The Effectiveness of Social Satire During 1960’s America

The 1960’s were a consequential time period in American history. The Cold War was at its iciest with multiple occurrences of near catastrophe in world geopolitics, the U.S. was getting involved in Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement was picking up momentum for change, and society was in the midst of a sexual revolution. The cinema of the time period reflected this growing tension and changing ideological shifts, a prime example of which is the so-called ‘satire boom’. During this decade an influx of satirical and black comedy films were produced (the most well-known being Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove). Popular culture is immensely important in shaping societal attitude and norms, and well as crafting a culture’s identity. Studying this specific genre of films gives an insight into exactly what was changing about American views in the 1960’s and pinpointing any stagnation.

While  many historians and critics like to focus on the implications of the political mockery of satirical films (especially their condemnation of American foreign policy), I’m more interested in the social critique authors imbued these films with. Humor that causes audiences to think critically towards themselves and their own lives is extremely powerful. Many of the satire films of the era took shots at outdated sexual morals, unfair social hierarchy, and race relations. However, while watching I noticed there was a lack of women and people of color being portrayed in these films and even if they were it was in minuscule roles. How can satire’s social mockery be as productive as the political mockery given the fact that so many voices are left out? To what extent does this kind of satire, even in its most progressive moments actually work as a system of silencing if steps were not taken to include diverse viewpoints? This is where I plan to direct my research of the 1960’s ‘satire boom’.

Mind Map

My mind map details the areas I need to address in my RBA. First of all, I need to acknowledge the current academic discussion. Then I want to go on to discussing the power and importance of social satire, followed by a brief discussion of central films. To determine the actual effect these movies might have had, I am going to look at critical reviews, polls, and box office demographics.


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