Satire vs Parody
Are satire and parody the same thing? Even for writers, it’s easy for some to assume they are directly alike. After all, both deploy humour to poke fun at a target of ridicule or derision, so they certainly share an impetus. That said, they are not identical, so knowing the difference between a satire and a parody is key for any aspiring writer. For those hoping to write humorously, it’s beneficial to learn how they co-exist and intertwine at times, in order to help you resort to choosing the most suitable technique depending on your mood. Let’s start with some simple definitions in order to distinguish them.
A work of satire uses humour (particularly irony and exaggeration) to expose flaws in human behaviour. By and large, anyone who writes a satirical story intends to ridicule people’s idiocy or vices. When notions of human frailty, indecency, or inadequacy are juxtaposed with other factors—such as societal issues or political commentary—satire can be a powerful tool to provoke and challenge attitudes. It is often by using humour that works of satire can feel very much like a harbinger of change, helping to shape public opinion around a common understanding.
A parody is any kind of work which mimics a familiar style (of artist, genre, or work) to invoke humour. Like satire, parody relies upon exaggeration to deride its target, but its primary aim is to amuse by aping something which others can recognise. Beyond that, however, there is little deeper motive. Most parodists are focused on ridiculing surface-level observations for easy (if not deserving) laughs, such as Robert Sears’s book The Beautiful Poetry of Donald Trump. It may feel like satire, but that doesn’t mean that it is.
I’d say parody is best regarded as a pathway to satire, or a sort of lightweight facsimile of it. Whereas satire is focused on the bigger picture—intending to satirise deeper issues beyond its chosen literary style—a parody can, in many instances, be a shallow instance of mimicry which has little lasting impact (e.g. Bored of the Rings by Henry Beard and Douglas Kenney). For those seeking laughs, both styles have something to offer, and the similarities between satire and parody certainly remain there to be seen, but in my own personal opinion, parody is a brick, and satire is the wall.
What it all boils down to is using your strengths as a writer—if you are more interested in concerns related to human nature, such as how George Orwell was in Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, then writing a satire would be more all-encompassing, vital, and incisive for your readers. If all you want to do is lampoon, or take the mickey out of something specific which annoys you—like a movie or a TV show—then parody is perhaps the best means of achieving that, but I wouldn’t expect it to have a particularly long shelf-life. That’s not to say satire can’t have parodic elements, or that parody can’t have satiric qualities, but it’s ambition which ultimately sets the two apart. It’s up to writers to define which method to choose when inspiration hits.
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© 2018 Luke Edley
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Humorous fiction writer, poet and novelist. Fond of satire. Interested in comic novels, black comedy and tales of satirical derring-do.