Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian literary theorist and critic, identified fourteen distinct characteristics that are typical of Menippean satire throughout the ages. These include a comic or “carnival” element; freedom from accuracy with inventive plots and philosophical approaches; absurd situations used to seek, reveal, and test the truth of ideas rather than the human character; altered observational standpoints or states of consciousness that enable new perspectives on situations and life; deliberate violations of social conventions to create new awareness of old forms; mixed media forms and genres in which the medium itself assumes a significance beyond its content; and a heightened concern for contemporary issues and salient topics of the day (Bakhtin, 1984).Bearing this theory in mind, watch a masterful revelation of truth when The Daily Show's Rob Corddry plays the laughing philosopher on U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney's hunting mishap: "According to Vice Presidential Firearms Mishap Analyst Rob Corddry, Cheney stands by his decision."
Menippean satiric style has been adopted by many writers, including Rabelais, Erasmus, Pope, Voltaire, Swift, Cervantes, Carroll, and Joyce. Today, comedian Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart demonstrates both the form and intent of Menippean satire. All of these writers share a common purpose. “Menippean satire mirrors a world that is in ceaseless motion and where nothing is certain… [I]ts authors’ intentions seem, in nearly every case, to demonstrate the disabling and limiting conditions under which the human intellect operates” (Blanchard, 1995, p. 11). Eric McLuhan is more specific about the role Menippean satire plays in creating awareness among an otherwise oblivious public.As an active form, a Menippean satire goes to any extreme necessary in order to frustrate objectivity or detachment on the part of the reader. … Cynics, and Diogenes in particular … were often referred to as ‘laughing philosophers,’ for they refused to take seriously any political, private, social, intellectual, or other kind of pretentiousness. (McLuhan, 1997, p. 5)Instead they create what Eric McLuhan calls the “cynic effect” – a satirical response that creates new awareness by awakening the dulled perception of the reader. Thus, Menippean satire is not merely humour or irony, but humour or irony with a specific intentionality.
Bakhtin, M. M., & Emerson, C. (1984). Problems of Dostoevsky's poetics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Blanchard, W. S. (1995). Scholars' Bedlam: Menippean Satire in the Renaissance. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses.
McLuhan, E. (1997). The Role of Thunder in Finnegan's Wake. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
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