By Joel Schechter
In this entertaining and provocative new work, Joel Schechter selectively surveys political satire covering a wide range of periods and events from Aristophanes to the present. His absorbing essays focus on the satire of Jonathan Swift, Charlie Chaplin, Will Rogers, Dario Fo, and the Guerrilla Girls, among others.
Schechter argues that some politicians are as theatrical, if not as comic, as the plays, pamphlets, and films in which they are satirically impersonated, and he contends that their very theatricality invites their satirical treatment by playwrights and performers. As examples, he cites Hitler, Stalin, and Reagan as performers whose "acts" rival anything a satirist could invent and any impersonation a comedian could stage.
To Schechter, impersonation is both an art form through which one living person appears to be another and an act that reveals that the person imitated is an impostor. For example, he contends that "while Hitler conquered Europe, Chaplin [in his film The Great Dictator ]in his own way conquered Hitler, adding him to a repertoire that included the Little Tramp and (later) Blue-beard."
Schechter concludes with a memoir of his own brief career as an actor-politician.