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Satire: And the nominations are...

You'll have to keep coming back to this post as I add to it as impulse dictates. It is set to be one of those off-the-top-of-my-head lists generated over time.

I'm not going to be formal about my rulings and offer strict criteria for my judgments. Nor is the list formatted by structure.

It's just note taking of what issues forth.

With these provisos, here is the shifting list of preferred and favorite satires.


Dave Riley's Preferred and Favorite Satires (because I know what I like to like)

  • The Loved One (Evelyn Waugh) is to my mind so well realised as satire and dark comedy that you have to wallow and roll about in its darkly humorous depths.If the novel is not enough for you, Tony Richardson's  film of the work -- written by Evelyn Waugh (novel)  Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood is a naughty piece of business enriched by some delighted comic performances -- especially Rod Steiger's Mr Joyboy.
  • Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb  takes satire to the horrors and laughs all the way. Stanley Kubricks' film is one off magic and its like has not been attained. Another writing input from Terry Southern ( with Kubrick) and the improvisational genius of Peter Sellers.
  • The South African novels of Tom Sharpe. While Sharpe may be better known for his Wilt and Blott series, he began his writing career with two novels pitched at South African Apartheid. Crude, rude, grotesque and bitter, Riotous Assembly (1971) and Indecent Exposure (1973) are like  Malotov cocktails thrown at the South African police establishment.
  • Lolita by  Vladimir Nabokov may be notorious for its pedophilic theme but the story also works (preferably for me) as a wonderful satire of suburban life. That rich telling is captured in Stanley Kubrick's 1962 film .
  • Pickwick Papers may be Charles Dicken's first novel but its sentimental charms carry  with them a wry satire of morals, manners and greed. The book is out of step with his other works with their intense grotesques and dramas but Pickwick suggests another Dickens was possible if the melodrama (and great melodrama that) had not ruled.
  • Bertolt Brecht's plays are usually thought to be parables for the theatre but my favoriting alights on his satires, especially Man Equals Man and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui . To this list you could add The Threepenny Opera but Brecht's most famous play unfairly overshadows the 1728 original by John Gay and all its satiric charms.
  • The original idea for The Beggar's Opera came from Jonathan Swift and John Gay's ballad opera is still a boisterous attack on the ready criminality of society and its self serving pollies.
  • Gulliver's Travels  is a sort of satirist's DIY manual. Each journey, each country, ups the anti for Swift's agenda. He wrote chapter and verse that still lasts centuries on.
  • The Good Soldier Švejk may be the best known literary output by a  member of the Bolshevik Party but the fun keeps on coming. Jaroslav Hašek managed to package a lot  in the one  story that bounces all over the place. Hardly a bitter storyline but if you go to war, it will be fools (and greedy fools at that) that will rule your life.
  • Lenny Bruce  deserves his reputation as America's pre-eminent stand up satirist. The recorded albums are useful resources if you want to access what he achieved, but since you may not get the guy's full measure, try reading the transcripts available in The Essential Lenny Bruce .
  • Kinflicks  has a cult following among a few generations -- like mine -- as it sends up the business of transiting the sixties gleaming with fun, verve and a sharp eye to gender politics. Lisa Alther's  book is a much more unsettling counter ruling to the often asinine chick lit that has followed.
  • How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a fire cracker of song and dance that presents as musical comedy. But for all its wit, romantic storyline...the work takes aim at corporate  culture and undermines its self serving logic by burlesquing it. 
  • How I Won the War is a 1967 film by Richard Lester  which takes the original satirical novel by Patrick Ryan  and turns it into a very bitter anti war parable to confront the gung ho demands of the Vietnam slaughter. Since the book and the film diverge so much, it is worth partaking of both media. The film is a neglected gem.
  • Joe Orton's plays are fiendish black comedies which go a long way in turning social mores up side down.More farce than is decent without taking prisoners.Of the filmed versions the 1970 adaptation of Entertaining Mr Sloan is worth the look at. 
