Blogs > Cliopatria > Dr. Strangehistory: or How I Stopped Laughing at Satire

Oct 10, 2004 10:51 pm

Dr. Strangehistory: or How I Stopped Laughing at Satire

Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is considered one of the goofiest, loopiest satires ever to take on a serious issue. The characters are over-the-top; the situations are comedies of errors; the subject matter is serious, but it works as a comedy because it's an implausible cautionary tale.

Or was it? The new DVD version apparently contains much more background information on the film, and the NYTimes reviewer says that the movie was a pastiche of real situations, characters based on real people, and that even the parts Kubrick was making up had pretty firm groundings in reality.

Sobering. Satire's deep and abiding value is in the way it reveals truth. The best satire, I've always thought, comes very close to reality; Tom Paxton said, in the Reagan era,"Some people you don't satirize. You just quote 'em." Sometimes we don't want to, or cannot, recognize the truth under satire, so we call it screwball comedy. How many other satires are we missing? When we laugh at a supposed exaggeration, we need to wonder whether it is an exaggeration at all. Secrecy has killed before, and endangered all of us; if only satirists know the truth, can we afford to laugh?

An Example? In a move that rivals anything Hilary Clinton did during her tenure as First Lady, Second Lady Lynne Cheney may have effected the revision of Department of Education materials to remove references to a National History Standard that has already been heavily revised to answer critiques by Cheney and other conservatives. By revision, by the way, I mean destruction of hundreds of thousands of copies and printing of revised materials that do not mention either the National Standard or the President's support for standardized curricula based on scholarly consensus. Nobody will say on the record that Lynne Cheney ordered the change, or that the Education Department bowed to her wishes, but her office was reviewing drafts of the materials as they were being produced. This is the administration that is going to establish No Child Left Untested standards for history if reelected?

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Oscar Chamberlain - 10/11/2004

Maybe George III and Robert Southey by Byron in his "Vision of Judgement".

Southey, as poet laureate, had the unenviable task of writing a eulogy for the late mad king who, among other perceived defects, lost the British colonies. Southey hismelf was persona non grata with the Romantics for having sold out and taken the laureate's position.

Byron was one of the few Romantic poems with the verse skills and wit to master 18th century satire, and he serves up Southey and George III on a well-wrought platter.

However, Southey was simply doing his job, and George III deserved at least some sympathy and respect.

Lloyd Kilford - 10/11/2004

... are both very important things, but I personally think they should be kept seperate if at all possible. Their respective missions seem to me to interfere with one another.

I was trying to think of a really unfair or unjust satire but I couldn't (there have been satiric programs in the UK that I have disliked for purely partisan reasons, but those don't count). Just because someone is angry enough to write a blistering satire doesn't mean that the target is deserving of it.

Can you think of any good examples where the satirist was just plain wrong?

Oscar Chamberlain - 10/10/2004

Thanks for the link; interesting article.

As a kid, I had read "Red Alert." I had rather liked it in its real world scary way. I remember being startled when I first saw Strangelove and realized that the central plot had been based on it.

By the way, in the movie, the recall code letters, a combination of O, E, and P, refer to "Purity of Essence," but in the novel, it was "Peace on Earth."

Thinking about it, that's pretty crazy, too.

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