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Satire Latham

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‘Successful satirists achieve a balance between amusement and criticism.’ Discuss. The balance between amusement and critique is a central dynamic of successful satire, as it is through humour that the satire may censure its target, prompting the respondent to revaluate their own perspective with that of the satirist. Through his hyperbolic depiction of the nepotism inherent in the diplomatic posting system in The Ambassador, Sitch’s series The Hollowmen reveals the malleability of political values. Sitch furthers his satire of such political expediency through his ironic depiction of the policy making process in Rear Vision in which he exposes the artifices that characterise the modern Australian political landscape. Similarly, Moir’s reductio ad absurdum critique of Australian immigration policy in his cartoon Australian Values Test challenges the exclusivism entrenched in facile notions of Australian identity. Ultimately both texts emphasise the distinction between parody and satire, suggesting that whilst both forms rouse amusement satire has the additional function of critiquing the prevailing facades of society.

Through his depiction of the nepotistic machinations of the Central Policy Unit in The Ambassador, Sitch exposes the tension that exists between political necessity and the self-serving agendas of politicians. In highlighting the dilemma presented by the Prime Minister’s eagerness to appear non-partisan by stopping “clapped-out party hacks getting plum overseas postings” and the need to “make one more”, Sitch establishes the quintessential political conflict between an idealistic desire for transparency with the practical necessity for deception. Such a conflict is evident in Sitch’s use of Warren and Phillip, preeminent caricatures of political naivety, as foils to the dissembling pragmatists Tony and Murph.

Sitch heightens this conflict through the scene-cut from the scrupulousness embodied in the PowerPoint presentation to the irony of the Central Policy Unit’s attempt to “change the selection criteria” in order to accommodate their candidate, the hyperbolic antithesis of a diplomat that is the belligerent Senator Ron Eggles. Moreover in establishing the “member for Redneck” as a potential candidate Sitch by implication challenges the very necessity of the ambassadorial post, dismissing it as “showing the odd MP’s wife around” while proposing that “any moron could do it”. Thus, Sitch highlights the power of satire in critiquing the pretence of political hierarchy in a humorous manner.

Similarly, Moir’s Australian Values Test reveals the role of humour as a means of social commentary through its questioning of the efficacy of the citizenship test as an indicator of core Australian values. Through his reductio ad absurdum summation of an inherently complex issue, a hallmark of the form of the political cartoon, Moir is able to capture the essence of the Australian immigration discourse and subsequently critique the values that inform this discourse. Through his verisimilar depiction of the uniformed “immigration” officials as they sit behind a desk and record information on clipboards, Moir draws connotations of legitimate bureaucratic process. However this legitimacy is immediately undermined by the incongruity of the test itself, which measures the extent to which an individual is deemed to possess Australian values by the amount of beer they are able to consume. Through the symbolism of the institution of binge drinking Moir is able to achieve a caricature of Australian society, which, whilst hyperbolic, is representative of the simplistic notions of Australian values that inform the test.

To this end, Moir challenges the very existence of a definitive set of Australian values and by implication he exposes the ultimate fallacy of a test that promotes such a parochial view of Australian identity. Moir’s cartoon, whilst simplistic in its humour, attempts to expose the underlying bigotry and exclusivism that motivates Australian nationalism. Indeed Moir’s depiction of the incongruity of his caricatures of immigrants to the rigid “Australian Values” enforced by the officials suggests that such a test serves to eradicate diversity. This attempt to eradicate diversity is evident in the irony of Moir’s caricature of an Islamic man whose personal religious value system to abstain from alcohol is diametrically opposed to what is purported to be a fundamental Australian value. By extension Moir foreshadows that such a fervent promotion of facile notions of Australian identity will ultimately result in the creation of a homogenous Australia, embodied in the identical appearance of the immigration officials compared to the diversity of the applicants.

Thus, Moir reveals the role of ostensibly simplistic humour in critiquing inherently complex ideologies and the values that motivate them. Furthermore, Sitch’s humorous portrayal of the policy drafting process reveals the capriciousness of political objectives. Sitch’s depiction of the Unit’s unwavering desire for a “big spending announcement with a grand sounding name” in order to glamorise an “almost boring” budget, reveals the facades that characterise the modern political processes. Sitch reveals the necessity of such facades through the motif of the focus groups, which highlight the unending need to pander to the ‘lowest common denominator’ of society in order to maintain power within a democracy.

In revealing this rationale Sitch  by extension critiques the institution of modern democracy, suggesting that the need for a government to be seen to have “long term vision” stifles the creation of substantive policy and instead results in the empty gestures epitomised by the “National Perpetual Endowment Fund”. Sitch highlights this dynamic through the burlesque of Murph’s summation of the “economically measured” budget as a “complete disaster”. Thus, Sitch’s use of humour allows him to critique the artifices inherent in a government driven by public perception. Ultimately, both texts reveal the significance of satire as a means of critiquing complex society through the use of humour. Indeed they emphasise the role of the satirist within society as an individual who provides a differing perspective on the often widely accepted ideologies of their milieu.

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