Tuesday, April 22, 2014



Satire done well, is probably one of my very favorite forms of humor. The very best satirists will showcase a weakness, or something that is utterly foolish within a society or government, to an extreme. It is an extremely sophisticated form of humor and one that is hard to pull off, whether it be in a movie or in books.

sat· ire noun \'sa-,tī(-ǝ)r\

: a way of using humor to show that someone or something is foolish, weak, bad, etc. : humor that shows the weaknesses or bad qualities of a peson, government, society, etc.

: a book, movie, etc., that uses satire

Two of the finest examples of this interestingly enough, lampoon both Russian government and Russians themselves. The first is the awesome Love and Death, a 1975 movie by Woody Allen. 


Love and Death, theatrical trailer. The musical score is by Sergei Prokofiev and is the Lt. Kije Suite, in itself a satirical piece about a Lieutenant who never existed in the Russian Army.

Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls is one of the most interesting reads in Russian Literature. First published in 1842, Gogol died before finishing it, and parts of it were destroyed, but from his notes, it's an amalgam of The Iliad and The Odyssey, Dante's Inferno, and the third part was to have been a poem. Gogol destroyed part of it, before his death. Gogol himself saw it as an epic poem in prose. I rather thought it like a sort of anti-Candide, but then Gogol's main purpose was to expose the moral rot of the Russian landowner and the exploitation of the serfs, despite what modernist critics like Vladimir Nabakov had to say. They felt that the book was not satirical in tone or content, regarded the work as unimportant and Gogol as a great writer.

Nevertheless, the plot belies such statements. Chichikov is the modern equivalent of a middle-class gentleman. he arrives in an unnamed village and turns on the charm, to quickly make friends with the local officials and important townspeople, but without letting on what he's about. 

Chichikov in the house of M. Korobochka, dickering for her Dead Souls.

The government would tax landowners on the number of serfs (or 'souls') the landowner possessed, determined by the census. Censuses in these periods were infrequent, so landowners were paying for souls that no longer existed. Chichikov was seeking to buy these dead souls, existing on paper only, telling the current owners that he merely has a use for them, and that the landowners will be spared the burden of paying for souls that they no longer own. 

He travels to surrounding estates and manages to purchase 400 such dead souls. Upon his return to the village and turns on the smarm. Thinking that the locals are really buying into this, when they agree to throw a celebration for his purchase of 400 dead souls, he begins to spin more and more elaborate yarns, which then become misinterpreted for everything from "He's Napolean!" to "he's going to marry so-and-so's daughter!" Chichikov is summarily run out of town on a rail, until he pops up somewhere else with another get-rich-quick scheme. In reality, Chichikov is a disgraced mid-level government worker, always trying to make a quick buck.

The locals are no dumber or smarter than any found in any other country. Gogol's satire is pointed squarely at the government, and he, no less than Anton Chekhov, Leo Tolstoy, Feodor Dostoevsky and Alexander Pushkin would lampoon and satirize the government, until it became lethal to do so. 

                                                                                                                                                                     courtesy: The Nation

I don't know if satire has ever changed a government, or society, but as one who lived through eight years of George W. Bush, I can honestly say, as much as it was a disaster, it was a field day for the comedians and satirists in this country. About as much fun as the Brits had with Edward Heath, I understand.



Unknown said...

Gogol is one of my fave authors of all time. i read him 15 years ago, and I read him now, and each time I find a different meaning.

Anabel Marsh said...

Oh, I think we had more fun with Margaret Thatcher actually! Well, not with her government, which was dire, but with a programme called Spitting Image which always portrayed her in pinstripes with a cigar (they used latex puppets). I was always surprised to see her dressed normally on "real-life" TV (when I could bear to watch.) The lot we have now, while equally dire, are far too boring for satire.
Anabel at Anabel's Travel Blog

Andrea said...

Great pick of words! I get my news from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and I love it!

Courtney said...

Have not read Gogol much, but thanks for reminding me about him. Love the old Russian pic. The Russian is a little hard to make out. You might like Bulgakov too - Master and Margarita.

Maui Jungalow

Jemima Pett said...

I'm not very good at recognising genres, but I too thought of Spitting Image while reading this, so I must be on the right track!

Blogging from Alpha to Zulu in April

ViolaFury said...


Gogol is one of mine as well as Dostoevsky. Dead Souls mouldered around in a bin in my attic for years because I had some idiotic idea that it would be depressing. It turned out to be pretty funny!

What I find interesting is that the Russian character is much the same now as it was then, although the same can be said for any nationality. Americans today are still fighting over whether or not we should be the "World's Policemen" (we shouldn't and I point to Eastern Ukraine as a prime example) and we had this same fight back in 1899, 1914 and 1939. With the exception of World War II, the U. S. should keep it's nose out of regional disputes; I feel as if we're going to relive 1945 all over again, and I wasn't even here.

Thanks for stopping by, and thank you so much for co-hosting the A-to-Z challenge and allowing me to be part of #teamDamyanti! Mary xoxo

ViolaFury said...


They actually showed Spitting Image here in the States and it was fun! We had Ronnie Ray-Gun at the time and I was always threatening to leave the country and move to the USSR, during my days at the University of Michigan, which gave my father fits. Don't you have like, two PMs or something odd going on now? I love the word "dire" I could write a whole book on that. Thanks Anabel! You're a peach! Mary xoxo

ViolaFury said...


It's really something when we get better news from the comedians than from the actual new networks themselves, although Brian Williams will let you make fun of him. The fact that we have every news outlet owned by four corporations in this country doesn't exactly speak to 'non-biased and fair' reporting.

Jon Stewart is hilarious and now that Steven Colbert is going to the Late Show, who will speak for the faux-right? It is to laugh! Mary xoxo

ViolaFury said...


Thanks for stopping by! I loved the old Russian pics and tried hard to get the Cyrillic to come out. I have NOT read Bulgakov's "Master and Margarita" and I will make haste to see to that lack, as I do enjoy the Russians! Thanks again! Mary xoxo

ViolaFury said...


Thanks for stopping by! Yes, you are on the right track! I was trying to come up with people a little more "Brit-friendly" after Rodney Dangerfield, as I realize that some things don't transfer across the pond!

Spitting Image was shown here in the States and was well-received, as I recall. I watched several episodes of it and as Anabel says, "Thatcher in pinstripes with a cigar" was a treat. There were probably confused 'muricans here who thought that they were looking at "Winnie" from 1944! Again, thanks, Jemima, and thanks for being an awesome minion on #teamDamyanti! Mary xoxo