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PWR 2HT: Speaking Ironic Truth to Power: The Rhetoric of Satirical Protest

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Catalog Number: PWR 2HT

Instructor: Harriett Jernigan

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

Prerequisite: PWR 1, ESF, ITALIC 95W, or equivalent


Course Feature: WR-2 requirement

When we plot the arc of history, we mark, among other things, the moments in which people have reached critical mass in speaking truth to power and effected positive change. Though we don’t always achieve immediate social justice when we speak those truths, we gain little to nothing if we don‘t speak at all. Currently, due to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the countless others that have preceded them, we stand at a crossroads in America, where people of color, the marginalized, and the underrepresented are talking back and demanding social justice in larger numbers than ever.

In this writing and speaking course, we will focus on one of those forms of talking back: satire. We’ll explore the characteristics of effective satire, from the mechanics of irony to rhetorical moves typical of the genre. Then, we’ll explore how and when people use satire to challenge racism, misogyny, classism, ableism, homophobia, monolingualism, and other social injustices. We’ll interact with performances, speeches, art works, and writings from, among others, Key and Peele, Winphe, Binyavanga Wainaina, Kishon, The Onion, McSweeney’s, and The Root to see those characteristics in action.

Using an interdisciplinary lens, you’ll focus on an issue related to satire that aligns with your passions. You can, for example, examine the differences between sarcasm and irony, how satire has evolved over time, ethnic and/or cultural influences on satirical protest, or the role satire plays in current social justice movements. Once you have completed your research and crafted an argument, you’ll present them in a presentation that employs new modes in written and oral communication. We’ll hone our skills in organization, body language, and visual representation through a variety of activities in and outside of class.

Major Assignments

Research Proposal

(5-minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words) You’ll propose a research project that explores some aspect of satire as a form of protest. For example, you might explore the new roles adopted by satirical outlets like The Onion or McSweeney’s. You could examine how satire functions on Tik-Tok and Twitter, or how satirists such as Trevor Noah and Key and Peele interrogate racism or classism.

Written Research-Based Argument

(10-12 pages or 3000-3600 words of research-based writing) You’ll create and write a nuanced argument based on your proposal that incorporates a range of sources. Your argument will contribute in some manner to a larger conversation about protest and social justice.

Delivery of research

(10 minutes of live oral presentation with multimedia support) You’ll translate your research-based argument about protest and satire into a live oral presentation using multimedia support.

Genre/Modes Assignment

You’ll translate your research and argument into an alternate mode or genre, such as a short story, a podcast, an op-ed, a video, or infographic.