Thursday, June 27, 2013

LCC Review: Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook was a film that when I first heard about I wasn't too sure I wanted to see. The name didn't really catch me, and I was feeling quite "down and out", not to mention cynical when I came upon the title. In a whim I chose to sit down and watch it based on the fact that Jennifer Lawrence won an Oscar for her performance and I just wanted to see what the heck all the fuss was about over the film. By the end of the film I was glad I did.

The film is about a man who suffers from bi-polar syndrome who is being released from a rehabilitation center after having an episode from coming home and seeing his ex-wife in the shower with another man. He's released on probation and goes about with the goal of trying to turn his life around to try and win back his ex-wife. He meets through friends Jennifer Lawrence's character who is a slightly depressed widow, and eventually after several seemingly "chance" meetings he decides to help her participate in a dance competition if she'll help him win back his ex-wife. I think you can tell the rest of the plot from there.

Philly, as in life, is a character all its own in the film.
Both Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper give stellar performances and deserve any and all accolades thrown their direction. The fact the film tries to tackle having a main character have a disease such as bi-polar syndrome is both a breath of fresh air and gives Cooper a chance to really flex his acting muscles. Robert DeNiro as Cooper's father is also amazing to see outside of his more recent typical roles as a more working class man. The personality of "Philly" is wonderfully captured in the film and overall it is just well made, and not to mention completely hilarious. On top of that the film is positively un-ironic in its message of pursuing "positivity" and "silver linings", which is quite an odd message considering our extremely cynical and snarky society at the moment. It's like Pollyanna woke up from a long nap and decided to turn our frowns upside down. Now that's not to say there aren't clouds to our silver linings, and our protagonists don't completely get a triumphant happy ending of being number one in the dance competition, they simply earn the score that'll win DeNiro the bet and win each other's hearts. It's a cautious optimism and one which is willing to settle for "not being the best" but simply "doing the best it can". Which I think speaks to how our society's mindset is evolving as we turn away from desiring being the sole super power into a nation more willing to accept being a great power amongst many other greats, as reflected in a microcosm here.

I'm crazy and you're crazy, but somehow we're less crazy together....
There are a few problems the film has--most of which center in its depiction of bi-polar syndrome. It's treated like it's a "minor hurdle" that is easily "cured" with the "power of love". There is only one example within the film of Cooper having an "episode" which occurs about half-way through the film, and then the second half drops any and all consequences living with such a syndrome might have. The reason why that complaint both holds water and doesn't at the same time is because the film is following a formula. Those familiar with my post on romantic comedies know that the formula for such a type of film is that "two sick people heal each other through love", and this film is absolutely no exception. So while I can definitely agree with the critique, I have to say that given the type of film that it is (a mix between a romantic comedy and a screwball comedy), that one should have expected such a "wiping the dust under the rug" treatment to occur at some point during the film, if only due to the nature of film expectations from audiences. It goes back to our love of "conventions" as mentioned in the satire post, that we're more willing to forgive something for lacking "realism" if it conforms to a convention than we are someone for breaking a convention in order to portray something more realistically.

You love her, right? If not you can say hello to my claws.
Silver Linings Playbook is at its heart a mixture between a screwball comedy and a romantic comedy. What are the differences between the two? While screwball comedy will get its own theory post later on, I'll say at this point not too much. In a romantic comedy typically the rest of the world is healthy (overall) except these two individuals--but in a screwball comedy the rest of the world is a little sick (not too much) as well as our two individuals and our individuals against all odds not only manage to heal themselves but their society in a small way as well. In a screwball comedy you're more likely to have a whole cast of eccentric and intriguing side-characters than you do in a romantic comedy proper where at most you'll have one or two eccentrics. The antics of the eccentrics are also likely to be much more zany, ridiculous, and over the top in a screwball comedy than they are in a romantic comedy. I'm reminded of the collapsing dinosaur skeleton or needing to sing "I can't give you anything but love" to a leopard in Bringing Up Baby which is the quintessential screwball comedy. In What's Up Doc? the curse of bad luck that follows our female protagonist wherever she goes is another example of the complete ridiculousness of the genre. In a screwball comedy the world is completely ridiculous--but that's okay because some of that ridiculousness is seen as a little "healthy" to balance out an otherwise dry and boring life. Silver Linings Playbook doesn't go to the extremes of ridiculousness of other screwball comedies--and even tempers it, but you feel it wouldn't be completely out of character if it did. Only part of the society our characters lives in is full of wild eccentrics--their immediate neighborhood--everyone outside of the immediate neighborhood (as depicted at the dance competition or at the school Cooper used to work) is depicted as "normal and well-adjusted" and having to deal with the zaniness of our characters, and so that's why I say it's a mixture between a romantic comedy and screwball comedy: only a small part of society is crazy and needs healing--not the whole of it. Our protagonists compared to the zaniness of the small sick society they come from, become more well-adjusted, but they remain crazier than the rest of our normal society, finding a way to balance and live in between the two. This seems to be the new norm for our modern take on this romantic comedy/screwball comedy mixture if the films Post Grad, 500 Days of Summer, and The Holiday are anything to judge by.

With one shot, New Hollywood was born.
Sliver Linings Playbook isn't like most films Hollywood releases--scratch that--it isn't like most films it's released since 1967 when "New Hollywood" took over with its attention to violence, sex, special effects, and explosions--and began dominating the silver screen with the shockingly bloody ending to the film Bonnie and Clyde. Silver Linings Playbook as a film could've easily been made any time prior to 1967--but probably in the 1930s during the golden age of screwball comedies--as that is essentially what the film is. You could easily put Ginger Rodgers in for Jennifer Lawrence, and a Dick Powell or some other slightly gruff guy for Bradley Cooper. The only difference between the 1930s and now is that in the 1930s they would've ended up becoming superstar dancers and winning the dance competition in the end. Beyond that everything else is transferable and has its equivalence. Jennifer Lawrence can still be a young depressed widow who's had a few too many indiscretions which has caused her to lose her job and turn to dancing while living with her parents. Bradley Cooper's parents in this iteration would become owners of a boarding house that he's now living in. You can still keep the betting subplot that his father has--but change the sport to baseball and the bet is between him and the only boarder who pays his rent on time while everyone else is behind, with the bank on the parent's about possibly repossessing the house turned boarding house. Instead of running into each other while running, the change there would be that Bradley Cooper's 1930s character likes to walk the streets visiting places where his ex-wife and he used to be. Bradley Cooper's character would change from outright having bi-polar disorder to simply being a little depressed but now on the mends and trying to win back his ex-wife. They can still have their "meet cute" of he needs a wife and she needs a husband, she can still be quite sassy and street smart, he can still be naively optimistic and a bit of a dreamer. The final scene where Lawrence character is crying and Cooper's character rushes after her to tell her that he really loves her and he has for a while is only missing the swelling violins and taffeta to have been between Becall and Bogart or Garbo and Taylor. I could go on and on, but I'll stop there. This is not to say that Old Hollywood will return as it was--this new wave that's still working its identity out is a bit more gritty, ironic, and quirky and much less glamorous than Old Hollywood ever was, even with all the similarities I see. It's a modern take on Old Hollywood, bringing some things back from the grave, while updating other things that don't transfer so well to all the changes that have happened in the past forty plus years.

