Chilling Effects

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Publishing Law Center





A serious blog about satire in the news, free speech, and the media.



Satirists and their work from days past.


Tilting at Windmills: Cervantes and the Modern Satirical Novel

November 17, 2008

Don Quixote looms large in our cultural consciousness; most people are familiar with the phrase 'tilting at windmills', indicating a futile activity. But at the time Miguel Cervantes published the story of the dutiful knight with a sadly feeble grip on reality it was not a simple comedy, but rather a searing satire that put an end, once and for all, to the doggedly enduring pretenses of the chivalric world.

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The Angry 2000-Year-Old Man: Juvenal's Satires

October 15, 2007

Western civilization owes a great deal to the Roman Empire, not least the tradition of complaining vigorously about society's ills through satire. Juvenal is one of the best known Roman satirists. Although the society about which he complained may seem foreign today, the common human failings of greed, incompetence, and hypocrisy are timeless, and his anger against these seems just as vibrant today as it did two thousand years ago.

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Trading Rattlesnakes for Felons (A Proposal from Ben Franklin)

December 12, 2005

Benjamin Franklin is well known as one of the most personable of America's Founding Fathers. Most people are aware that in addition to his role as statesman, he produced such sundry publications as "Poor Richard's Almanac." But many people today may not be aware that Franklin was in fact a very accomplished satirist who published a range of lauded essays and letters throughout his life aimed at social and political targets far and wide.

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Perspectives: Jonathan Swift's Modest Proposal

(October, 2005) There are few if any works of satire in the English language as well known as Jonathan Swift's infamous 1729 essay, A Modest Proposal. In this work Swift, a passionate supporter of Irish human rights, suggests with straight-faced aplomb that the most economical way to deal with Ireland's simultaneous problems of famine, poverty and overpopulation would be to sell and eat surplus children. While many today have probably heard of the work, it is not widely read outside literature classrooms. But this piece bears a second look for those involved in online satire and parody.

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Satire News of Yesteryear: Mark Twain, "Journalist"

(June, 2004) Over a century before the first satire news website went online, Mark Twain was making a name for himself with spoof news stories slipped into newspapers in Virginia and California. Then, as now, many readers failed to perceive the satire. It was because of these early experiences, no doubt, that he came to the conclusion that "a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes," and subsequently embarked on one of the most remarkable writing careers in American history.

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