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The terms parody and satire are sure to put a smirk across any English major’s face and send the rest of the world scrambling for their dictionaries. The distinction between parody and satire is complex, and can be complicated by overlapping comedic styles. Most definitions consider a parody to be a mimicry of an established idea, concept or person for comedy, while satire deconstructs a subject for humor without reproducing it directly.
The difference between the two styles may be best explained through example. Parody films have become a popular genre in recent years, with break-out hits like Scary Movie, and successful follow-ups such as Date Movie, Epic Movie and Not Another Teen Movie. These movies take the conventions of popular films and recreate them for over-the-top humor. These films also create caricatures of popular recent film characters and character archetypes, such as Harry Potter and Willy Wonka.
Satire is a more subtle concept, involving mockery usually without mimicry. The style is often related to a desire for social or political change, leading some to call satire the meeting of humor and anger. One of the most famous satirical films is Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, a 1964 black comedy about the Cold War by Stanley Kubrick. Satire is easy to get wrong; when dealing with sensitive or personally important issues, many believe that humor should not be applied. Satire requires a degree of objectivity or personal detachment, in order to accept the humor in sometimes dangerous or devastating situations.
Parody and satire are often confused or reversed in definition. Part of this may be related to the fact that satire sometimes used parody as a tool for getting humor across. The fake-news show The Colbert Report is often described as both parody and satire. Accurately, it is a parody of news pundits such as Bill O’Reilly, used to make a satirical point about real socio-political commentary shows.
A major distinction between parody and satire is the goals which they try to attain. While both are considered styles of humor, their purpose may be very different. Almost exclusively, satire explores an anger or frustration at the status quo, using humor as a tool to make the subject palatable. Parody may or may not have a desire to incite social change, and can be used for pure entertainment through extreme portrayals of established ideas or characters.