Satire, Comedy and Mental Health: Coping with the Limits of Critique

ISBN: 978-1-83909-667-9, eISBN: 978-1-83909-666-2

Publication date: 13 January 2021


Declercq, D. (2021), "Prelims", Satire, Comedy and Mental Health: Coping with the Limits of Critique, Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. i-xiii.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021 Dieter Declercq

Half Title Page

Satire, Comedy and Mental Health

Title Page

Satire, Comedy and Mental Health

Coping with the Limits of Critique

Dieter Declercq

University of Kent, UK

Copyright Page

Emerald Publishing Limited

Howard House, Wagon Lane, Bingley BD16 1WA, UK

First edition 2021

© 2021 Dieter Declercq. Published under an exclusive licence by Emerald Publishing Limited.

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No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without either the prior written permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying issued in the UK by The Copyright Licensing Agency and in the USA by The Copyright Clearance Center. No responsibility is accepted for the accuracy of information contained in the text, illustrations or advertisements. The opinions expressed in these chapters are not necessarily those of the Author or the publisher.

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A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN: 978-1-83909-667-9 (Print)

ISBN: 978-1-83909-666-2 (Online)

ISBN: 978-1-83909-668-6 (Epub)

Dedication Page

For my parents and Georgia.


About the Author ix
Acknowledgements xi
Abstract xiii
Introduction 1
Aims 1
Method 3
Chapter outline 7
1. What Is Satire? 9
Introduction 9
Variety 9
Genre 10
Critique 13
Entertainment 17
Ambiguity 21
Conclusion 24
2. Satire as Therapy: Curing a Sick World? 25
Introduction 25
Heroic therapy 25
Political impact 28
Satire as magic 30
Satire and Trump 32
Journalism 37
Conclusion 39
3. Satire as Therapy Revisited: Coping with a Sick World 41
Introduction 41
Therapy reconsidered 41
The limits of critique 43
Truth and mental illness 49
Sisyphus labour 54
The limits of catharsis 57
Conclusion 59
4. The Solace of Entertainment 61
Introduction 61
Coping 61
Aesthetic experience 64
Entertainment 67
Mental health 74
Satire 77
Conclusion 82
5. Comic Irony and Narrative Coping 85
Introduction 85
Humour and health 85
Humour’s cognitive shift 87
Comic irony and satire 90
Narrative thinking 95
Satirical coping strategies 98
Conclusion 104
Conclusion 105
Bibliography 109
Index 135

About the Author

Dr Dieter Declercq is a Lecturer in Film and Media Studies at the University of Kent. He is interested in the existential value of popular media (especially satire, comedy and cartoons) and his research is informed by methodologies from analytic aesthetics, media studies, and medical and health humanities. He has organised several international events, including the British Society of Aesthetics Conference: Art, Aesthetics and the Medical and Health Humanities. His work on satire, comedy and irony has been published in journals including The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, ImageText, Ethical Perspectives and Ethical Theory and Moral Practice.


I remember when I first started thinking about satire in an academic context. It was 2009 and I had no idea what to write about for my MA dissertation in Western Literature. Then, something or someone made me realise that I could pretty much write my dissertation about anything. Really? Anything? Even The Simpsons? Although I wrote that first dissertation on Shakespeare adaptations, my real interest was always more existential than literary. The Simpsons had been a beacon that shone through as I experienced a spell of alienation in high school (who didn’t?). Still, however strong the estrangement, The Simpsons was just so funny and, well, so right about things, that it always gave me an entry point for reconnection with the world (albeit with a sense of comic irony). This book is, therefore, grounded in my personal relationship with the solace of satire.

