The Offensive Art: Political Satire and Its Censorship around the World from Beerbohm to Borat

The Offensive Art: Political Satire and Its Censorship around the World from Beerbohm to Borat

The Offensive Art: Political Satire and Its Censorship around the World from Beerbohm to Borat

The Offensive Art: Political Satire and Its Censorship around the World from Beerbohm to Borat

Synopsis

The Offensive Art is an arch and sometimes caustic look at the art of political satire as practiced in democratic, monarchical, and authoritarian societies around the world over the past century-together with the efforts by governmental, religious, and corporate authorities to suppress it by censorship, intimidation, policy, and fatwa. Examples are drawn from the full spectrum of satiric genres, including novels, plays, verse, songs, essays, cartoons, cabarets and revues, movies, television, and the Internet. The multicultural and multimedia breadth and historical depth of Freedman's comparative approach frames his novel assessment of the role of political satire in today's post-9/11 world, and in particular the cross-cultural controversies it generates, such as the global protests against the Jyllands-Posten cartoons.

Excerpt

This is a book about political satire and the efforts to constrain it within several countries with diverse political systems, from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present time.

There are many other books on political satire, some by the satirists themselves and some by commentators on the subject; there is also a large amount of literature on censorship, some of which draws examples from political satire. The Offensive Art, however, is the first effort to draw together material on the struggle between satirists and censors on an extensive, comparative basis.

Extensive—but, inevitably, far short of comprehensive. Readers may well complain that I have not included their favorite satirist, or overlooked countries with rich stores of political wit, or made only passing reference to the vast array of political satire that stretches from Aristophanes through Daumier. I can only plead that the material from which I have drawn is inexhaustible, with new absurdities bursting onto the political scene all around the world every day; and in undertaking to explore so much territory in one modestly sized volume, I have had to be highly selective. Even so, The Offensive Art provides substantial material on seven major countries, draws on examples from 20 more, and includes both democratic systems (Part I), and authoritarian regimes (Part II).

Sufficient, then, to illuminate three central points.

First: There has been political satire in most societies. The extent varies considerably, and in some extremely repressive regimes none of it is published, but always some jokesters, somewhere, will mock the rulers.

Second: There is considerably more satire in democratic than in authoritarian regimes. This, in fact, is part of the argument for democracy, and the bias of this book favors the relative openness of democracies— though, as this book makes abundantly clear, there is plenty to satirize in democracies.

Third: Nowhere are satirists completely free from censors of one kind or another. As compared with other dissenters, satirists enjoy a certain amount of protection by encasing their hostility in humor. And throughout history the jester has been allowed to speak truth to power. Yet few people enjoy . . .

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