So why did I just spend a nice lengthy paragraph detailing how this film would've been made in the 1930s? Well, that's because not only could it have, I think it marks the beginning of the end of "New Hollywood". I know with all those superhero films coming out, it looks like New Hollywood is digging in, but at the same time there is a slow--but growing movement in younger film makers I've been noticing to tell simpler stories that are low budget (hence little to no special effects or explosions) and are now referencing sex and violence but we hardly see any of either on screen. Silver Linings Playbook is just near the forefront of this trend in film making. Arguably New Hollywood didn't take over in one year either. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Hello Dolly!, and What's Up Doc? which were all released after Bonnie and Clyde are very much of the Old Hollywood formula. Consider ourselves in the transition period. So this doesn't mean that expensive blockbusters with their pricey special effects are through--but it's getting towards the end.



Monday, June 24, 2013

What Makes Us Cry: Farce, Laughing to Keep from Crying

Farce is a tricky genre, along with satire it evolved from the Greek Satyr play that came immediately after a tragedy trilogy. I said last week that I'd speak more about Greek Satyr plays this week and ye shall receive what was promised as well as find out why the heck I put it in the "What Makes Us Cry" series. You'll find out why, I promise you.

Even pumpkins do it.
So let's do it.
In terms of structure it has some similarities with Satire in that it attacks something, but instead of aiming high like Satire, it hits low. Very low, right in the... well, you know. Its humour is based primarily off of the body and all the things it can do. The thing about Farce is, it's really the only genre to put it all out there. What do I mean by putting it all out there? Well no other genre manages to worship a specific body part more than farce, nor does any other genre really go for the type of body humour that would make Emily Post or some other Miss Manners cringe in horror. I'm not just saying poop jokes, I mean, vomit, piss, snot, cum, mucus, bile, etc. All those nasty disgusting fluids inside our body that like to come out from time to time. In a farce expect to see these fluids at least once, with the more lowest brow farces not going more than five minutes without referencing some type of fluid or other. However largely though, farce likes to focus its attention on a specific body organ.

A comedy gets away with the occasional fart joke, sweat comments, hunger pains, slap stick, pie fights, and may on occasion throw in some poop jokes as the ultimate limit, but beyond that is relatively contained on what it likes to think funny about the human body. Farce makes fun of all the utterly disgusting parts that comedy won't touch. The only body fluid that doesn't really get utilized that much in a farce is blood, and that's because Farce's brother Horror holds the monopoly on blood that it inherited from classic tragedy. What do I mean by the fact that Farce and Horror are brothers? Well, let's stop for a moment, anthropomorphising the genres and look at their "family".

Imagine, if you will, that Tragedy, Horror, Farce, and Satire are four brothers. Tragedy is the eldest and most serious older brother. Horror, is Tragedy's twin brother who later in life went off and did his "own thing" and tried his hardest to disassociate himself with his twin brother. Satire is the youngest and the most spoiled, but at the same time feels it got the "hand-me-downs" and so had to fight to survive competition with the older siblings--not to mention the one who feels like they've got to "take on the world" head on. Satire's the biggest risk taker of the bunch and it's the one that met Romance, married her and together they had two kids a boy named Comedy and a girl named Romantic Comedy--by the way Romance later cheated on Satire with his older brother Tragedy and that's how Melodrama was born. *cymbal crash* Meanwhile amongst all this commotion Farce is the middle child who often gets overlooked and is forgotten and says wild and crazy things from time to time to remind everybody that it exists. Farce isn't the black sheep of the family (Irony is, and that'll be covered in next week's post), but it's quite close to being so--it's more the "creepy uncle" who says and does whatever he feels like without anyone else commenting on it. And quite honestly I'd hate to attend their family reunions, I mean wouldn't you?

They're all there, every single last one of them.
But returning to the world of Farce, I have to say that of its characters, it's the only genre where everyone is equally despicable and nobody cares a lick. It's the genre where we throw caution to the wind and allow ourselves to indulge in our selfish, greedy, and lustful sides. It's properly full of all the vices, and they are all out and on for display, but mostly the genre is about getting what you want, and not having to pay the piper for doing so. It's a consequence free world, so you can "do what you want". If you want to bang the girl, steal some money, commit matricide, have an incestuous relationship, or murder someone and get away with it without any consequences--then you should move into the world of farce.

You're sick, I'm sick, we're all sick together.
Having said all this, I need to make a small note here, while it's willing to celebrate the individual's wants, there's not focus on what an individual needs (tragedy conflicts needs and wants, and comedy as well to a lesser degree). Another thing, the reason it focuses so much so on all those disgusting body fluids? Well, why do most of those body fluids occur--usually when we are sick. That's right excess snot usually means you're suffering from the cold or a flu, vomiting and diarrhoea could be many things from gastroenteritis to poisoning, extremely yellow piss is dehydration, etc. The only fluid that it likes to focus about that aren't involved with any kind of sickness is cum--although I'm sure someone could argue there's something about it that I'm forgetting. As such the world inhabited by farce are by selfish people who through their own selfish desires and don't realize just how sick they are. Satire has a similar set up, except there's usually someone trying to "cure" the sick society. In a farce, everybody's sick and no one attempts to heal anything at all. Comedy makes a point to heal the sick--Romantic Comedy is about two people healing each other--Satire tries to beat the sickness into submission. Farce doesn't give a fuck and just lets everything run its course, and if that leads to death, then so be it. For the large part that's all there is to farce as everything else about it is incidental or subject to the tastes of the period from which it originates. So where did this world of "indulge everything" come from?

