On Satire

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If folks have been following the bad news about this year’s Bakcheion they may of seen that Dver has given a fair and detailed account of why it has been cancelled. Others have joined the conversation on her post and also my personal facebook page. Some commentators have expressed their concerns about the nature of Sannion’s satire and that the Many Gods West (MGW) organisers concerns were valid.

So here I’m going to discuss satire itself, give a brief lesson of origins and importance to our culture. While I am upset and disappointed at the result of Sannion’s satire I’m also supportive of it, as it is Sannion’s role as a Dionysian to practice this holy art form.

Contrary of my preferred false etymology the term satire does not originate from satyr, still it’s agreed etymology has a Dionysian element:  Wikipedia (source):

“The word satire comes from the Latin word satur and the subsequent phrase lanx satura. Satur meant “full” but the juxtaposition with lanx shifted the meaning to “miscellany or medley”: the expression lanx satura literally means “a full dish of various kinds of fruits.”

The word of satire is Latin but the nature of satire is found in the Satyr plays and the various ages of Greek comedy. The history of comedy is unfortunately neglected but it is more than possible it was the first form of theatrical entertainment. The etymology of comedy is obscure possibly: Kom-oid meaning “party song”. Karl Kerenyi also provides another false etymology of:

Kome (village) and modia (mockery) “Supposedly the komos consisted originally of poor peasants who entered the city at night, went to the houses of rich people from whom they had suffered injustice, and avenged themselves with songs of mockery.”

The origin of Satyr Plays appears wholly shamanistic to me, they were first known as private mystery plays between the elite that required audience participation, maybe even a ritualised orgy of sorts. But as Richard Seaford elaborates:

“At the Dionysiac festivals the citizens en masse watched the ritual impersonation of myth on the streets, but were excluded from the mystic ritual at the heart of the festival. And so not only was the traditional processional hymn transformed into a scripted stationary hymn under a hillside (so that all could see), but also the irresistibly secret sights of mystic ritual were opened out to the curious gaze of the entire polis. Greek ritual tends to enact its own aetiological myth, and the first tragedies were, I suspect, dramatisations of the aetiological myths enacted in mystery-cult – as was, a century later, the highly traditional Bacchae.” 1.

We see here that the origins of Satyr Plays had a ritualised sexual element. A typical scenario involves a king being defeated by a god, this god steals his wife and marries her.  Turning the king into a cuckold. This archetypical theme is found to this day in festivals, such as local city parade / festivals which include mock crowning of monarchs (typically common people) by the city mayor or even something like the high school crowning of the prom king and queen by the school principal. The heart of this ritual lays with Mystery Satyr Plays which eventually evolved in public festive events, e.g. Anthesteria.

The first forms of comedy in mainland Greece were mostly slapstick farce, known as the Dorian farce. This migrated to southern Italy where they advanced on comedy by applying a plot and turning the farce into an actual story. But the farcical nature of the comedy remained the same and typically included elements of what we know of as satire.

For example it is possible that actors would make satyr masks that were caricatures of politicians and nobility. It is also known that in some performances of the Bacchae satire would be taken to the extreme and use actual heads of enemies as props.

“The Armenians and Parthians had won a major battle against Rome just before the performance, in which the Roman general Crosus (‘Craxis’) was captured. The head and right hand of Crosus was severed from the body and used in the climactic moment of the play, given to the Parthian King during the performance.” 2.

So what I’m trying to illustrate here is that satire has and is part of the realm of Dionysos. For one to be shocked or surprised by someone who is a well-known Dionysian using satire is a fault of the witness.

On to the next part: The nature and importance of satire.

When a dictator takes over a liberal country who is the first to die?

That’s right, Satirists.

Whenever satire is being attacked openly by politicians you should question the power that person holds. Satire is the ultimate form of free speech, it is extreme, it is hurtful, it is ancient, it is Dionysian. Satire cultivates democracy, it aids civilisation in progressing forwards.  It points out our faults and if one is wise, one can learn from it.

A great example of extreme satire is the 2007 APEC gate crash by the Chasers. If background is required: APEC is a political economic meeting between country leaders, the first and biggest of its kind at the time in Australia. The largest city in the country, Sydney, was practically shut down to cater to the world’s elite leaders. Effectively becoming a prison city.

