This past spring I took a position as a visiting writer at a well-respected MFA program. My students were by and large intelligent and serious, but there were a few moments when I found them—what’s the word I’m looking for here—exasperating.
One day before the fiction workshop, for instance, we got into a discussion about the Best American Short Stories series, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. To my astonishment, a number of students made comments indicating their disdain for the annual anthology.
“Wait a second,” I said. “The stories in those collections are always great.”
There was an awkward pause. Then one of them said, “You’re being ironic, right?”
At this point, I sort of lost it. I told my students that they had every right to dislike particular stories, but that dismissing them entirely was foolish. Then I added something along the lines of, “Why don’t you guys publish a story in Best American and then you can sit in judgment of them.”
It was not my finest moment as a teacher. (And, for the record, I later apologized to the entire class.) It was an impulsive reaction to what I’ve come to think of over the years as the Problem of Entitlement.
I mean by this that a significant number of the students I’ve encountered in creative writing programs display a curious arrogance toward published authors, as well as an inflated sense of their own talents and importance. The same attitudes often prevail in those online precincts where new and emerging writers congregate.
In my own experience, the Problem of Entitlement has gotten worse over the past decade and a half, and for three distinct reasons: first, the growing competitive pressures on aspiring writers; second, the pace and ease of judgment fostered by digital technology; and finally, the insidious cultural tendency of students to think of themselves as customers.
Here’s what I suspect was going on in that fiction workshop: My students were actually in a kind of quiet panic. Most of them had made significant sacrifices to attend graduate school. They were taking a big risk, both financially and psychologically. And they were smart enough to recognize, on some level, that the odds against their ever placing a story in the Best American anthology were pretty steep.
Rather than face the reality of their challenge—that they were going to have to spend thousands of doubt-choked hours working to improve and absorb tons of rejection and live in a state of economic and creative insecurity—they defaulted to a more convenient reality: that such anthologies are full of hacks whose success (as one student was later kind enough to explain to me) boils down to nepotism.
In other words, because they felt overmatched, they assumed a posture of superiority.
This defense mechanism is hardly unique to writers. Every graduate program in this country is, to some extent, a fishbowl filled with ambitious students who have no clue how big and cold the ocean really is.
But the harsh truth looming over students of writing, as compared with those studying law or medicine or engineering, is that only a fraction will find success in their chosen field—that is, will go on to publish books—and most of these will have to discover other means of supporting themselves and their families. Just graduating from a writing program doesn’t make you an author, let alone a celebrated one. It’s only the beginning of the process.
I myself was a schmuck in grad school: insecure, needy, and provocative in ways that only years of therapy would reveal. I did not like myself very much, and you wouldn’t have either.
But one thing I didn’t do in grad school was take the experience for granted. I was nearly thirty when I arrived, having worked as a newspaper reporter for seven years. I knew the world wasn’t clamoring to read my drab little short stories, and that it was going to be a long time before I got good enough to have a book of them published. (In fact, it would take eight years.)
Toward the end of my first year, our professor asked us to read a long piece in Harper’s magazine called “Perchance to Dream.” It was a fifteen-thousand-word lament by an obscure novelist named Jonathan Franzen about the peril of writing novels in an age dominated by visual media. As a literary tadpole, I found the message terrifying. But Franzen clearly had a point to make, and while he seemed somewhat irritable as a person, his prose was lucid and thoughtful.
It was shocking to me, therefore, that our professor—himself a young novelist—spent a good portion of class tearing into the rhetorical excesses of the piece, with the enthusiastic help of other students.
At a certain point I said, rather foolishly, “I don’t get the point of this discussion. It sounds like we’re just tearing down the writer.”
My point wasn’t to defend Franzen, who certainly didn’t need my help. I was troubled by the antagonism that our professor was not only permitting but instigating. Wasn’t the goal of grad school to pick apart your own writing, rather than that of published writers?
The Franzen piece is particularly haunting to revisit today because Franzen was writing in 1996, an era when Google was still just a big number and the radical new technology was e-mail, which we checked at the library.
The world of grad students two decades later is a lot different. Nearly all the students have smartphones, which they bring to class. Nearly all of them spend more time staring at screens than at books.
And the students I encounter seem to value reading less and less. I remember one especially galling workshop that I taught a few years ago, in which I asked the participants to read a single story, “Guests of the Nation” by Frank O’Connor. Hardly any of them bothered. They didn’t seem to understand—they were too entitled to understand—that the production of great literature requires a deep engagement with great literature. In fact, they were more likely to talk about a movie or TV show, or what they just posted on Facebook, than the last great book they read.
