions or policies of important public figures.[3]

Failed satire uses the same elements but resorts to obscenities and unpleasant personal attacks. "If it doesn't point toward positive change, or encourage people to think in a more enlightened way, it has failed. The worst case is when satire reinforces the state of mind it purports to undercut, polarizes, prejudices, and provokes the very behavior it condmens." [4]

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[edit] Rhetorical Satire in Multiple Modes

Satirical rhetoric is a recurring and evolving literary technique and has been found through works such as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay,"A Modest Proposal", and novel Gulliver's Travels, to today’s current satirical outlets like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert & popular satirical news organization, The Onion.

[edit] Artifact Analysis

The artifacts below showcase current effective and failed satirical rhetoric:

[edit] Effective Rhetorical Satire

On April 8, 2015, a contributor from The Onion explored the recurring Western cultural problem of police brutality. There have been multiple incidents of police officer’s getting away with violence, even after the altercation was recorded on a cell phone or other device and viewed by multiple witnesses. The following article satirizes the justice system due to the recent murder charges a white South Carolina police officer faced after shooting an unarmed black man.

Nation Hopeful There Will Be Equally Random Chance[5]

The Onion, being a completely satirical news source, is known for reporting current events with satire to create social criticisms for specific and broader issues in society. Throughout this article, sarcasm is the main device that creates effective satirical commentary. In the article North Charleston, SC resident Jenine Williams said “there can be justice for victims so long as a bystander is nearby, has a camera phone on them, captures the whole interaction, and several dozen other circumstances play out in the precise sequence.” The excessive list of needs she provides creates a sarcastic tone by taunting the seemingly impossible necessities for justice to be fulfilled. This illustrates that the justice system relies on chance and certain things that are not in anyone’s control. The article also says that “as long as a fair-minded eyewitness happens to be passing by at the exact right time,” justice can be served. The sarcastic syntax and tone of this quote greatly demonstrates a successful indicator of rhetorical satire. The sarcasm used satirically highlights the broad issues already present within the justice system and the specific issues of police brutality. Satirical rhetoric mocks the judicial authority by emphasizing the flaws, instability, and unrealistic demands.[6]

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[edit] Failed Artifact Analysis

Although satire can be an effective rhetorical tool, some instances of satire may be misconstrued as offensive to certain audiences depending on the topic and the situation. For example, The Onion sparked a mini-controversy after the publication of “Congress Takes Group of Schoolchildren Hostage”. The article below criticizes members of the U.S. Congress by fabricating a hypothetical solution to fixing the U.S. debt debacle.

Congress Takes Group of Schoolchildren Hostage [7]

The article meant to be a satirical look on the U.S debt predicament, however, not everybody understood the reference. To promote the article, The Onion tweeted “BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building” on Twitter, causing outrage among tweeters unable to discern its authenticity. Many people frantically forwarded the tweets thinking the situation was true. The misled information caused the U.S. Capitol Police to submit a statement denying The Onion’s previous claims. Despite being advised against posting more misled tweets about the condition of the Capitol, an Onion representative responded with, “This is satire. That’s how it works”.

In this situation, the rhetorical satire failed because it lacked background information to clearly distinguish it from an actual event. Rather than satirically highlighting or providing commentary on a social issue, it created one. The article featured several instances of fictitious dialogue delivered by Congress members. The author caricatures House Speaker John Boehner as the hypothetical spokesperson for the heist. He says, “If you want to play games and stall for extra time, we’re going to shoot one kid an hour, starting with little Dillon here” before “vanishing back into the building with the terrified child in tow”. Though this dialogue and situation tried to be a satirical take on how Congress would find a solution, the way it was presented as an actual event instilled more fear and panic with those who perceived it as a genuine breaking news story.

Towards the end of the article, the author includes another invented quotation from President Obama who “holds his head in his hands” while lamenting, “I know Speaker Boehner personally, and I know that he and his colleagues will not hesitate for a second to kill these poor children if they don’t get their way. Trust me, this Congress will do it”. This quote intends to mock the idea that Congress will find a solution without taking people into consideration, however, the idea of kidnapping and killing children distracts from the actual purpose of the satire.

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Not only does the article closely resemble an actual news story, the author includes a seemingly real photo of Boehner holding a gun to a child’s head next to a mask figure, probably another Congress member, also holding a weapon. Meant to accompany the article’s imaginary tale, the picture adds more support as to why it could be misinterpreted as a real report. It does not noticeably emphasize that the news article is actually satire.