Wikipedia:

“the NSW Police Force [were given] new powers, including a suspension of the normal function of habeas corpus, freedom of movement, an excluded persons blacklist and other civil liberties.”

And boy did the police love their powers!

As good Satirists, the Chasers proved how utterly redundant, contrary of our nations beliefs and draconian this event was by simply donning fake ID’s, dressing as Osama Bin Laden and driving in a car with Canadian flags on the front towards the motorcade that led to the most heavily guarded building in Australian history. They passed several security checkpoints before closing the stunt themselves.

Of course this caused an absolute shit storm! With the guys arrested and the public questioning satire in the same manner they are doing Sannion. “Hurtful”, “Shameful”, “Dangerous”, “Illegal”, “Stupid”  were words used.

That is the power of satire!

Satire is an unique art form and a reason why I elaborated on satyr plays and comedy as they  are an example of an important, advanced and shamanistic aspect of classical comedy. Great satire breaks the fourth wall. Being presented with a fantasy only to have it broken.
All art is lying. When you watch your favourite movie, see your favourite play, view your favourite masterpiece you are being deceived. Satire is the only truth you find in art, but as a Dionysian paradox it requires insincerity. It forces you to question what is being presented to you and if you click onto it you get some greater insight and maybe some entertainment. If you don’t click into the satire, you become part of it. This is explained by Anomalous Thracian on my facebook:

“It’s perfectly fine to not like satire, and to find it offensive or in poor taste; and the risk that all satirists walk is that they may miss their mark and fail, or cross a line (transgressing) too far, such that the “thinking” that is the intent of the transgression is overshadowed by the turmoil and pain. This, however, gets bit meta: satire that overshoots or overplays its hand, in the manner described above, does not cease to be satire… instead it turns the entire situation into satire. Those reacting so poorly and brashly become the actors on the stage of self-ridicule and self-demonstration; they’re now satirizing themselves, which could be seen as satire gone wrong or as satire in its holiest and most proficient form.”

Perhaps the greatest irony of all this was the reasons behind the satire… Sannion was making a point about some political motivated speeches to be held at the MGW, especially Rhyd discussing fascism… which I suppose is against … fascism? And how did the MGW organisers react?

And this sums up why I’m supportive of Sannion’s satire. Those involved in his banning from the MGW were playing their role in his game, despite their gloating on social media and the criticisms directed towards his humour and ‘poor satire’ he actually succeeded.

 

 

  1. Richard Seaford, Dionysos; 90
  2. (source http://www.tacentral.com/history_story.asp?story_no=6)

 

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7 thoughts on “On Satire

  1. Great exposition here, and love that quote from the Thracian about it turning the whole situation into satire. To say this whole thing has been farcical would not do it justice. Also, LOVE that image you used at the top!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, love the idea of those who got so offended becoming the performers themselves. And isn’t that at the heart of the Dionysian art? to be forced to perform in spite of yourself. Ask Pentheus 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I would make one caveat about the nature of satire: Jokes that attack those with less power than the jokester are not satire, they’re just cruelty. Satire is for attacking the powerful, not the disempowered. At most, it can be used to snark those with the same amount of power, but never those with less. Everything about the history of satire, back to its origins, bears this out.

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    1. That’s not so much a caveat as a repetition of what the author already said in his history of satire, right there at the top: satire is a ritual-theater tool for “punching up” (so to speak) at those who (circumstantially) wield more power than the satirists themselves, or those ultimately represented by them (in a theoretical event that a satirist is acting on behalf of another as intermediary or vehicle, as sometimes happens, for example in ally work).

      In the given instance being discussed, the given satirist clearly did this, by “punching up” at the founders and current administrators of a regional conference, regarding well-circulated concerns about the politicalization and related rhetoric making the rounds in certain (elite and influential) radical circles.

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      1. Well. In my opinion of this satire cannot exist if it’s directed at someone ‘lower’ than the satirist – that’s bullying. Really it should be a matter of equally, as we’re all equal, we are all human. Satirists bring those that think they are above, or have been put in a place of power of others, back to base level. A good example of this is a photoshopped series that illustrates world leaders on the toilet.
        That is satire.

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