Metamodern Satire in Contemporary American Literature and Television
In 2002, Linda Hutcheon argued that the postmodern moment has passed, and what developed in its wake must be given a distinct term of its own. Answering this call, Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker posited metamodernism, a movement that, at its heart, is the negotiation between the conflicting objectives of postmodernism and resurgent modernism. Applying this process to the genre of satire, this project proposes a hybrid mode—metamodern satire—that mediates between the equally divergent objectives of its modern and postmodern predecessors. Modernist satire targeted human folly and vice with the objective of societal correction. As postmodernism emerged, the purpose of satire evolved, as its postmodern form replaced correction with destabilization of metanarratives. In this project, I argue that as elements of modernism have resurfaced in the metamodern era, a new theory of satire must be developed to account for satires existing in the liminal space between modernism and postmodernism. To exemplify this mode, this study includes literature from the 2000s, Percival Everett’s Erasure and George Saunders’s “Brad Carrigan, American,” as well as television programs from the 2010s, Shalom Auslander’s Happyish and Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg’s Big Mouth. Collectively, the texts illustrate the way metamodern satire is uniquely suited to negotiate between overlapping calls for postmodern irony and modernist sincerity. I deconstruct the way these satires must first destabilize a social metanarrative, such as neoliberalism or white supremacy, often through the subversion of a symbolic metanarrative, such as advertising or puberty. While this process is often characterized by irony and irreverence, each text eventually sheds these elements to provide a genuinely tendered solution—a return to modernist correction. I argue that the resulting form is one in which destabilization and correction take place in sequence, providing a fertile foundation for the emergence of a new, attendant mode of humor, simultaneously characterized by irreverent cynicism and sincere optimism.