  • The Ruling Class may be known as a film with a wonderful performance by Peter O'Toole but the play  by Peter Barnes is much better. The rule of one class over we others  is brutally attacked  for its systematic brutality and inherent conservatism. A play superbly written. 
  • Early Morning  has been called a 'savage satirical dream play' and I guess that is an apt description. In Edward Bond's play Queen Victoria has a lesbian affair with Florence Nightingale, and the princes Arthur and George are locked together as conjoined twins. A final act set in heaven sees the characters consuming each other as they descend into cannibalism. Bond doesn't usually write satire as he is more tragic in mode. But Early Morning is special.
  •  Vladimir Mayakovsky is usually known as a  Futurist Soviet poet but his playwrighting suggests a  different engineering. Mystery Bouffe, a mock medieval mystery play written in 1918 to celebrate the first anniversary of the Revolution; The Bathhouse, a sharp attack on Soviet bureaucracy subtitled "a drama of circus and fireworks"; and The Bedbug, in which a worker with bourgeois pretensions is frozen and resurrected fifty years later, when the world has been transformed into a material paradise.
  • Marat/Sade has been called satire but I think the overwhelming theatrics obscures that underlying theme.  It is a satire about the French Revolution but at its heart is an eager political discourse and the playwright, Peter Weiss, deploys satirical means to relieve some of the intensity. But as satire it works very well indeed.
  • Myra Breckinridge is, for my money, Gore Vidal's most neglected work. There is always plenty to like about Vidal anyway -- but Myra sits alone as a superbly realised satire about sex and gender politics  --  perhaps like no other work  Myra breaks all the sex and gender rules.
  • As puppet plays go Ubu Roi  is a crude, rude burlesque that takes on power and greed  with such abandon that despite the century since its premier, it's hard to note its like. Alfred Jarry may have written it but the play almost stands alone as a statement that helps to define a whole movement that arises every now and then as rambunctious satire.
  • The New Adventures of Jesus is as underground as you can comix get . In fact it is reputed to be the first underground comic. I think Frank Stack (who drew Jesus) is neglected -- but in saying that I don't want to detract from the contemporaries: The Fabulous Fury Freak Brothers  and Wonder Wart-Hog. But for me, Jesus rules because its sharper and less indulgent. Highlights include jesus going for a swim with the apostles (he bounces off the water); raising lazarus from dead by first turning him into a loaf of bread; the hollywood version of the crucifixion with a buff jesus beating up the romans with the cross and getting the girl...
  • America Hurrah is a lot of things: three plays coming at you from very different performance modes.Absurd theatre; grotesquery; satire; angst and audience abuse...  Jean-Claude van Itallie’s trilogy of short plays is such a tinder box of stuff that they can be exhausting to experience (you should be so lucky!)
  • Thomas Love Peacock is long dead. A friend of Shelly, the Romantic poet, Peacock's mockery of his peers may be an arcane taste and his novels overly dramatic but I love them for their seeming simple form. That only serves to make the setups easier to engineer.
  • Dario Fo  may have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature but let not such acceptance detract from the strengths nor the political alignment of  of his many satirical plays. Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1970) may be well known outside Italy but my favorite is Mistero Buffo --  ("Comic Mystery"), a play of monologues based on a mix of medieval plays and topical issues.
  • Kurt Vonnegut -- no matter where you start reading I don't think there is anyone like Vonnegut. In his penchant to pursue his POV he kept remaking it in a succession of unique novels. 
  • Doonesbury  may seem all  a bit insular and de rigeur today but Garry Trudeau's comic strip had an earlier life that was cutting edge naturalistic satire and totally addictive panel by panel.
  • The Great Dictator (1940) by Charlie Chaplin is stand out among his films as a partisan take on the then conjuncture of world politics.  Modern Times' take on  our collective  industrial sentence is similarly astute and both films are sharp satires,quite consciously created with that perspective in mind, of the capitalist system.