[edit] Additional Resources

For more satirical leisure reading, check out any of these books written by David Sedaris. David Sedaris

To find out more about the history of satire, check out Sarcasm Society's information page. What is Satire?

Watch a Satirical Live Performance about Shia LaBeouf Shia LaBeouf

[edit] References

  1. Bogel, Fredric V. The Difference Satire Makes: Rhetoric and Reading from Jonson to Byron. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2001. Print.
  2. Police Satire Cartoon. Free Republic. Free Republic, LLC, 30 May 2014. Web. 16 Apr. 2015. <>.
  3. Mitchell, C. "What Is the Difference between Comedy and Satire?" Ed. John Allen. Conjecture Corporation, 18 Mar. 2015. Web. 14 Apr. 2015. <>.
  4. Parks, Tim. "The Limits of Satire." The New York Review of Books. NYREV, Inc., 16 Jan. 2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. < 2015/jan/16/charlie-hebdo-limits-satire/>.
  5. "Nation Hopeful There Will Be Equally Random Chance Of Justice For Future Victims Of Police Abuse." The Onion. Onion Inc., 8 Apr. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2015. <,38397/>.
  6. Griffin, Dustin H. Satire: A Critical Reintroduction. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1994. Print.
  7. "Congress Takes Group Of Schoolchildren Hostage 'We Need $12 Trillion Or All These Kids Die.'" The Onion. Onion Inc., 29 Sept. 2015. Web. 12 Apr. 2015. <,26207/>.

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What is satire in rhetoric? ›

Satire in Rhetoric. Satirical Rhetoric is a literary device used in literature, art, media, speech, and music to ridicule various aspects of popular culture, most commonly a political topic, in order to draw attention to social or cultural criticism and bring about change, and/or improvement.

What is an example of a satire? ›

What do Catch-22, The Colbert Report, and The Onion have in common? They're all examples of satire. Satire offers political and social commentary, using exaggeration, irony, humor, allegory, and more to make a point.

What 6 questions should we ask when analyzing rhetoric? ›

Rhetorical Analysis
  • Description: What does this text look like? Where did you find the text? ...
  • Analysis: Why does the author incorporate these rhetorical appeals? (For example, why does the author incorporate calm music? What is the point of the pathos?) ...
  • Evaluation: Is the text effective? Is the text ethical?

What are the three rhetorical devices used to persuade an audience? ›

Aristotle taught that a speaker's ability to persuade an audience is based on how well the speaker appeals to that audience in three different areas: logos, ethos, and pathos. Considered together, these appeals form what later rhetoricians have called the rhetorical triangle.

What is the main point of satire? ›

Satire is a genre in which exaggeration, irony, humor or ridicule are used to criticize and expose flaws in human nature and behavior. In addition to being its own genre, it is a literary device often used to critique politics and topical issues.

What is satire short answer? ›

Satire is the art of making someone or something look ridiculous, raising laughter in order to embarrass, humble, or discredit its targets.

What rhetorical devices are used in satire? ›

7 satire techniques
  • Exaggeration. Exaggeration entails making a situation or person look better or worse than they are by overstating or understating certain characteristics beyond reality. ...
  • Incongruity. ...
  • Reversal. ...
  • Parody. ...
  • Irony. ...
  • Anachronism. ...
  • Malapropism.
Jun 1, 2021

What are the 3 elements of satire? ›

Target --Who (a person or group) or what (an institution or ideology) the satirist is satirizing or targeting. Antithesis – a figure of speech with strongly contrasting words or ideas. Caricature – a person's features may be caricatured.

What are the 4 types of satire? ›

Four Techniques of Satire
  • Exaggeration. The first step to crafting a successful satire is figuring out what you want to exaggerate. ...
  • Incongruity. ...
  • Reversal. ...
  • Parody.

What are the 4 main components of rhetoric? ›

The rhetorical situation can be described in five parts: purpose, audience, topic, writer, and context. These parts work together to better describe the circumstances and contexts of a piece of writing, which if understood properly, can help you make smart writing choices in your work.

What are 4 rhetorical strategies? ›

Persuasive strategies authors use to support their claims or respond to arguments. The four rhetorical appeals are logos, pathos, ethos, and kairos.