Farce as I said developed from the Satyr plays which proceeded to be performed immediately after a tragedy trilogy. They were written by the same playwright who wrote the tragedy trilogy and it is from that trilogy that these plays were in reference to, and they were a required part of the play competition at the City Dionysia--thus a tragedy trilogy was thought incomplete if a satyr play didn't follow. Even when Tragedy was shortened from its trilogy format to a single play, a satyr play was still required to follow thereafter. I once read an academic article (I forget which to be honest) which put it in terms which have stuck with me ever since: that farce is tragedy's younger brother that's given birth a few minutes after the tragic moment when you suddenly burst out laughing at the tragic idea. Sometimes the connection isn't immediately obvious, but is more often a thematic look. For example the one completely intact surviving Satyr play we have, The Cyclops, we can tell that it probably followed a tragedy about cannibalism, as the whole play is filled with references--especially from the Cyclops himself--about chopping people up, crushing them, cooking them, chewing on them, and consuming them. As was mentioned before the plot to a satyr play is pretty simple, Silenus and his merry band of satyrs get themselves into a pickle and a hero saves them. In this case Odysseus tricks the Cyclops into getting drunk so that it passes out so that they're not eaten by the monstrosity. And it is here where we get the core of farce, it takes an idea that we'd otherwise be shocked, horrified, scandalized, and cry over (whether in fear or pity) and it makes it laughable. Only farce can make incest, cannibalism, murder, rape, and all other human crimes seem almost innocently laughable. It takes us a while to realize what we just laughed about--some never realize it--but when you stop to think about a truly farcical situation seriously, you can't not cry about it a little. And it's not just in Greek tragedy where you have a serious examination of a subject followed by a farcical exploration of the idea, you can find it in the Japanese tradition of alternating Noh plays and Kyogen farces.

Arguably after the foundation of Greek New Comedy, farce (along with what would become satire) disappeared or diminished in quality in Greek culture--it lingered but no longer was AS prominent as it had been. The next stage of development arguably came from the Romans. Casina, a play by Plautus that would but for one thing be called a comedy, has arguably had a tremendous influence on farce. The only thing that keeps me from calling it a comedy outright is that the two "lovers" are absent the entirety of the play. They're talked about, connived for, and made much ado over, but you never ever see them on the stage. Instead the play is about how everyone else tries to arrange their lives for them behind their backs, without any thought but their own gratifications. And that arguably is probably the best way to divide comedy from farce--in a comedy two lovers get married and go about healing the society they're in somehow, while in a farce they are completely absent and their actions have little impact on the lives of the rest of the characters in the play. Essentially farce is a world where the doctor is out to golf somewhere and the sick people go around untreated.

Farce survived the Medieval period where satire did not--the farcical humour of some of the cycle plays in which to play to the audience scenes of the bible would be performed with an extra focus to body humour or gross-out humour. One of our earliest plays from Medieval times, written by a nun, involves a priest getting involved in some rather hilarious examples of body humour. The Second Shepherd's play, while a "romance" over all has some definite touches of the farce about it when the shepherds are all talking. And Noah's wife during the cycle of plays which focused on stories of the bible turns into quite a funny character, giving us the origin of the shrew as an archetype. But even so, it was mostly touches here and there of farcical humour meant to please the average peasant viewer in the audience.

However Farce really didn't emerge fully again until the Renaissance, where it arguably was brought to life again by Italian Renaissance playwrights and actually given a strong sense of intelligence. And this time it became, like everything else during the Renaissance, a bit more cynical.It's like one day everyone woke up and decided to be a little more pessimistic about life--that's the easy way to describe the Renaissance.

What he doesn't know is she's doing the angel.
For those of you looking at the above video and asking what's all the fuss about putting this highly intelligent, witty, and relatively disgusting-free play in with the crud? Well, the answer is easily explained once one knows what a mandrake root does, in fact what it looks like even... it's to increase fertility and most mandrake roots vaguely resemble either a little man or a penis. For a Renaissance audience, while it would be hilarious to see a husband to be cuckold--how it would be treated seriously in a tragedy is the consequences of cuckolding with children wrongfully being disinherited thanks to their mother's woeful indiscretion. The big issue that Machiavelli (of The Prince fame) is dramatizing was a big concern for the Renaissance in general--cuckolding a husband. Nowadays we find infidelity tragic (due to our notions of "romantic love"), but in the Renaissance they found it absolutely hilarious it seems as references to cuckolding a husband can be found in practically every piece of literature of the period. Additionally it was thought a cuckold grew horns--like that of the satyrs of old--when discovered they had been cuckolded, so all those references to husbands having horns should make more sense and is probably the origin of the word "horny" in its sexual context. It makes sense when the society had marriage more as a business arrangement for the provision of children than a love match--after all if the wife were to have children from the adulterous relationship and the husband wouldn't know--it would be like the Reed Warbler raising the parasitic Cuckoo bird that pushes its actual children out of the nest as it grows, or in this case keeps them from rightfully inheriting. That's a big issue for an emerging middle class, like the Renaissance featured. What was one thing the aristocracy had that the artisans and merchant classes didn't? Lineage, and so making sure your children are actually your own so that you can hand down your own self-made empire to them becomes of vital importance. Most Renaissance farces and comedies thus are about cuckolding, with the farces actually having the cuckolding occurring and the comedies merely the thought of it plagues the play and is proven to be an illusion later on (see Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor). In an actual farce from the Renaissance, the cuckolding just won't happen once, but it will be arranged to ensure that it will keep on happening far into the future, which is where we are in The Mandrake Root at the end of the play. Machiavelli here has almost everyone in the town arrange to help this young man sleep with the lawyer's wife and then after doing so once she arranges to find a way to keep the young man around to make sure she is satisfied from that day forward.

Doors, lots and lots of doors.
It's also from this period that the tradition of "slamming doors", all too common in farce, comes into existence as Renaissance (and later) playwrights based their stage designs off of the three door structure of Comedy. In a comedy a door may slam once, maybe two or three times at most. In a farce doors are constantly slamming, people are peeking out of them, hiding behind them, shouting from them, etc. If doors are slamming, one can bet that you got taken to a farce. Beyond slamming doors, you can be sure various states of dress and undress are to be seen in a farce. Cross-dressing isn't completely out of the question either (though comedy dabbles with that plenty enough--but in a comedy the cross-dressing isn't for a sexual reason, but rather a disguise all its own to give freedom of mobility to a character otherwise limited from pursuing an action due to their gender) In farce if the cross dressing isn't for a sexual reason it's to poke fun at stereotypes of gender and how a manly man pretending to be a woman can easily fall prey to acting overtly feminine when put in the role). Small white lies snowball into the greatest of avalanches and create the most ridiculous scenarios of liars attempting to "keep up with the growing lie" in a farce. From the Renaissance until the twentieth century I'd say European farce as descended from The Mandrake Root was at its most intelligent and most highly developed. The pinnacle of the farce came in the late 19th Century in France with Georges Feydeau--his most celebrated play being A Flea in her Ear. Since satire took over after WWI, farce has been relegated as a more minor genre to be derided as a "lower form of satire" than as a genre in its own right and to some extent has been denied having little to any intelligence, when looking at farces prior to WWI one can see that was anything but the case. There are of course notable exceptions to this, the roaring twenties still had Noel Coward, and the swinging sixties had Joe Orton, but they were blips on an otherwise occupied stage of modernist, Brechtian, experimental, or socialist (see Angry Young Men) theater.

