The Participant Zero in satire

Author: Alexander Cothren

Cothren, Alexander, 2021 The Participant Zero in satire, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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Theorists such as Paul Simpson define satire as a mode of communication involving three distinct subject positions: the satirist (the creator of the satire), the audience (the consumers of the satire), and the target (the subject of the satire’s attack). However, my exegesis argues that another position should be added to such models, in order to more accurately represent who participates in satire. I believe that the central action of satire, a satirist attempting to persuade an audience that a target is worthy of attack, cannot take place without at least some involvement of a fourth participant: those who the satirist believes have been negatively affected by the target. To put it simply, if a target has done something wrong, at least in the eyes of the satirist, then it follows that someone has been wronged. I call this position the ‘participant zero’, as without the alleged negative effects suffered by these participants, satirists would have no justification for attacking their targets.

The ‘participant zero’ is my contribution to original knowledge, but it has also been a significant challenge to my writing process. My creative artefact, Let’s Talk Trojan Bee, is a collection of short stories written in the satirical mode. These stories attack a range of targets, such as income inequality, conspiracy theories, and anti-abortion laws. Whilst writing these stories, I became aware of the risk that some representations of the ‘participant zero’ could harm the real-world people and groups who fill this position. This risk is exacerbated by satire’s indirect manner of attack, which often relies on audience members understanding the implicit meaning hidden within an explicit statement. Furthermore, satire’s frequent strategy of attacking its targets by parodying and exaggerating their viewpoints can result in a warped representation of the ‘participant zero’, one which can be harmful even when audience members understand the satirist’s intentions. My exegesis uses a number of case studies to outline the potential risk that satire poses to the ‘participant zero’, as well as solutions to minimizing this risk. It then explains how these considerations affected my own writing process.

Keywords: Satire, creative writing, participant zero, ethics

Subject: Humanities thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Dr Amy T Matthews