What are the 4 categories of rhetoric? ›

Rhetorical appeals are the qualities of an argument that make it truly persuasive. To make a convincing argument, a writer appeals to a reader in several ways. The four different types of persuasive appeals are logos, ethos, pathos, and kairos.

What are the 3 rhetorical strategies used in effective arguments? ›

There are three different rhetorical appeals—or methods of argument—that you can take to persuade an audience: logos, ethos, and pathos.

What are the four most common rhetorical modes? ›

Typically speaking, the four major categories of rhetorical modes are narration, description, exposition, and persuasion. The narrative essay tells a relevant story or relates an event.

What are the 3 rhetorical appeals examples? ›

Advertisements, academic papers, and even tweets may use these three appeals. A car advertisement may point out the safety record of its vehicle (logos), mention how long its brand has been around and its reputation (ethos), as well as have humor to help persuade you to buy the car (pathos).

What is the best definition of satire? ›

: a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn. : trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly.

What effect does satire have on the reader? ›

Most satires aim to make the reader laugh at the foolishness and absurdities of human nature, but they also possess an undercurrent of seriousness by shedding light on important social issues or commenting on corruption, hypocrisy, or incompetence.

What are 2 techniques of satire? ›

Particular techniques include oxymoron, metaphor, and irony. Parody To imitate the techniques and/or style of some person, place, or thing in order to ridicule the original.

How do you identify satire? ›

Clues that Something is Satire
  1. It appears to be lacking respect or it is irreverent. ...
  2. It says what people are thinking, but don't want to say. ...
  3. It's politically incorrect. ...
  4. The ideas and story are over-the-top/exaggerated. ...
  5. The characters are exaggerated/in caricature. ...
  6. It points out contradictions and hypocrisy.

What are features of satire? ›

Satire is witty, ironic, and often exaggerated. It uses extremes to bring its audience to a renewed awareness of its ethical and spiritual danger.

How do you explain satire to students? ›

Introduce the following definition of satire to the students: A literary work that ridicules its subject through the use of techniques such as exaggeration, reversal, incongruity, and/or parody in order to make a comment or criticism about it.

Does satire mean irony? ›

Satire is a type of wit that is meant to mock human vices or mistakes, often through hyperbole, understatement, sarcasm, and irony.

What is an example of satire in a sentence? ›

Examples from the Collins Corpus

This is a sharp and funny satire about the whole sorry business of writing fiction. We live in a democracy where political satire is part and parcel of our democracy. This is as sharp as the satire gets. Political satire has become an easy laugh.

What are the 5 elements of satire? ›

Satire is a writing style that often educates and entertains its readers.
7 satire techniques
  • Exaggeration. ...
  • Incongruity. ...
  • Reversal. ...
  • Parody. ...
  • Irony. ...
  • Anachronism. ...
  • Malapropism.
Jun 1, 2021

What are the two main types of satire? ›

There are three main types of satire, each serving a different role.
  • Horatian. Horatian satire is comic and offers light social commentary. ...
  • Juvenalian. Juvenalian satire is dark, rather than comedic. ...
  • Menippean. Menippean satire casts moral judgment on a particular belief, such as homophobia or racism.
Aug 25, 2021

Why satire is important? ›

Satire matters for more than one reason, but its main goal is to raise people's awareness about the current state of affairs and to challenge their viewpoints by using humor and irony. It helps us confront the unpleasant reality and see the world as it is, so that we can improve it.

What does satire fall under? ›

Satire is an artistic genre or form that uses various types of humor such as parody, sarcasm or irony to ridicule a person or situation, usually with the intent of exposing harmful beliefs and actions, and inspiring change. It has been used throughout human history, in many cultures, and in various types of art.

How do you use satire? ›

Use satire when you feel strongly about a particular situation, especially one you believe is being mishandled. Since satire makes use of literary devices like humor, hyperbole, and irony, it is read in a less serious way than a formal complaint or manifesto.

What are social examples of satire? ›

Answer and Explanation: Social satire in particular ridicules or exposures the faults inherent in accepted social norms. For example, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is a prime example of social satire, questioning and poking fun at the customs and expectations surrounding marriage in 19th century English society.

What are the main tools of satire? ›

Tools of Satire:

1. Exaggeration: hyperbole and/or understatement To enlarge, increase, or represent something beyond normal bounds so that it becomes ridiculous and its faults can be seen. 2. Irony To present things that are out of place or are absurd in relation to surroundings.


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