The scariest thing about it is...
there are four sequels to it.
Farce actually quite recently had a revival in film (finally making the transition since its hundred year peak) and has is nowadays in film referred to as either "gross out comedies", "parodies" or "stoner comedies". It first came to prominence in 1990s with films such as Flirting with Disaster, There's Something About Mary, American Pie, and Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery. As you can tell there was an initial intelligence to them which gradually decreased as the decade wore on until in the 2000s the genre turned into Scary Movie, Not Another Teenage Movie, Idiocracy, Date Movie and the cringe worthy Epic Movie. Currently there are two films set to be released this year based on the end of the world scenarios that I'd qualify as definite farces: This is the End (where a bunch of Hollywood actors play themselves in an end of the world scenario) and Rapture-palooza, which goes to town on the more modern idea of the "rapture" in Christian theology. Usually though when a subject gets to this low-end side of farce one knows that the ability to take it seriously as film fodder usually has run its course and the genre's audience has either "moved on" or "died out." That's why decent horror films aren't made any more in the United States--well traditional horror films as more experimental stuff has come out since then as the genre tries to reinvent itself.

From this revival in farce in film I'd argue that it has been pushed as a genre to go beyond its tragic origins and attempt to cover other genres (new and old) alike--and as such it doesn't always work. Of the lower-end stuff from the 2000s and now, Scary Movie, Idiocracy, and the two end of the world scenario films are probably the best farces because they actually take things we'd fear or pity (and thus cry) over and turn them into something laughable. While films like Date Movie or Epic Movie completely fail as films because they lack that serious origin. Not Another Teenage Movie has its moments, when it looks at the "teenage psychological issues" we're supposed to take serious in a teenage film and goes to town on them, but beyond that it gets stuck in the mud by making the already ridiculous scenarios of teenage films even more ridiculous to the point where they start getting uncomfortably unreal. Not only that but American farce has tried to take the poking fun of American popular culture (a realm normally reserved for the more intelligent satire) too far to the point where if you watch the films almost a year or so later you forget at first what was so funny until you try and remember the reference. And that's the state of modern American farce--trying and re-learning the hard way it can only make fun of what we'd otherwise take far too seriously.

Who's the best at farce? I'd argue the Europeans. They've figured out the right balance of intelligence, wit, vice, and the ridiculous that goes into making a farce that one feels you don't have to bathe after watching. Compare European farces versus American farces if you doubt me, and if you disagree give a reason why below.


Next week we're taking another break from the What Makes Us Laugh & What Makes Us Cry series and we're going to ask the question: What is Irony? Think you have a clue? Leave a comment down below.


Friday, June 21, 2013

LCC Review: Django Unchained

Tarantino I've always held to be a director of quality and substance with his film making. He makes great films (brilliantly written especially), but they are very much stylized affairs that make sense in the world of his imagination--but not much sense out of that stylized world he's created. In other words, the way he presents the world not as how it is, but in a manner that is completely unique to himself that no one else can quite replicate without it seeming disingenuous.
And I'll say that Tarantino is not the only one of his kind, but represents just one species of director. The species consists of (and I'll even throw in a playwright) some of those that are hailed as "greats" amongst the field. They build similarly stylized worlds that are unique and distinctive to them. Hitchcock is just one example, the German Expressionists like Fritz Lang are others, Chaplin yet another, and Bertolt Brecht is yet another still. Sure, their works might be heavily based on realism, but the style of their storytelling supersedes and transcends simple realism (the Expressionists being the obvious example). The world they portray isn't necessarily the world as we know it--it's slightly better and slightly worse simultaneously, done on purpose to make a point that transcends actual reality.

There are other species of directors as well, the hacks being a notable subset, as are the actual realists, and many many more, but today with this film, I want to talk about the directors who create highly stylized films, and take apart the world of Django Unchained.

On the surface, Django Unchained looks like your typical comic formula--especially in the latter parts of the film when we arrive at the Candie Land plantation--with a hint of romance thrown in for good measure. For a brief summary of the plot, the story is about a slave named Django who is "freed" by a bounty hunter to find some overseers who he knows to collect a reward on. The man trains him to be a bounty hunter and after bagging the overseers decides to help Django in getting his wife Brunhilda back--who was sold to another plantation owner. Pretty simple stuff--on the surface.
The senex iratus was played by Samuel L. Jackson, with Django playing the tricky slave. There's a tiny bit of romance thrown in for good measure via the Sigfried and Brunhilda structure the film looks at later on, but that's Tarantino dipping his toes in the water of romance at most, not going in for the full plunge. If anything Tarantino brings our German bounty hunter over from the world of romance, as he has the most romantic viewpoint of the entire film, in fact one could say he's a refugee from a romance story that found himself amongst an ironic comedy world and learned to adapt.

The overarching formula is comic as it is about an eiron character: the slave (Django) who earns his freedom and thus rises or ascends to the status of a freedman through bounty hunting. Bounty hunting requires our tricky slave character to transcend twice throughout the course of the film and evolve into a sly servant character for our "master bounty hunter" in the beginning and finally by the end of the film evolving into the prototype of our amateur detective as an independent bounty hunter all his own. Essentially, giving us the history of the evolution of this eiron character archetype all in one film. As such, the role requires this character throughout his many incarnations to always be donning disguises, which is a clear sign of an eiron character, no matter the genre. Eirons will always pretend to be "lesser than they are" so that when the big reveal happens it's a shock to those around them. Typically you can find eiron characters cloaked or donning some kind of disguise, act, or fake pretence around others. You can see this in Django when he pretends twice to be a manservant to his master bounty hunter, when in reality the bounty hunter gave him his freedom early on in the film. Ultimately through the film we are watching the evolution of Django from chained slave to independent bounty hunter.

After the evolution of Django, the overarching story of the film is still comic, but an extremely ironic version of comedy--probably the most ironic you can get without it crossing into the sphere of irony completely.
Django seems to mix different stages of Comedy together: "stage one" and "stage two" most especially:

Northrop Frye (Anatomy of Criticism, p178-80):

Phase One: Ironic Comedy - Existent society remains: The absurd society triumphs or remains undefeate
d or sometimes, in more ironic cases, dissolves without anything to take its place.

