Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Power of Satire

El Santo Rey.
Oil and gold leaf on Wood tondo. 8" x 8" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz. Private Collection
Anyone doubting the power and impact  of satire and humor in a work of art should be seriously rethinking their arguments by now.  In the past few months, we've witnessed two perfect examples of provocative art that have stirred people, governments and other groups at  a global scale. Now, one can argue about how good or bad these art forms may be but they are without any doubt they are to be considered satirical art, and it has delivered a big punch at a global scale. Seth Rogen and James Franco's The Interview stirred so much controversy, it brought a transnational corporation (Sony) face to face with an oppressive state (N. Korea) In the end, the movie makers and the power of online streaming came out victorious. More recently the French magazine Charlie Hebdo was attacked by Islamic extremists and this unfortunate killing of satirical cartoonists brought the world together to voice out their support for democracy and free speech.
Here we have two oppressive ideological systems obsessed with censorship and raging against any kind of parody or satire, one is political, the other religious but they share the same repressive values that undermine and attack any form of dissent and free expression. Charlie Hebdo and The Interview are just two reactionary expressions to these systems.. These power structures understand that satire is a seriously dangerous weapon to  deal with because it opens people's minds to the possibility that nothing is really sacred, allowing them to not take any doctrine political or religious too seriously and question their assumed authority.
As a satirical artist myself, I cannot remain immune and was moved by both events with its multiple ramifications which has brought me to the following conclusion: Satirical movies, cartoons, and every other work of art that satirizes any form of religion or political establishment is a powerful seed of dissent that can ultimately create a huge impact, bringing people together to protest and perhaps even topple long established regimes. (just look back at the cartoons from the French Revolution at the end of the eighteen century). Monarchies, religious groups, governments and corporations may come and go but the Promethean rebellious and irreverent spirit that creates satire will always remain a useful tool to question the value and purpose of any dictatorial socio-cultural construct.
Roman mosaic depicting a Greek comedy.
Since the Old comedies of Aristophanes to the Colbert Report, satire keeps aiding us against religious and political fanaticism. And this did not start with the Greeks making fun of their gods and rulers with masks and plays. We can go back to ancient Egypt in fact and find frescos making use of satire. Satire may be as ancient as religion itself and it will remain a great creative conductor of dissent freeing minds from the shackles of fundamentalism. The world needs more satirical art because the world needs to question all of its inherited  patriarchal assumptions, the old moral and authoritative dogma that has led to our current globalized state, from cultural stupidity to social inequality to environmental catastrophes.  For this and for the fun of it, let's make more satirical art!
Ancient Egyptian Ostracon depicting pharaonic Cat being served by rat.