Many people have contributed to the development of my ideas in this book along the way – too many to list them all from the beginning. I do want to foremost acknowledge my parents and my fiancée Georgia, to whom I dedicate this book. Without my parents, I would not have written this book (and I do not mean that in the biological sense of things). I am privileged that they have always supported my studies, including at times when I was unsure that it was really going somewhere. I am also indebted to Georgia, for giving me the space to pursue my academic projects, and for her support during those moments when I am still not sure whether it’s going anywhere. She’s also been an invaluable soundboard for the ideas in this book. I also want tothank Ben Doyle, for signing me with Emerald, and the great editorial team at Emerald, Paula Kennedy, Joshi Jerome, Sally Martin, Liam Morris, Gabriella Barnard-Edmunds and Carys Morley. Thanks also to S. Rajachitra for help during the production process.

This book is a substantially revised and updated version of a PhD thesis which I completed at the University of Kent in 2017, where I still teach and work. I’m very grateful for the School of Arts’ support of that project with a 50th Anniversary GTA Scholarship. I’m also indebted to my supervisor, Aylish Wood, for her invaluable (and continued) guidance and support in my academic career. I also want to thank my co-supervisor (and compatriot), Hans Maes, for introducing me to analytic aesthetics and philosophy of art. Life is a funny (and sometimes scary) accumulation of contingencies, but without the fantastic Aesthetic Research Centre, my professional and personal life would have been much impoverished. Thanks also to fellow ARC members, Michael Newall, for his openness to explore commonalities with the medical and health humanities, and (my internal examiner) Murray Smith, for guidance and inspiration. I also want to thank my external examiner, Gregory Currie, for his academic rigour.

There are many others to thank in the vibrant research culture of the School of Arts. I specifically acknowledge my fellow PhD students at the time, with whom I exchanged ideas on a regular basis in Work in Progress Sessions and the Postgraduate Hub, including Eleen Deprez, Claire Anscombe, Mark Windsor, Shelby Moser, Sara Janssen and especially David Brown (for fruitful debate about shared research interests). Thanks also to Fred Francis and Julia Secklehner for co-curating an exhibition with many cartoons that informed discussions in this book. I also want to thank my colleagues, Nicola Shaughnessy, for support and collaboration around medical and health humanities, and Oliver Double, for support and collaboration around comedy. My thanks also to many people who have commented on various aspects of this research project at conferences and other events, and to the British Society of Aesthetics for several travel stipends which allowed me to disseminate my ideas.

Some of the ideas in this book are based on previously published work. Chapter 1 revisits key ideas (and sometimes examples) from my 2018 article ‘A Definition of Satire (And Why a Definition Matters)’ in Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 76(3), 319–330. Chapters 3 and 5 elaborate on ideas about moral imperfection and ironic characters developed in my 2020 article ‘Irony, Disruption and Moral Imperfection’ in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 23(3), 545–559.


Satire, Comedy and Mental Health: Coping with the Limits of Critique examines how satire helps to sustain good mental health in a troubled socio-political world. Through an interdisciplinary dialogue, which combines approaches from analytic philosophy of art, medical and health humanities, media studies and psychology, Dr Dieter Declercq (University of Kent) frames satire as a resource for coping with a sick world beyond full recovery.

Satire has the purpose to critique and entertain – which explains the genre’s infamous ambiguity. Critique is a moral activity which opposes social wrongness, while entertainment involves leisurely enjoying aesthetic pleasures. Satire is, therefore, not the most efficient or impactful means of critique. Yet, instead of curing a sick world, satire helps us cope with it.

Although satire can contribute to social change by motivating activism, satirists also acknowledge that political action is not always successful and that our own resources for critique are not endless. These limits of critique introduce mental health challenges, like depression and neurotic perfectionism, as we must deal with suffering that we cannot alleviate (and to which we may even be complicit).

Satire contributes to coping because its ambiguous combination of critique and entertainment negotiates a balance between care for others and care of self. This book investigates how we can adopt and adapt aesthetic strategies from satire, especially comic irony, to cope with the limits of critique – through philosophical explication and close analysis of satire in various media (including novels, music, TV, film, cartoons, memes, stand-up comedy and protest artefacts).