"We notice in ironic comedy that the demonic world is never far away. The rages of the senex iratus in Roman comedy are directed mainly at the tricky slave, who is threatened with the mill, with being flogged to death, with crucifixion, with having his head dipped in tar and set on fire, and the like, all penalties that could be and were exacted from slaves in life. An epilogue in Plautus informs us that the slave-actor who has blown up in his lines will now be flogged; in one of the Menander fragments a slave is tied up and burned with a torch on the stage. One sometimes gets the impression that the audience of Plautus and Terence would have guffawed uproariously all through the Passion. We may ascribe this to the brutality of a slave society, but then we remember that boiling oil and burying alive ("such a stuffy death") turn up in The Mikado. Two lively comedies of the modern stage are The Cocktail Party and The Lady's Not for Burning, but the cross appears in the background of the one and the stake in the background of the other. Shylock's knife and Angelo's gallows appear in Shakespeare: in Measure for Measure every male character is at one time or another threatened with death. The action of comedy moves toward a deliverance from something which, if absurd, is by no means invariably harmless. We notice too how frequently a comic dramatist tries to bring his action as close to a catastrophic overthrow of the hero as he can get it, and then reverses the action as quickly as possible. The evading or breaking of a cruel law is often a very narrow squeeze. The intervention of the king at the end of Tartuffe is deliberately arbitrary: there is nothing in the action of the play itself to prevent Tartuffe's triumph. Tom Jones in the final books, accused of murder, incest, debt, and double-dealing, cast off by friends, guardian, and sweetheart, is a woeful figure indeed before all these turn into illusions. Any reader can think of many comedies in which the fear of death, sometimes a hideous death, hangs over the central character to the end, and is dispelled so quickly that one has almost the sense of awakening from nightmare."

This phase is most especially visible when Django reflects on his past life as a slave as well as when he gets caught towards the end of the film and nearly is castrated. The world of ironic comedy is a harsh one--and for all intents and purposes is a police state. Ironic comedy takes the hell-on-earth of irony and then at the last moment undoes it all.
Candie Land itself as a plantation dissolves without anything to take its place, but overall the structure of slave society which allowed for the creation of Candie Land, remains undefeated.

Also Northrop Frye:

Phase Two: Quixotic Comedy - Criticism of society without change: The hero escapes a humorous society without transforming it

"The second phase of comedy, in its simplest form, is a comedy in which the hero does not transform a humorous society but simply escapes or runs away from it, leaving its structure as it was before. A more complex irony in this phase is achieved when a society is constructed by or around a hero, but proves not sufficiently real or strong to impose itself. In this situation the hero is usually himself at least partly a comic humor or mental runaway, and we have either a hero's illusion thwarted by a superior reality or a clash of two illusions. This is the quixotic phase of comedy, a difficult phase for drama, though The Wild Duck is a fairly pure example of it, and in drama it usually appears as a subordinate theme of another phase. Thus in the Alchemist Sir Epicure Mammon's dream of what he will do with the philosopher's stone is, like Quixote's a gigantic dream, and makes him an ironic parody of Faustus (who is mentioned in the play), in the same way that Quixote is an ironic parody of Amadis and Lancelot. When the tone is more light-hearted, the comic resolution may be strong enough to sweep over all quixotic illusions. In Huckleberry Finn the main theme is one of the oldest in comedy, the freeing of a slave, and the cognitio tells us that Jim had already been set free before his escape was bungled by Tom Sawyer's pedantries. Because of its unrivalled opportunities for double-edged irony, this phase is a favourite of Henry James: perhaps his most searching study of it is The Sacred Fount, where the hero is an ironic parody of a Prospero figure creating another society out of the one in front of him."

Some elements of this phase are thrown in for good measure but for the large part this phase is subordinate to the phase one setting. The most distinct part of this phase's inclusion is where Django rides off into the west with Brunhilda at the end after giving us a characteristic movie poster pose with sunglasses and cigarette in front of the smouldering ruins of the Candie Plantation. Our hero has escaped the society and is about to go and create a rival one out west as a bounty hunter with Brunhilda and whatever children they have together.

Okay, so Django has an overall comic formula, but what about Tarantino's style? Tarnatino goes the extra mile in this film to create not the slave-holding south as it was, but a kind of mixture between the slave holding south and the post-Civil War old west. He also adds in some elements of black exploitation cinema with the theme of having an underground wring of slave masters who have their slaves fight to the death for their entertainment. It's especially in this element that Tarantino transcends reality and--well, at least to our knowledge--invents something that could have plausibly happened, but we never actually saw happen in real life. Finally in pure Tarantino style over emphasizes the violence of this world--which is completely appropriate to do in an Ironic Comedy. As Frye mentions an Ironic Comedy world is a violent and repressive society that has teeth to back up its claims, and Tarantino presents it with all of its teeth intact.

In terms of performances, all the actors give a high caliber performance and I have to say I greatly enjoyed them all, with Jackson, Foxx, and DiCaprio probably giving the best performances of the film, and Waltz coming in a close second after that three-way tie for first.

Django Unchained does have a few problems most notably by bringing in the theme of vengeance--a theme mroe appropriate to tragedy than comedy. The reason I say this is because bringing vengeance into comedy allows us to entertain the notion that vengeance has no consequences--and most audiences don't react well to that idea. However Tarantino does his best to try and give vengeance its proper consequences in this film by amplifying the violence of the slave society, but with Django's triumph in the end there's some small hint of a consequence-free vengeance plot at the last minute. It also makes Django a much more serious character who is only occasionally funny or is perceived as funny to others, which makes him a much less of a fun character. Jamie Foxx arguably does however bring just enough of a minutia of levity to the part so that we feel he's having fun, which thus counterbalances the seriousness of this vengeance plot.

The middle part where Tarantino tries to dip his toes into the genre of Romance with Django and the German Bounty hunter talking about Sigfried and Brunhilda is a point when the film begins to drag and it becomes obvious that our Bounty Hunter is a refugee from another type of film and has tried his best to adapt to the strange new world he's entered. The part of the film between the killing of the overseers which was the initial reason for Django's release and the point when we arrive at Candie Land plantation has to be the slowest part of the film pacing wise and could've been snipped at and shortened to some degree--the worst offence being the long carriage ride to the Candie Land plantation that never seemed to end--which the characters even commented on it was so long...

Another problem is when there are cut scenes to showing Brunhilda as a character when she isn't in the first half of the movie outside of what Django says about her. There's this one of these cut scenes in particular where she looks to the camera and directly says: "call me Hilde". And then the camera pans out and shows no one else around her, thus overemphasising that was "just for us", which takes us out of the film for a moment, and is a trick that would go over better in a satire than here in an ironic comedy.

The hokeiest part has to be with the Australian slave traders, I was distracted the entire time how Australian slave traders were in the deep south. And of course the scene allowed us to hear Tarantino's barely passable attempt at an Australian accent. Not one of the better moments of the film--well at least until Django takes over the scene like he's supposed to.

