How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
The ChangingMinds Blog!
Exaggeration and the power of satire
Recently, a satirical movie was created that lampooned Kim Jong Un of North Korea. The producer, Sony, had their computer systems hacked and backed down when threatened with further reprisals if the movie was released. The result was a political firestorm, with presidential outrage and international condemnation. Under massive pressure, Sony backed down and released the movie.
Clearly, some pretty powerful minds were changed here, just by a bit of satire. So what happened? Was North Korea right to worry about a minor movie? Satire is a cunning means of attacking others, especially the powerful. From everyday conversational dismissal to scurrilous newspaper cartoons, it is a popular device. So how does a deliberate untruth cause such a strong reaction?
The mechanics of satire is exaggeration to the point of ridiculousness. Satirical cartoons often take up this principle with enlargement of physical features. This is no accident. With exaggeration, we turn the real into something unreal.
When the target is powerful, this denial of reality also works on their power. In removing the truth of the person, by association we take away their perceived abilities. Power, after all is largely in the mind of the observer.
A critical component of satire is that it portrays the powerful as weak, at least in part. It suggests that beneath the outer show of strength lies uncertainty, incompetence or fear. It sows doubt that opens the doors to rebellion. It removes respect or fear as we realize the apparently superhuman is human.
A part of this process is the psychologically curious state of amusement. Arising perhaps from the paradox of exaggeration or perhaps from the release of tension as fear is removed, we laugh at the joke and so also at the person. And in doing so, we reduce the status of the satirized, further draining their power.
A dilemma when people poke fun at you for being serious is that an angry response merely proves the point. A strong reaction also risks confirmation of power loss as people, particularly en masse, laugh rather than fear, and perhaps even rise up against you.
So yes, satire should be feared, especially and paradoxically by those who rule by fear.