This article will not only explain what a satire essay is, but provide you a tutorial or guide on how to write this type of essay as well as examples.
As the name suggests, this essay uses satire to bring attention to an issue or subject. In our opinion, satirical essays are the most difficult type of essays that students will be asked to tackle in their academic careers. In them, students are not only expected to demonstrate a high level of subject-area and content knowledge, but also be able to employ humor to highlight the absurdities of a real life event or situation. While satirical essays use humor, not all types of humor are appropriate for them. Moreover, they are written in a serious tone, suggesting that the author actually intends the reader to take the suggestions or information contained within the essay seriously.
Fortunately, while initially mastering the writing style needed for a successful satirical essay is difficult, once you have learned how to successfully incorporate humor, hyperbole, and irony into your essays, writing satirically can not only be easy, but also fun.
Understanding the Task
Generally, before you begin any writing assignment, it is important to understand the assignment. Have you been asked to satirize a particular topic or a particular area of culture? How long should your essay be? Are there any technical requirement that you need to know in order to complete your paper? What style should govern your format choices? Do you need to write things in the third person?
You also need to understand satire writing. If you have never read a satirical essay, a great place to start is with Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, which is widely recognized as one of the best satirical essays. The Onion is probably the best well-known modern satire site, where you can find satirical essays on modern political topics.
With satire, you may be able to write the essay from the perspective of a first-narrator other than yourself. This opens up entire avenues of possibilities and lets you bring cultural and social elements into essays about other topics. For example, we are writing this article in the wake of Trump’s leaked Access Hollywood tapes, which contained Trump saying things broadly considered demeaning to women. A response to that response is a meme suggesting that women should not be able to say they are offended by his words because of the success of author E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy, which depicts a romantic (or at least sexual) relationship between a very controlling male and a female who willingly submits to him. A timely satirical essay would address the issue from the perspective of James’ main male character in that series, Christian Grey. The Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte was recently in trouble for saying he had been robbed, when the evidence seems to support that he was the actual wrong-doer. Writing your essay from the perspective of Ryan Lochte giving advice to Kim Kardashian-West after her recent robbery in Paris would be another way to effectively use a third-person narrator to increase the amount of satire in your work.
“The Onion” satire news website
Satire Essay Topics
While you can write a satirical essay on almost any topic, they are best-suited to major political or cultural events. Therefore, appropriate topics for satirical essays can change frequently, to reflect political, social, and cultural concerns. Some ideas for satirical topics would be:
- Border walls
- Donald Trump
- Hillary Clinton
- Mike Pence
- Tim Kaine
- Barack Obama
- Paul Ryan
- Michelle Obama
- Immigration reform
- Healthcare/ Obamacare
- Kim Kardashian West being robbed in Paris
- Brad and Angelina’s divorce
Brainstorming Satire Essays
Brainstorming can be an effective tool in any type of essay writing situation, but it can play a special role in helping plan a satirical essay. While some essay formats lend themselves to outlines in the initial stages of planning, other methods work well in satire. One tool that we like is the use of the bubble map. A simple tool that can be used at or above the elementary school level, the bubble map basically encourages word association with your topic or topics. They do not necessarily have to be elements you consider satirical, but may just be things that you associate with a particular topic. For example, if you write a bubble map about Donald Trump, you may branch out from it with words like: businessman, married, father, divorced, adulterer, The Apprentice, billionaire, bombastic, orange, Miss USA/ Miss Universe, real estate, Home Alone, and New York City. See how that map simply brings up elements that are associated with Trump. A descriptive essay about a dog might contain a word in the middle, like the dog’s name. The words in the bubbles do not have to be the words you choose to use in your essay, but they should help you flesh out an issue and decide how to approach it satirically.
Satire Essay Thesis Statements
Once you have decided on the topic of your descriptive essay, then you need to write your thesis statement. A thesis statement is a short one or two-sentence statement that gives the reader the goal of your paper and tells them how you are going to achieve that goal. The structure of your thesis statement does not change. However, the plausibility of your thesis statement can be very different in a satirical essay than it would if you were actually proposing a genuine idea.
Some example thesis statements for satirical essays could be:
–The United States should ban the burka because permitting women to wear it threatens the religious freedom of Christians, does not respect women’s rights to bodily autonomy, and sexualizes the female body.