Also Django Unchained often bends reality for stylistic and comic necessity, especially in the violent scenes. He bends reality to the point where it almost becomes blatantly obvious we're watching a movie to us.  The violence while it is enhanced, doesn't follow the normal laws of physics and thus enters the realm it shares with cartoon violence. One particular example comes to mind when Django shoots a lady from one angle and she goes flying back in a direction not possible from the angle at which he shot her--the point being to get her body out of the frame of the camera and is never seen again for the rest of the film--because dead overseers and red necks are funny to look at, but a dead and bloody Southern Belle ain't pretty or comic. And its at times like that that we're reminded that we're watching a film and brought outside of the world Django exists in.

So while I admire it for its daring, I also freely admit that in taking those risks it also creates some inherent problems within its own world. However, having said that, I must say that overall the film is a wonderful piece of entertainment and well worth seeing, whether you just want to be entertained, or you want to think a little more deeply about a film. That's probably the beauty of this film in general it allows for that wide variety of audience to see and enjoy it.



Monday, June 17, 2013

What Makes Us Laugh - Part Three: Satire, Attack with Laughs

Talking to the audience, done right.
Satire often in modern times is blended with its more low-brow brother farce and nowadays called parody. Sometimes we even go so far as to call satire "meta-humour". However satire is quite distinct itself as a genre and should be noted as such. While I am including it in the "What Makes Us Laugh" theoretical series, I'm doing so because it literally makes us laugh, not because it is a descendent of comedy--actually it's quite the reverse, comedy is a descendent of satire. In fact one could technically say that satire was the "original comedy" under Aristophanes and traditional Greek Old Comedy. In fact Aristophanes is dubbed, the "Father of Comedy", though I argue he really laid the foundation down for satire (and farce) first and foremost, and modern comedy comes from Menander.

I know what you're thinking...
The history of Satire however begins earlier than that though. Where we get the word satire come from the old Greek satyr plays that would play immediately after a Greek tragedy trilogy. Although only one complete Satyr play survives entact to this day, we can derive from it, fragments of others, and descriptions of Satyr plays in general that they typically involved Silenus, the leader of the satyrs, and his flock of fellow satyrs getting into some kind of predicament and a hero character coming along and managing to rescue Silenus and his merry flock. More will be mentioned on this in the next theoretical post next Monday. In this early time I'd argue that satire and farce had not yet separated into separate genres and even in the poop joke loving Aristophanes the two forces still managed to be held in balance. What were these two forces you might ask? I'll give you one answer today and another next week when we look at farce in depth, when I hope to get a rise, out of you all. So, let's take a look at Aristophanes, shall we?

Stone cutters took pity and gave him a great head of hair.
Little is known of Aristophanes' own life. He was most likely only just eighteen when his first play The Banqueters was produced, and despite the picture of the marble bust depicting a full head of hair, it's thought that he probably was prematurely bald due to the number of self-deprecating jokes he made against himself in his plays. He wrote forty plays that we know of, eleven of which have survived to this day. We know from Plato as well as his own parabasis that he embarked upon becoming a comic dramatist because he didn't like the ridicule that comic dramatists received and wanted to create a better image for them--comedy at the time was the new kid on the block and had much the bad reputation. As such, while generally remembered by Plato to be genial and good-humoured, he's depicted as not liking to be belittled or dismissed. Aristophanes' comedies are what we today would clearly recognize as highly political satire. If Aristophanes were alive today he'd write and perform for the Capital Steps or Saturday Night Live quite easily--in that way you could say he was the Tina Fey of his day--although with his propensity for poop jokes, he might have fit in better with the bawdier Mad TV. As such, a lot of his humour was very politicized and topical to the times he lived in, and Aristophanes sure did live through some interesting times. Not only did he live through the dying days of the Peloponnesian War (which is quite clear in his play The Frogs--in which Dionysus goes to the underworld to hold a contest to bring back the best playwright to re-inspire a demoralized Athens with a great work of tragedy), but also two oligarchic revolutions, and two democratic restorations. He lived through troubled and interesting times indeed and through it all used comedy in the first satiric manner to parody and make fun of many well known figures of his day. We know from Aristophanes for example that for a fact Socrates existed and wasn't just some figment of Plato's imagination because Aristophanes parodies Socrates quite extensively in his play The Clouds.

Remember, this is funny to an audience 
who has no doubt in their faith in Zeus.

He also took on figures such as Cleon (a prominent Athenian statesman and strategic mind during the Peloponnesian war--Aristophanes and Cleon got into a heated debate over how Aristophanes depicts him), Lamachus (a risk-taking general of the Peloponnesian war), to the gods themselves--Dionysus getting a rather hilarious portrait in The Frogs. And it's here where we first see the beginnings of satire. Satire isn't afraid to hit hard and hit high. Primarily it is on the attack. It's humour is based around attacking something--typically real-life people--and making a mockery out of them. Again, I say if Aristophanes were alive now, he'd write for the Capital Steps and he would've have had deja vu during the Iraqi War and it's similarities to the Peloponnesian war. Yes, I should note that Aristophanes was virulently anti-war, well anti-the Peloponnesian war, not so much against the concept of war per se. However while attack is an important part of satire it is not the end-all and be-all part of it. Otherwise pure invective or simple plain cursing and swearing at a person would be considered satire. No, there has to be something more to it, the attack has to be balanced with a sense of humour that way satire doesn't completely wallow in the sea of the mean-spirited.

Another tradition that comes from Aristophanes in to modern satire is the idea of authorial intent. In no other literary genre is authorial intent more out in the open and plainly obvious for everyone to see. Often times the author will speak to us through to work to the readers or audience directly, giving a little smirk, wink, or eyebrow raise for our own benefit. This was actually a formalized part of Old Comedy called the parabasis, and it is here that the author's intent was made clear to the audience, as the Greek chorus would "break the fourth wall" and speak the author's mind directly to the audience. Often times, well at least from Aristophanes' play, we'd get insights into the life of the author, but at the same time, the focus usually was more on the message that the author wanted us to take from the piece. It is from parabasis that the tradition of witty narrators, self-deprecating humour, and breaks in the fourth wall between the world of the story and our own as readers come from. Often satires will play with the notion of characters being self-aware that they're in a story, or will play around with self-awareness in general. As such the satirist will play around with exploring the artificial nature of storytelling. plays around with the notion of self-awareness

Although comedy derived from satire, I'd argue they've evolved to the point where neither truly exists in the same world, and the only thing similar about them anymore is that they both make us laugh. True comedy as we know it today is about community building, and satire if anything is about community destroying. Satire sees the world as corrupted and in need of a good purge--and it sees itself as the man up to the task to point the rest of us in the right direction. In a lot of ways satire is about wading through the muddy, dirty and disgusting parts of society that would trouble or upset us in a comedy. Comedy would try and laugh it all off as us just "being human", but satire likes to sit with the uncomfortable and demands that you pay attention. Satire typically wants to change the world, probably just as much as some of the best melodrama does. Except satire will try and get to you through your mind and intellect, while melodrama will hit you in an emotional gut wrenching manner.

