Satire in Action

I witnessed the 1964-1965 Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkeley. At issue was the administration’s ban on on-campus political activities, which the students protested was an infringement on their right to free speech and academic freedom. Over the course of that year, the police arrested hundreds of protesters.

Sometimes, a protest took the form of satire. One particularly imaginative student sat at a card table on the sidewalk in front of the Student Union, displaying a sign that read “phucque.” This was his creative way of spelling a word that the university administration had censored.

When I asked him what he hoped to accomplish, he replied, “I just want to see if they arrest me.” As far as I know, he wasn’t arrested–maybe because of the unique spelling and because he never said the word out loud.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the Free Speech Movement began using “confront” as a euphemism for the forbidden word. Apparently unaware of the euphemism, the Chancellor of the university began a public address about the administration’s position with the words, “We really want to confront the students on this issue.”

Here’s part of the definition of satire:

In satire, human or individual vices, follies, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque, irony, or other methods, ideally with the intent to bring about improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be funny, the purpose of satire is not primarily humor in itself so much as an attack on something of which the author strongly disapproves, using the weapon of wit.


Tara Treasurefield
Tara’s Writing Studio


About 123clear

I translate foggy information into plain English.
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