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Satire in American Culture


Admission requirements



Brief introductory description of the course. Please include course subject and teaching materials used.
This interdisciplinary course surveys the techniques, traditions, and issues of American satire across many media, focusing on notable political and rhetorical moments from Jack Downing in the early 19th Century to Stephen Colbert and Michael Moore in the 21st. Examples range from fiction, verse, and comics in print (including Mark Twain and Pogo); and television sketches, situation comedies, and film on screen (including Chappelle’s Show, The Simpsons, Michael Moore, and Mel Brooks); to stand-up comedy in public performances at the White House Correspondents’ Club (Stephen Colbert and others). All reflect the robust direct, explicit, and often vicious and vulgar critique of governmental institutions, policies, and officials enabled by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of speech, association, and assembly. The course will balance attention to examples’ ideological and rhetorical dimensions (including Manifest Destiny and vernacular expression), focus on the representation of controversies such as the Civil War and post-9/11 politics, and examination of recurrent themes such as women’s rights and satiric gambits such as the mock presidential candidacies of radio humorist and film star Will Rogers (1928), cartoon character Pogo Possum (1952 & 1956), Mad magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman (1960), and mock-pundit Stephen Colbert (2012). In this way and others, the history of American satire also traces American social, political, and media history.

Course objectives

The student can:

  • interpret and reflect critically on American satiric texts and performances in varied media and forms;

  • organize and use relatively large amounts of information in the preparation of a written analysis of a satiric example, including an argument of its historical and ideological significance.
    The student has:

  • knowledge of major rhetorical and ideological traditions of American satire in literary, graphic, film, and performance genres from the early national period to the present.

  • knowledge of American satiric discourse at key historical moments (e.g., the Civil War) and on major themes (e.g., minority and women’s rights, the ordinary citizen, American exceptionalism).


The timetable will be available by June 1st on the

Mode of instruction


Course Load

A brief calculation of the course load, broken down by: – Total course load for the course (number of EC x 28 hours), for a course of 5 EC is 140 hours, for 10 EC 280.

Total course load for the course (10 EC x 28 hours): 280.

  • Lectures & seminar discussion: 13 × 2 hours = 26 hours

  • Time studying the required literature and viewing films & videos: 140 hours

  • Time to prepare for midterm exam, writing assignment (proposal), and research paper (including reading and research): 124

Assessment method

To complete the final mark, please take notice of the following:

  • Participation in seminar discussion, including written questions (5%) and oral contributions (10%)

  • Midterm essay exam (30%)

  • Proposal for final research paper (10%)

  • Analytical research essay of about 2500 words (45%)

Resit: if the final grade is insufficient, students will have to rewrite the essay.


There will be a Blackboard module for the course, which contains relevant course information such as the weekly reading and assignments. Since Blackboard makes use of umail for communication, students are advised to forward their umail to their regular email address:

Reading list

The following texts need to be purchased:


  • Alexie, Sherman. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. 20th Anniversary Edition. Grove Press, 2013. 978-0802121998.

  • Roth, Philip. The Plot Against America. 2004. New York: Vintage, 2005. 978-0099478560.

  • Schuyler, George S. Black No More. New York: Modern Library, 1999. 9780375753800.

  • Twain, Mark. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. 1889. Edited by Bernard L. Stein. The Works of Mark Twain, vol. 9. 3rd. rev. ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. 978-0520268166. Note that this edition, prepared by the editors of the Mark Twain Project, has all the original illustrations commissioned and selected by Mark Twain as well as extensive historical and textual information.


  • Kelly, Walt. Pogo: The Complete Daily & Sunday Comic Strips, Vol. 1: Through the Wild Blue Wonder. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics, 2011. 978-1-56097-869-5.

  • McGruder, Aaron._ A Right to Be Hostile: The Boondocks Treasury_. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003. 9781400048571.

Purchase of these books is required and the assigned texts have to be brought to class. Make sure you have the right edition.

Other resources (not to be purchased)
Out-of-print works in the public domain and required scholarly articles will be provided via Blackboard.
Several films and television shows will be screened; other videos will be assigned for viewing on Internet sites such as YouTube.


Students should register through uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


Prof. dr. Judith Yaross Lee