Social commentary

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Social commentary is the act of using rhetorical means to provide commentary on issues in a society. This is often done with the idea of implementing or promoting change by informing the general populace about a given problem and appealing to people's sense of justice. Social commentary can be practiced through all forms of communication, from printed form, to conversations to computerized communication.

Two examples of strong and bitter social commentary are the writings of Jonathan Swift and Martin Luther. Swift exposed and decried the appalling poverty in Ireland at the time, which was viewed as the fault of the British government. Luther initiated the Protestant Reformation against practices of the Catholic Church. Examples of social commentators from the lower social strata[clarification needed] are Charles Dickens and Will Rogers.

Forms of social commentary[edit]

This list is far from exhaustive. Examples of social commentary may be found in any form of communication. Artistic works of all mediums are often defined by what they say about society. Despite being wordless, the memorable image of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 may be considered one of the most profound commentaries of the power of the individual.

Direct publication[edit]

Public speaking[edit]

Most public speaking constitutes social commentary of some form. Many sermons will describe the ills of society and offer religious solutions. Many politicians may speak in a similar fashion - in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar one can see Mark Antony's funeral speech as a commentary. The larger audience offered by radio and television has diminished the significance of public speaking as a means of social commentary.

Fiction[edit]

Allegorical fictional works such as Animal Farm clearly contain a social commentary and one can find some degree of social commentary in almost any novel. To Kill a Mockingbird can be interpreted as a commentary on racial issues, especially given the date of its publication (1960). Another example of social commentary is Thomas More's Utopia in which he uses the Utopia to satirize the values of 16th century Britain. Social commentaries have been searched for even in fantasy novels such as The Lord of the Rings, though such connections often require much conjecture.

Non-fiction[edit]

Directly speaking to a topic in the social discourse in writing by defining the audience, the bounds of the topic, and the presenting facts and opinions based on the primarily author and possibly on another's perspective.

Radio, television and film[edit]

Fictional works in these mediums have a similar scope to that of their literary counterparts and documentaries to the non-fiction works described above. Television and films often use powerful images to enhance their message, for example, Michael Moore's films utilise this to great effect in promoting his political beliefs. Some examples of films include Food, Inc., The Story of Stuff featuring Annie Leonard, and Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me. And to a lesser degree, the prominent Italian exploitation film Cannibal Holocaust uses graphic violence, shocking imagery, and underlying topics in anthropology to express Ruggero Deodato's distaste for modern society - more importantly - what it has become. West Indian calypsonians participate annually in songwriting competitions with the common use of double entendre, humour and metaphor as well as monikers to avoid legal complications (see Calypso Music).

Monologists[edit]

An early radio monologist was the American Will Rogers, with sharp and good-humored observations upon society during the 1920s and 1930s. Current American monologists include:

Discussion shows[edit]

There are a number of discussion shows that do not have a call in segments, but which sometimes have discussions (beyond mere interviews) with personages of current interest. In the United States of America, some such shows include:

Talk shows (call-in)[edit]

In the late 20th century through the present, radio and television phone-in shows allow limited discussion and sometimes debate on such issues, although if involving politics or issues exploited for political purposes the discussion is often directed by the "moderator" toward a specific point of view, typically by terminating non-conforming phone calls.

In more balanced forums it is common that a panel of well-known social commentators or experts on aspectc of a topic will respond to comments from listeners after an introductory interactice discussion directed by the moderator, with only the obstreperous or extreme caller sumarrily terminated.

Newspapers and comic books[edit]

What is probably the most common social commentary is that of the editorial section of newspapers, where columnists give their opinion on current affairs. The letters section of papers allows a similar platform for members of the public. Editorial cartoons, such as those in The New Yorker, perform a social commentary, often with a humorous slant.

The conventional comic section is more limited, but sometimes with social commentary, often subtle and oblique, or more bold, abrasive, and consistently pointed as in, Li'l Abner, Pogo, Doonesbury, Bloom County, and Boondocks or in pulp comics such as Howard the Duck. Many other even more explicitly provocative comics (usually with a far left of center point of view) appear in various free weekly newspapers such as the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the East Bay Express (in the San Francisco Bay Area) and the Village Voice (in New York City), and similarly in many other locals, often those with a strong university or college presence.

The Internet[edit]

The web performs a similar function to the letters section described above. It is ripe with social commentary because it allows the dissemination of ideas by anyone with a computer to a potentially enormous audience, as well as instant comment and discussion. Its international scope is particularly attractive, with language the only major barrier to communication. Most blogs are social commentaries of a fashion. Discussion and debate occurs in many forums and chat rooms.

The internet is viewed as one of the greatest modern-time advances in terms of freedom of speech and thought; however censorship is not impossible, for example that performed by the authorities in China . W.H. Auden's poetry also served as a medium of social commentary.

Famous social commentators[edit]

See also[edit]