The Ultimate Question

Voltaire, a French Enlightenment writer and satirist, says to “judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”  Following that statement, I will provide a few answers.  My first answer is Douglas Adams’ novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  One of the story’s more memorable plot points involves the relationship between questions and answers, and how the search for answers seems to only turn up more questions. In the novel, mice are “hyperintelligent pandimensional beings” who sanctioned the creation of Earth, and performed experiments on humans.

pinky_brain

They cancelled the show when they realized we were onto something.

The humans were so obsessed with finding the meaning of life that they built Deep Thought, the second most intelligent computer ever to have existed, and asked it to provide the answer to the meaning of life.  Once asked, the computer assured the humans that it must think about the answer for seven and a half million years.  After waiting the allotted time, Deep Thought finally revealed his answer: 42.  The humans were wildly confused, and when asked the meaning of the answer, Deep Thought explained that they weren’t sure of the question they were asking, and once they located the question, the answer would be understood.  Unlike the question posed to Deep Thought, my question promises a much shorter wait time.  What is an example of a work of satire?  A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an example of Horatian satire: the source for much of the novel’s attention is the idea that humans are the center of the universe, and the importance of the human race.  The never-ending quest for the answers to the universe is quite a ridiculous notion, as presented by Adams.  Additionally, the idea that humans are the most intelligent beings is frequently discussed in the novel.  Adams uses techniques such as exaggeration, humor, and irony, which point to existence in the realm of satire.

A work that is humorous but outside of the world of satire is Dracula: Dead and Loving It.  While I will always love the movie and it makes me laugh, it falls into the realm of parody.  The movie is a spoof, pulling its material from an already existing genre of movies.  The content is too specific to be satire, making fun of Dracula tropes.  The film’s jokes focus on the serious points on which a traditional Dracula film operates, alluding to the main themes but turning them on their head.

A book that I feel blurs the lines of satire is Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  The book criticizes aspects of human society, but it does not do so in a humorous way.  The definition of satire as necessitating humor, exaggeration, irony and ridicule to expose prevailing immorality or foolishness excludes Androids from the label.  As a work of science fiction, many elements of the story are fantastic, and the story that is presented is taken as a fact of the created world. There is a theme of wanting to be seen as something greater than reality.  In the novel, a representation of the ultimate status is the possession of a live animal.  The main character keeps an electric animal in order to keep a front for his neighbors.  His job is to retire androids who were created to serve humans, but went rogue and tried to pose as humans instead.  Androids have an inability to distinguish the meaning of life, in terms of not being able to appreciate the value of a real life.  In this world, Philip K. Dick is critical of those who cannot appreciate that which is natural, and the obsession with social status.  In this way the novel is satirical, as it questions an overarching theme and not a specific subject, but the lack of humor and exaggeration point in another direction.

Having provided three answers to the prompt of a satirical, non satirical, and possibly satirical work, I am left with more questions.  The boundary between satire, humor, and critique is not well defined, and works seem to be somewhat ambiguous.  It is easier to find satire than an absence of it, because the weak definition allows for many different interpretations.  In the search for answers, the questions provide direction.  I feel like the exasperated humans in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; unsure of the questions that will allow the answers to make sense.

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