The difference between parody and satire is a lot simpler than most lit majors would have it: Parody is easy. Satire takes work.
When I was the editor of Screw magazine, I confess we often veered towards the cheap laugh -- parody -- rather than the elegant satire of Swift or Twain, but the motivation was pure when we got out our scissors and created such micro-masterpieces as "The Manchurian C**ksucker."
With my new novella, the bawdy political satire Bye Bye, Miss American Pie, I wanted to take that free-swinging approach to the stark absurdity of the American election process -- and the attendant hyperventilating media coverage -- but with a more patient and literary spin. After all, there are only so many times one can Photoshop Bill O'Reilly onto his knees before it ceases to be inspired.
My main inspirations for Bye Bye were Candide, and Terry Southern's Candy -- once considered the dirtiest book ever written, and itself a turn on Candide. And if my protagonist slightly resembles the current Secretary of State, well that's because I first had the idea for this parable four years ago when she was running for president. But truthfully, if you think you recognize the evil Republican strategist or the hippie muckraker, you are wrong. I know this because of the disclaimer in the front of the book that says "This is a work of fiction and all characters, etc. etc."
Anyway, I got tired of watching men who didn't owe me anything apologize on television for having sex. So I decided to give the sex-scandal an as-yet-unseen feminist edge, while mocking the ritual of contrition. I wondered what would happen if instead of crying for the crime of their trysts, someone actually had the brass to own it?
In this case, Senator Barbra Bernstein gets caught with her illegal-immigrant pool boy, and proudly proclaims "I got mine America, now get yours! You know you want it!" -- kindling a new sexual revolution, and quickly becoming the most popular person in America. The conservative opposition is forced to play catch up until both parties are making porn movies in lieu of campaign ads.
Sure, it's reckless and dirty in places, but I like to think that the debate debacle, the double-speak, the empty polemics, and mostly the tragicomic cynicism and short-term memory of the electorate are on-the-money, like Clinton DNA on a blue dress. Looking at it now, as the 2012 race winds down the primrose path, Bye Bye, Miss American Pie seems more and more like a report from the front lines of the campaigns than it does an absurdist fantasy or farce. Such, I reckon, is the post-modern condition.
I don't know that any satire has changed the anything- maybe A Modest Proposal helped move things along -- and did any anti-war movie (Duck Soup, anyone?) really move the world towards peace?
Still, those of us who have waded in the waters of genuine satire have made the noble effort to go beyond the gag-reflex laugh of, say, buggering Richard Nixon (a meme of political outrage that became an established leitmotif for Screw) and make our best bids as agents of the revolution. As Abbie Hoffman once said, the tastiest burgers are made from sacred cows, and for me, the best satire cuts closest to the bone. Then, to wit, 10 of my favorites, each one a bloody morsel of truthiness.