Social commentary

Social commentary

Social commentary is the act of rebelling against a government by means of rhetorical propaganda. This is most often done with the idea of implementing or promoting change by informing the general populace about a given problem and appealing to people's sense of justice.

Two examples of strong and bitter social commentary are the writings of Jonathan Swift and Martin Luther. Swift exposed and decried the appalling poverty in Ireland at the time, which was viewed as the fault of the British government. Luther initiated the Protestant Reformation against practices of the Catholic Church.

Writers who engage in social criticism are commonly well-educated members of the upper classes but might also come from the lower social strata, as did Charles Dickens and Will Rogers. Social commentary is not limited to printed forms, as it is commonly practiced through all forms of communication, from conversations to computerised communication.

Forms of social commentary

This list is far from exhaustive. Examples of social commentary may be found in any form of communication. Artistic works of all mediums are often defined by what they say about society. Despite being wordless, the memorable image of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 may be considered one of the most profound commentaries of the power of the individual.

Direct publication

Most famous social commentators have their comments in written form. Such works range from that of religious writers (Martin Luther's treatises), philosophers (Plato's Republic) and politicians (Hitler's "Mein Kampf").

Public speaking

Most public speaking constitutes social commentary of some form. Many sermons will describe the ills of society and offer religious solutions. Many politicians may speak in a similar fashion - in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar one can see Mark Antony's funeral speech as a commentary. The larger audience offered by radio and television has diminished the significance of public speaking as a means of social commentary.


Allegorical fictional works such as Animal Farm and clearly contain a social commentary and one can find some degree of social commentary in almost any novel. To Kill a Mockingbird can be interpreted as a commentary on racial issues, especially given the date of its publication (1960). Another example of social commentary is Thomas More's Utopia in which he uses the Utopia to satirize the values of 16th century Britain. Social commentaries have been searched for even in fantasy novels such as "The Lord of the Rings", though such connections often require much conjecture.

Radio, television and film

Fictional works in these mediums have a similar scope to that of their literary counterparts and documentaries to the non-fiction works described above. Television and films often use powerful images to enhance their message, for example, Michael Moore's films utilise this to great effect in promoting his political beliefs. And to a lesser degree, the prominent Italian exploitation film, Cannibal Holocaust uses graphic violence, shocking imagery, and underlying topics in anthropology to express Ruggero Deodato's distaste for modern society - more importantly - what it has become. West Indian calypsonians participate annually in songwriting competitions with the common use of double entendre, humour and metaphor as well as monikers to avoid legal complications (see Calypso Music).


An early radio monologist was Will Rogers, with sharp (yet good humored) observations upon society (1922- 1935). Current monologists include:
*Jay Leno
*Garrison Keillor
*Jon Stewart
*Stephen Colbert

Discussion shows

There are a number of discussion shows that do not have a call in segments, but which sometimes have discussions (beyond mere interviews) with personages of current interest. Some such shows include:
*Jay Leno
*David Letterman
*Oprah Winfrey

Talk shows (call in)

In the late 20th century through the present, radio and television phone-in shows allow limited discussion and sometimes debate on such issues, although if involving politics or issues exploited for political purposes the discussion is often directed by the "moderator" toward a specific point of view, typically by terminating non-conforming phone calls.

In more balanced forums it is common that a panel of well-known social commentators or experts on aspectc of a topic will respond to comments from listeners after an introductory interactice discussion directed by the moderator, with only the obstreperous or extreme caller sumarrily terminated.

Newspapers and comic books

What is probably the most common social commentary is that of the editorial section of newspapers, where columnists give their opinion on current affairs. The letters section of papers allows a similar platform for members of the public. Editorial cartoons, such as those in "The New Yorker", perform a social commentary, often with a humorous slant.

The conventional comic section is more limited, but sometimes with social commentary, often subtle and oblique, or more bold, abrasive, and consistently pointed as in, Li'l Abner, Pogo, Doonesbury, Bloom County, and Boondocks or in pulp comics such as Howard the Duck. Many other even more explicitly provocative comics (usually with a far left of center point of view) appear in various free weekly newspapers such as the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the East Bay Express (in the San Francisco Bay Area) and the Village Voice (in New York City), and similarly in many other locals, often those with a strong university or college presence.

The Internet

The web performs a similar function to the letters section described above. It is ripe with social commentary because it allows the dissemination of ideas by anyone with a computer to a potentially enormous audience, as well as instant comment and discussion. Its international scope is particularly attractive, with language the only major barrier to communication. Most blogs are social commentaries of a fashion. Discussion and debate occurs in many forums and chat rooms.

The internet is viewed as one of the greatest modern-time advances in terms of freedom of speech and thought; however censorship is not impossible, for example that performed by the authorities in China . W.H. Auden's poetry also served as a medum of social commentary.

Famous social commentators

*Adam Smith
*Bob Dylan
*Brian Merriman
*Charles Dickens
*John Locke
*Karl Marx
*Mark Twain
*Martin Luther
*Martin Luther King Jr.
*Michael Moore
*Oscar Wilde
*St. Thomas Moore
*Will Rogers
*Bill Hicks

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • social commentary — noun a) The expression of ones point of view or feelings towards society, usually through literature. Satire is often employed in social commentary. b) A work of this kind. Nineteen Eighty Four is the best known of Orwells social commentaries …   Wiktionary

  • Social theory — Social analysis redirects here. For the journal, see Social Analysis (journal). Sociology …   Wikipedia

  • commentary — noun 1 on the radio/television ADJECTIVE ▪ brief ▪ live ▪ running (= continuous) ▪ She kept up a running commentary on the festivities. ▪ accompanying …   Collocations dictionary

  • commentary — [[t]kɒ̱məntri, AM teri[/t]] commentaries 1) N VAR A commentary is a description of an event that is broadcast on radio or television while the event is taking place. He gave the listening crowd a running commentary... That programme will include… …   English dictionary

  • Social class in the United States — A monument to the working and supporting classes along Market Street in the heart of San Francisco s Financial District Income in the United States Affluence in the …   Wikipedia

  • Commentary (magazine) — Commentary Editor John Podhoretz Frequency 11 monthly; combined July August issue Circulation 33,000 / month …   Wikipedia

  • Social enterprise — Social enterprises are social mission driven organizations which trade in goods or services for a social purpose. Their aim to accomplish targets that are social and environmental as well as financial is often referred to as having a triple… …   Wikipedia

  • social science — social scientist. 1. the study of society and social behavior. 2. a science or field of study, as history, economics, etc., dealing with an aspect of society or forms of social activity. [1775 85] * * * Any discipline or branch of science that… …   Universalium

  • Social data analysis — is a style of analysis in which people work in a social, collaborative context to make sense of data. The term was introduced by Martin Wattenberg in 2005 [1] On a Social Data Analysis system or network, users store data sets and create visual… …   Wikipedia

  • Social Data Analysis — is a style of analysis in which people work in a social, collaborative context to make sense of data.IntroductionOn a Social Data Analysis system or network, users store data sets and create visual representations. The datasets and… …   Wikipedia