Satire as a Rhetorical Mode

Satire--through the exaggeration of mistaken beliefs or actions to the point where they are obviously ridiculous, satire aims to correct, by exposure or ridicule, deviations from normal conduct or reasonable opinion

Example One

The example below is a fairly straightforward persuasive argument that aims to place blame for the majority of the world's environmental problems on a small minority of affluent people who consume vastly more than their fellow humans, at great environmental cost to all. Please read this excerpt and consider its effectiveness.

Consumption Dwarfs Population as Main Environmental Threat

It's overconsumption, not population growth, that is the fundamental problem: By almost any measure, a small portion of the world's people--those in the affluent, developed world--use up most of the Earth's resources and produce most of its greenhouse gas emissions.

by Fred Pearce, excerpted from Environment360, April 13, 2009

By almost any measure, a small proportion of the world's people take the majority of the world's resources and produce the majority of its pollution.

Take carbon dioxide emissions--a measure of our impact on climate but also a surrogate for fossil fuel consumption. Stephen Pacala, director of the Princeton Environment Institute, calculates that the world's richest half-billion people--that's about 7 percent of the global population--are responsible for 50 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile the poorest 50 percent are responsible for just 7 percent of emissions.

The United States always gets singled out. But for good reason: It is the world's largest consumer. Americans take the greatest share of most of the world's major commodities: corn, coffee, copper, lead, zinc, aluminum, rubber, oil seeds, oil, and natural gas. For many others, Americans are the largest per-capita consumers. In "super-size-me" land, Americans gobble up more than 120 kilograms of meat a year per person, compared to just 6 kilos in India, for instance.

Sustaining the lifestyle of the average American takes 9.5 hectares, while Australians and Canadians require 7.8 and 7.1 hectares respectively; Britons, 5.3 hectares; Germans, 4.2; and the Japanese, 4.9. The world average is 2.7 hectares. China is still below that figure at 2.1, while India and most of Africa (where the majority of future world population growth will take place) are at or below 1.0.

Example Two

Please watch the following clip from the Monty Python film "The Meaning of Life" and formulate answers to the following questions:
  1. What is the rhetorical aim of the sketch?
  2. Can it be understood to be making a point similar to Example One?
  3. How is it an example of satire?
  4. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each rhetorical mode for influencing opinion?

"A Bucket for Monsieur"