Freshman English Seminar: Satire from Swift to McSweeney’s

Course Description: Satire has roots in Ancient Greece and remains popular today; it is a genre that uses humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to criticize and expose vices and stupidity, particularly in the context of politics and other topical issues. In this course, we will study a sampling of satirical texts, from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) to McSweeney’s. Some questions this course seeks to consider: What makes satire effective? Are certain historical moments more likely to produce satirists or satirical material? What commonalities exist between satire produced in the eighteenth century and satire published in 2018? Who has access to this form of writing, and how has that changed over time? Authors may include Swift, Flannery O’Connor, Joseph Heller, Dorothy Parker, Paul Beatty, and Djuna Barnes. We will also read work from contemporary satirical magazines, including McSweeney’sReductressThe Onion, and ClickHole.

In addition to the syllabus and Paper 1 Assignment, see below for a worksheet students used to compare and analyze two contemporary satirical sites.

For their final projects, students had the opportunity to create their own satirical piece or to write another analytical paper. Many chose to create their own satire and did so to hilarious effect, skewering contemporary women’s magazines, the freshman dorms, and 2018 politics.