What distinguishes a satire from a parody? A parody seeks to take one element from a beloved piece of work and comically expand on it. Satire dissects the bigger picture to reveal a more profound message about society and human nature, usually with a far more cynical, wicked, biting, and overall dark sense of humor.
As satire has grown over the years, many of the finest examples in movies and TV have come about in the last five years. TV shows like The White Lotusand Succession or movies like Parasite and Sorry to Bother You have showcased a creative outlet for creators to dissect media and societal issues.
‘The White Lotus’ (2021-)
Every season of this show takes place in a different location of the White Lotus resort chain. Whether in Hawaii or Sicily, the main story follows a week-long vacation made by various guests. As they attempt to relax, it quickly becomes apparent that something is amiss, and tensions begin to reach a breaking point.
Apart from the guests, the hotel and its employees have their secrets. So if one ever fancies a stay at the white lotus, there’s always the guarantee you’ll never be the same when you leave.
The first non-English language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars is a satire that people will not forget anytime soon. A low-income family in South Korea is tired of living in a basement apartment, folding pizza boxes for a living. So to get ahead in life, they get jobs for a wealthy family living in a higher part of the city.
Faking qualifications and preying on the family’s clueless-ness, they succeed. But when they discover their co-workers are hiding their own secrets, the question of whom is the actual parasite becomes more ambiguous.
A dark thriller with proper bite. Tyler Ledford (Nicholas Hoult), a snobby foodie, has been invited to an exclusive fine-dining restaurant on a private island and has brought a companion named Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) with him. They are joined by movie stars, food critics, wealthy people, and others who share Tyler’s attitude and interests.
However, once they’ve arrived, it soon becomes clear that the head chef (Ralph Fiennes) intends to kill them all by the end of the night with every new dish he brings out. But Margot might have what it takes to make it out alive.
‘Sorry to Bother You’ (2018)
Cash Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is desperate for a new job to get out of his uncle’s garage. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to succeed when he becomes a telemarketer for a large corporation until he’s instructed to use his “white voice.” Upon utilizing this new talent, he grows further and further up the company’s ranks. All the while, he becomes involved with the company’s workers attempting to organize a union.
It all builds to a head when Cash discovers the company has a horrifying secret when it comes to treating its employees. But will this literal dehumanization give them the strength to fight back?
‘The Death of Stalin’ (2017)
A self-described comedy of terrors, it takes a funny look at one of the bloodiest periods in human history. For almost 30 years, Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist, ordering the deaths of everyone who stood in his way. So people must always be careful around him, or else they face deadly consequences. And then he dies.
Suddenly the central committee is thrown into chaos as Russia’s politicians attempt to grab the power that’s left. Directed by Veep creator Armando Iannucci, it is put together with his signature blend of political satire and dark humor.
‘Don’t Look Up’ (2021)
Two scientists (Leonardo DiCaprio and Jenifer Lawrence) discover a comet is all set to hit the earth. If it makes contact, all life on earth will be destroyed. It’s up to them to warn the world. The problem is the world either doesn’t care, seeks to keep the comet intact for personal profit, or flat-out denies the comet even exists.
Much of the film’s social commentary takes after more recent responses to things like global warming and the pandemic. Taking inspiration from the likes of Dr. Strangelove and Network, Adam McKay creates a funny but devastatingly sobering depiction of what could happen if we don’t trust the experts.
‘Kevin Can F*** Himself’ (2021-22)
Many beloved sitcoms contain tropes and ideas that would be seen as creepy, weird, and mean when put into reality. But what would happen if a character in such a show began to recognize that? For example, Allison (Annie Murphy) is stuck in a marriage with the boorish man-child Kevin (Eric Petersen).
In front of others, in a multiple-camera sitcom set-up, it’s all funny hijinks- complete with laughter from an unseen studio audience. But in Allison’s private, more cinematic set-up, she has begun to resent her marriage and is desperate to change her life. And she will do anything to ensure Kevin’s out of her life.
‘The Boys’ (2019-)
In a world full of superheroes, there’s one team that reigns above them all – The Seven. They are shining examples of heroism, bravery, and kindness. But behind closed doors, they engage in acts of hedonism, depravity, and downright sociopathic behavior.
So it’s up to a rogue group of vigilante criminals to stop them and the corporation they work for – Vought. Based on the comics by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, it gleefully and violently dissects the conventional tropes of superhero stories. Instead, it puts them in a world where the almighty dollar reigns over all, power corrupts, and most people are not pure of heart.
The Weystar RoyCo media empire is run by the Roy family, led by their patriarch, Logan Roy (Brian Cox). But as the older man’s health begins to fade, the family must step up to the plate.
Of course, as a result of being raised in such a beneficial environment, every member of this dynasty is spoiled to the core and willing to do anything to get what they want. Soon they begin a mad scramble full of backstabbing and deception to gain their own footing in the company.
What We Do in The Shadows – The Series (2019-)
While leering on the side of straight parody, this series does do a satiric takedown of the image of vampires. Based on the beloved 2014 film by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, this series follows a group of vampires living as roommates in modern-day Staten Island. In addition, it parodies endless amounts of vampire depictions in pop culture, from Nosferatu to Twilight.
But in doing so, it reveals a sobering truth – vampires are beings that are stuck in time, unable to grow emotionally as people and learn from their mistakes, and unable to adapt appropriately to a modern age. In other words, being a vampire truly sucks.