  • Carl Hiaasen's novels may be a tad kinder than you'd expect from his subject matter. -- relentless  corruption and development spin in contemporary Florida. His is creative fiction for investigative reporters and if you are like me, you'd want him to publish more often. 
  • James Gillray is for me the epitome of satiric caricature. There's not a subtle line in any of his work.(Sample above). Caricature  and satire is a perfect marriage and Gillray is a master of the fusion. That he comes from the 18th century suggests his  provenance. (I'd like a Gillray print for Christmas).
  • Norman Lindsay's politics are a long way from my own but as a caricaturist and cartoonist you won't find a better draftsman who re-moulded the human form with a enough situational perversity to lampoon politician and common folk alike. 
  • To Be Or Not To Be --  the Ernst Lubitsch film with Jack Benny in the lead role -- is a near perfect comic gem that Mel Brook's couldn't improve on 40 years later. I like both versions but with either you have to defer to the superb plotting and relentless farce that belittles the arrogance of  Fascism at a time (in 1942)  when it looked like things were crook.
  • Blackadder Goes Forth may be the last of the Blackadder series  but it is the most successfully realized of the four. Some episodes in earlier series are funnier, but with Goes Forth, the perspective is clearer and -- unfortunately by the finale -- relentless; and Edmund Blackadder, despite his scheming,  had to 'go over the top'. 
  • There aren't many laughs to be had from Nathaniel West but his four very short novels are brutal satires of America. They are a strange mix perhaps -- especially The Dream Life of Balso Snell (1931)  -- with a ready nihilism, and a strong Apocalyptic vision that would fit in very well today. A Cool Million is his sharpest satire. 
  •  Honoré Daumier (February 26, 1808 – February 10, 1879) was a French printmaker, caricaturist, painter, and sculptor, whose many works offer commentary on social and political life in France in the 19th century.It's hard not to like Daumier's simple lines and the subte mix of sharply offensive caricaturing on the one hand and sentimental engagement with other subjects on the other. His caricature sculptures are superb and better any plasticity that has been attempted since. 
  • Mike Judge. Who you say? Whose Mike Judge? Judge is the brains be hind King of the Hill and if you cant relate to the propane universe of Hank Hill you don't know suburbia up close and personal.
  • The Weimar Satirists:While it may be de rigeur to talk about the sixties 'satire explosion' for my money a much better period for 20th century satire was the Weimar Republic's cabaret scene and print media. Among the writers who drove the exciting satirical culture of the period were  Kurt Tucholsky (1890–1935)  and Karl Kraus (1874–1936). For me Tucholsky is  major influence. 'Tis a pity he wrote in  GErman and is so little translated in ready access. Some of Tucholsky's satires in translation.
  • Brian O'Nolan (1911–1966) (Pen Name: Flann O'Brien) is also known as Myles na gCopaleen. His novels are satires about Irishry but his newspaper columns --  Cruiskeen Lawn -- are staggeringly inventive. He has to be my favorite satirist.
  • Chris Lilley is some one many Australians know because of Summer Heights High and other series on local television.Lilly takes up where Barry Humphrey's left off I think as they both caricature Australians by replicating them as identities. Humphreys characters always had a bitter edge, but Lilley is more celebratory, more indulgent...of us.
  • The Larry Sanders Show may not be on everyone's list (as they may not have seen it) but Garry Sandling's take on network television is relentless stuff.
  • Mr Fish. There may be many Fishes on the planet in any number of guises but for my money, Mister Fish is the most brutal of the lot. His cartoons are often devastatingly observant and cut through so much political crap.  Mr Fish cartoons. Theres' no one like him. Except...
  • Ron Cobb. Cobb may no longer be a political cartoonist but in the seventies he  drew the measure  of the times especially during his residency here in Australia. Ron Cobb Cartoons.
Since I've exhausted my brain's recall batteries I'll sign off. If you have suggestions as to further works that 'belong' please append them below ... so we can be online satire friendlies.

Of course I've left out stuff  that I'm sure you think belongs. But mine is a list of material that is important to me since I like what I like to like.

  • List of satirists and satires: Wikipedia offers a very useful list of satires and satirists from ancient to modern times. I doubt  that you find a better list from which to draw sustenance.

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