Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Contemporary Menippean Satires

According to the website '', a Menippean satire is defined as:

Me·nip·pean satire (mə nip′ē ən)
a form of satire that is indirect and nonrealistic in approach and that consists typically of a loosely organized narrative
incorporating a series of dialogues between representatives of various points of view

This term is most often used in reference to classic literature, be they classics in the literal sense of the word (Apocolocyntosis of Seneca and The Satyricon of Petronius) or work that is more recent, relatively speaking (Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift and Candide by Voltaire). Yet when I flip through the fare offered by Cartoon Network's late-night programming (cleverly dubbed "Adult Swim"), as well as some of the more popular shows from Comedy Central and Fox, I cannot help but think that Menippean satire is alive and well, and indeed would be widely recognized as such were it not for the prejudices of those familiar with the term.

My temptation is to elaborate on this at length. Sadly, I know that an analysis worthy of this thesis would require far more time, detail, and verbiage than I can afford to expend. That is why I shall instead list the shows to which I am referring. Whether you wind up watching them for the first time after reading this blog post, or have seen them before and are now attempting to view them afresh, my hope is that this article will cause you to look at them with a new perspective. The absurd narrative structures, zany off-color comedy, and scattershot yet oddly insightful social criticisms that could be found in the aforementioned literary works is also present in TV shows like Family Guy, American Dad, South Park, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Superjail!, Reno 911, The Boondocks, Xavier: Renegade Angel, The Sarah Silverman Program, and above all others in quality and historical significance, The Simpsons. This is only the short list, and there are no doubt worthy entries which I have inadvertantly omitted. My larger point is that I suspect we are living in a veritable golden age of Menippean satire, and are merely pressed too closely against the stained glass window of our own times to distinctly make out its image. There is a strong connection between that which we laud from the distant past and that which we take for granted in the present. This is just a thought of mine, but one I deemed worth posting.

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