I hope it's not the swimsuit edition.
As satire likes to focus in on the corrupted part of society, it could thus be said to be about giant slaying as Northrop Frye argues in his essay on the genre. I know, that association probably threw you for a loop, but please hang on for a second. Usually it isn't the giants of romance (although in some special cases it literally is), no it is the self-important fools who think themselves great and grand--like politicians, the clergy, professionals, and other people of "high respect and esteem". The "giants" of their fields, so to speak. This goes back to Aristophanes and his love of taking real life people he knew down a peg or ten. Usually in doing so satire could be said in Frye's terms to be taking an alazon and attempting to reveal that the delusion they have does not reflect any apparent sense of reality. However, as is often the case in satire, the entire world is full of alazons. Satire thus could be said to also concern itself with distinguishing reality from illusion, as well as the theme of deception. A lot of time is spent in satire in distilling "reality" and knocking people into seeing the "world as it is". Realism's existence is thanks in part to satire as well as science.

After Aristophanes' Greek Old Comedy gave way to Menander's Greek New Comedy, the notions of satire weren't again picked up until the early days of the Roman Empire under the quills of Juvenal and Horace. Here is a quote from Horace's The Art of Poetry, which discusses a new idea to crop up in our development of satire, humour of convention:

"Gods should not talk like heroes, nor again
Drink Roman, the only wine that matters.
Impetuous youth like grave and reverend men;
Lady and nurse a different language crave,
Sons of the soil and rovers o'er the wave;
Assyrian, Colchian, Theban, Argive, each
Has his own style, his proper cast of speech.
In painting characters, follow tradition,
Or in inventing be consistent,
If great Achilles figure in the scene,
Make him impatient, fiery, ruthless, keen;
All laws, all covenants let him still disown,
And test his quarrel by the sword alone.
Make Medea all revenge and scorn,
Ino still sad, Ixion still forsworn,
Io, a wanderer still, Orestes still forlorn.
If you would be original, and seek
To frame some character ne'er seen in Greek,
See it be wrought on one consistent plan,
And end the same creation it began." -- Horace

In this short excerpt from Horace, he argues for convention and tradition in character creation, he goes on to argue that it's hard to put an original twist on a story men know so well, but he asks us to maintain conventions for the sake of not confusing one's audience. And the reason I quote this is because Satire is a form of humour extremely dependent on convention. An example given by Northrop Frye that will be mentioned later as well, is the convention of the battered husband and shrewish wife. We conventionally find it funny in a comic strip for a wife to beat her husband with a rolling pin or a frying pan of some sort, but to introduce a comic strip where a husband beats his wife would stop and confuse its readers. One thing we know from convention is funny, the other we're told is a more tragic situation, and so an uneasy feeling would settle on the readers which would kill the satiric mood. Satire does aim to make its audience uncomfortable, but this specific level of discomfort is how one loses readers and audiences. It's a line not to be crossed too often, and when you do, as Horace suggests, be consistent.


One is cute in a weird way, the other has cute bu--
I think I know why we updated this convention...

Similarly if you wish to create a new convention, likewise be consistent. Arguably the minions from Despicable Me have created a new convention that has been emulated in many other children's films and will continue to be so in time to come. However I'd argue they're not so much a new convention as a re-imagining of an older convention of kewpie dolls and cute little cupids (see Disney's Fantasia). Conventions have lives and after living a full one, will die or fade from popularity, and as such every so often will be unexpectedly revitalized by a re-imagining of the convention in a manner that more modern audiences can relate to.

A knight and his washer lady.
So we've talked about attack and humour of convention, the two most vital parts of satire but in order to understand the final part of satire we need to jump ahead in time past the golden age of Romance in the Medieval period to the Renaissance where we arguably see the birth of modern satire with Don Quixote. To look at Don Quixote, one sees an obvious juxtaposition between itself and the Romances it parodies. Most heroes on a quest are young men, Don Quixote is at the senile end of his life. His lady love is a washer woman, the giants he faces are windmills. Don Quixote is an obvious satire of the Medieval Romances. Satire likes to concern itself with parodying Romance quests and epic journeys of sorts. And as such in a satire, episodic adventures, strange encounters, and odd intervals can be inserted for as long as the satirist desires. All of this comes from Don Quixote's influence as a cornerstone of modern literature. Due to this, satire often is seen as the complete opposite of romance. As such as romance was the elite's propaganda, satire can be viewed as the common man's response. In fact the most noted of satirists always seem to to be self-made men from the lower classes or are considered "outsiders" from a lesser ethnicity or nationality, from the lower class Horace to the Irish Jonathan Swift.

Gulliver in Brobdignab where the tables are turned.
Speaking of Jonathan Swift, he adds another element to Satire through Gulliver's Travels, which is a humour based on the fantastic or exaggerated. It's a grotesque based humour, made obvious blatantly obvious by the exaggerated extremes our character is taken to. These exaggerated extremes though never get balanced out for the reader like they would in a comedy, so they remain in their "sick" extremes. The little people of Lilliput will constantly be a war with the Bigenders over petty small individual quarrels like which end of an egg to break first. The giants of Brobdignab might have a better concern for its community at large, but it will overlook and suppress the individuals within its community. Brobdignab may also be free of war, corrupt officials, and greed--but at the same time it doesn't have music, art or modern science. Laputa may finally think of the meaning of the universe, but they'll never appreciate the beauty of a flower. The Academy might go about creating a new perfect world, but they'll have utterly destroyed the old one, and so on and so forth. In fact that's probably the best way to look at satire. Our protagonist has become stuck in a world full of the sick and insane, and in the darkest of satires, the person stuck there doesn't even realize that they too are sick and insane as well.

In Wonderland, everyone's mad. I'm mad, he's mad, you're mad...
The best case example of a satirical "protagonist" getting stuck in a "world of crazy" would probably have to be the two Alice stories: Alice in Wonderland, and its sequel Through the Looking Glass. Through those two novels, and Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies (which satirically makes fun of fairy tales), satire arguably entered the realm of Children's Literature, and as such those novels can be reread as an adult and appreciated on an entirely different level. There are many conventions of satire to be found in Wonderland alone. The most obvious being that of the battered King of Hearts and the overbearing Queen of Hearts--a satirical glance at the balance of power between Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert. The other is that the entire world of Wonderland is a world full of loveable eccentrics taken to the extreme of their characters. And all through it, our protagonist Alice makes it through as our lone character of "sanity" in an insane world.