-In order to ensure that your jewelry is safe, you should be inconspicuous about it, store valuable jewelry in a vault or safety deposit box, and never travel with more jewelry than you can wear at one time. (Author: Kim Kardashian-West).
-Building a quality marriage is simple: select your second wife while married to your first, have a number of children together before you get married, and smoke a lot of marijuana. (Author: Brad Pitt).
As the above examples highlight, who is writing the essay can, and often is, one of the most satirical elements of the essay. The intended audience can be part of the satire, as well. Jimmy Carter writing Donald Trump a letter that says he needs to loosen up and not worry so much about offending women would increase the satire because of the reputations both men have. Bill Clinton sending Barack Obama a letter on how to be a better spouse while in office would also have that double-irony factor, since Obama is widely regarded as an excellent husband, while Bill Clinton had an affair in office. Miley Cyrus telling one of the Duggar girls that she was dressed provocatively, Madonna criticizing Lady Gaga for publicity stunts, or Pete Rose criticizing Tom Brady would all utilize this type of double-satire approach.
Satirical Essay Resources
The vast majority of satirical essays draw directly from current events. You may not actually need to cite from these sources when writing your essay, but you will want to be aware of the actual events and issues surrounding a situation. Ironically, you will need to be very aware of which news sites are, themselves, satire. It can be difficult to tell in the modern political context. Therefore, you want to choose an unbiased, academically reliable sources for your information.
The general rule is to use sources that are less than three years old and that come from reputable sources such as academic publications, newspapers, magazines, and .org or .com websites. Sources older than three years are acceptable, but if there have been changes to the information in the intervening period, you want to make the reader aware of those changes.
Furthermore, you may have heard not to use some sources like Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica in your writing. This is good advice; they are not considered to be reputable, scholarly sources. However, do not let that ban keep you from using them when first researching your topic. Both of those resources can provide a great overview of a topic, and h; these resources can actually provide you with excellent information and a list of references you can explore for additional research. Google Scholar’s search engine, which you can limit to specific types of academic or scholarly articles, can also help you find high-quality scholarly or academic writing.
Generic news websites are an additional resource for satirical essays. CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, the major networks and local news stations are all good sources for news. However, the news-dedicated channels also have shows that are not news shows, but political and social commentary. Those shows may present information in a biased manner or present information that is simply not true. You need to be aware of this potential bias when choosing sources.
If you do choose to incorporate sources into your satirical essay, you will want to cite academic sources to back up any assertions you make about a particular leadership style. If you are writing an essay that contains actual figures, dates, or lesser-known facts, you are going to want to cite your sources. You may be instructed which style or format to use, or you may be permitted to choose which format. The three most frequently used academic writing styles for undergraduate level writing are Modern Language Association (MLA), Chicago Manual of Style (also known as Turabian) and American Psychological Association (APA). Unless your instructions specify which format to use, choose the one you find easiest to use or the one that is most appropriate for your subject area. You can use our citation generator and citation guideline article to help ensure your work conforms to your selected style.
“Every 2 minutes an American is sexually assaulted” (RAINN, 2016).
Source Format for References:
RAINN. (2016). Victims of sexual violence: statistics. Retrieved September 30, 2016 from
RAINN website: https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence
Estimates of the number of women raped each year vary from 300,000 to 1.3 million (Chemaly).
Source Format for Works Cites/Bibliography:
Chemaly, S. “50 Actual Facts About Rape.” The Huffington Post. October 26, 2012. Web, 30
September 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/50-facts-rape_b_2019338.html>.
“Every 2 minutes an American is sexually assaulted” (RAINN 2016, n.p.).
Source Format for References:
RAINN. “Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics. Accessed September 30, 2016.
Satire Essays Examples
Many people learn by example. Reading one of our sample essays not only introduces you to satirical writing, but can also show you how to correctly format an essay in a particular style. Two of our most popular satirical essays are available in the links below:
Satire in Huckleberry Finn Essay
Satire on Terrorism and the TSA
Satire in the Simpsons
Custom Written Satire Essay
Hopefully, after reading this article and the example essays, you are feeling more confident about understanding and writing a satire essay. However, we know that it can still be very challenging to write one. From picking a topic, to choosing things that seem outrageous, to actually writing the essay; all of it can be overwhelming. We are here to help. Our tutors can help students at any stage in the writing process, whether it is brainstorming ideas or writing a custom example of a satirical essay on your chosen topic. If you want to learn more about this very popular student assistance program, click here.