Humour in satire, thanks to Aristophanes, can be more than just conventional,fantastical, grotesque, or poking fun at romance, it usually is quite topical as well. This is why of all the genres, I'd say satire has the hardest time lasting very long, and has to be constantly re-invented. Aristophanes attacked real people he and the rest of Athens knew, Cervantes parodied romance novels and stories that all of Spain had grown up reading, and Swift attacked the hypocrisies of his own society mercilessly. In each case though they were dealing with a subject that their readers already came to the table knowing quite well--and if we wish to understand just as much as they did, we have to do our own "studying" of the materials. However I would argue that the best satires, while using topical humour manage to find a way to transcend the topicality either by having the insanity it explores be SO grotesque and extreme that it transcends its specific time (Gulliver's Travels and the Alice stories fit here) or by simultaneously telling its audience what to expect to happen by meta-theatrically having the protagonist "explain the rules". Don Quixote for example, when asked to pay for his inn bill, proclaims that no knight ever has a concern for money and they're provided hospitality without any expectation of repayment. In the modern horror film satire Scream, a character literally explains "the rules" of old horror films.

Satire served up with a healthy dose of beer and teen torture, please.

While satire is quite topical in its humour, and thus prone to making fun of particular individuals, one can find a few common characters that belong to it that have now become prolific favourites.

Some common characters of satire:

The Last Man of Common Sense

Wait till he pulls out his gun in five, four, three, tw--BANG!
This character is one--typically with rural associations--who "cuts through bull shit" like a knife, reducing things to simple common sense to be weighed and evaluated. The character, though having a long history of existence, has come to be adopted by Americans of the Appalachian persuasion as their go-to source for entertainment and emulation. As such we have the reason for why Larry the Cable Guy exists. Jethro Gibbs from NCIS is another example. For a more refined American variation, see the suburban Mid-West's version with the Nostalgia Critic (as pictured), and for an even more refined variation, the Northeastern urbane Nostalgia Chick. The more urbane a culture this character comes from the more refined this type of character will become. I must say though that this is clearly the typical satiric character of choice for most Americans--whether they be rural or urbane, which as a nation suggests a more rural-based culture than most developed nations. Their sense of humour comes from wading through the excess wasteland that they see themselves in, and tearing it to shreds thus reducing it to its simplest elements to properly beat or kick to death. There is often something very violent about this character, for they usually see violence as the only way to "knock any kind of sense" into the world. Typically they see themselves as one of the last survivors of good common sense in a world run mad with idiocy. They only have common sense though in the lightest of satires. The darker a satire gets, the more common sense will be doubted as having any meaning and the crazier this individual will become until there's no distinguishing him or her from the rest of the insane society. In the darkest of satires, this individual is also an alazon figure who's worst offence is thinking he can save a society destined to go to hell in a hand basket by beating it into submission.

The Loveable Eccentric

Everyone loves Abby, that could be a sitcom, right?
Typically this character is female, but not always. There is usually something "off beat" or "quirky" about this type of character. And we tend to love them as there's some sense of "childishness" that lingers about them, but doesn't completely hamper them from interacting with the rest of the world in an adult manner. The satire of these types tends to stem from the fact that such a character of such professional knowledge or power can be so childishly eccentric. They add a diversity to the world they inhabit, breaking minor rules or conventions of that society that don't really matter, and by doing so allow us to discern the bull shit rules that need to be broken, and the common sense rules that need to be enforced. They're a living oxymoron that we love to see. These character types can only exist in the realm of satire where common sense can still be used as a measure of sanity. Once common sense is doubted these loveable eccentrics begin to disappear, and in the darkest of satires there's nothing at all loveable about them. While there are many examples of this type of character, arguably the best well-known one currently is Abby from NCIS, as pictured above who is a goth girl forensic scientist with a personality so sweet and loving she's the fan favourite of the show. See also Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series. For a more classic example see Betsy Trotwood from David Copperfield.

The Delusional Giant

Well isn't this rather obvious...
As mentioned earlier this kind of character is an Alazon figure who unlike the Alazons of comedy isn't self-deceived so much as they have an agenda to deceive the rest of society into thinking that they're greater than they really are. This is the classic "Emperor's New Clothes" situation, but usually with a darker twist that the Emperor knows he doesn't have any clothes on, but wants to make everyone else think he does. There are usually many delusional giants in a satire and they are often to be found in the highest positions of power and prominence.

The Battered Husband & Shrewish Wife

Feminists, if you want to change society, get rid of this...  OW! Yes, mistress...
This type of character is a duo where you don't see one without the other. It's essentially a Punch and Judy show, except Punch has no recourse to a more dominating Judy. This is a traditional satiric take on "traditional marriages" where the inherent laughter comes from a man being so frying pan and rolling pin beaten he is unable to assert his societally expected male dominance over the women in his life. In modern times one can see something of its existence still in comic strips like Hagar the Horrible or in the related descendent of the Overbearing Mother and Momma's Boy pairing.

Now all that is fine and dandy, but how does it all interact with our society? Well, currently since about WWI or so we've been living in a "golden age" of Satire, where everything is smeared with a satiric touch from pornography to children's literature. Sure, in the 1950s and on into the 1960s there was a bit of a backlash to that mindset (thanks to Disney and the dewy-eyed Silent Generation), but come the 1970s our satirical outlook was more firmly fixed than ever--one eyebrow raise at a time. Satire was and always will be a genre about mercilessly attacking a sick society and tearing it down. By doing so the satirists attempt to show what is wrong with "us" so that we as an audience might know what to change. In a way it's like House (people still watch that show, right?), where the satirist is an expert at diagnosing the sick. Now as has been mentioned previously, although satire is brilliant at diagnosing the sick, that's just about all it does. It doesn't try to heal the sick like a comedy would, instead it's the little kid in the parade pointing out the Emperor has no clothes on, and it's never seen or heard from again. Satire gives us the diagnosis, but it leaves the cure up to us--typically Satire is too cynical and too suspicious of cure-alls and those who proclaim to have the answer to everything, which is probably why it doesn't bother trying to heal society. The satirist figures letting you know what the problem is is enough, and oh, by the way, you're welcome. You'll have to figure out the rest from here on out, the satirist's job is done. And that's just in the lightest of satires, in the darkest of the dark satires--there's just pure nihilism with absolutely no hope of reforming anything and so we all might as well enjoy the ride to hell while it lasts.

Satire as a genre is how we attack parts of our society which are seen as sick and are most likely incurable. Sometimes through common sense we hope to violently purge the idiots who now control our society, and in other cases merely thinking you can cure it at all is a ridiculous notion to hold on to. Which makes me wonder if the darker satires really don't have a point? Perhaps we as a society are sick and going to hell in hand basket and there's nothing we can do about it. And if that's the destination, at least we can laugh about it on the way there.