A LESSON PLAN ON SOCIAL SATIRE featuring:
THE INVENTION OF LYING
SUBJECTS — ELA: Social Satire;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Romantic Relationships;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Caring.
Age: 13+; MPAA rating PG-13 (for language, including some sexual material, and a drug reference); 2009, 100 minutes; color; Available from Amazon.com.
Note to Teachers: The introduction and the assignments are suitable for any film that contains social satire. Discussion Questions 1 - 3 are particular to The Invention of Lying. Discussion questions 4 and 5 are suitable for use with any film.
Description: This warm-hearted comedy presents an alternate universe which is the same as the modern day U.S. except that no one knows how to lie and everyone speaks exactly what comes into their heads. There are no "white lies," there is no fiction, and everyone can be absolutely trusted. There is also no religion.
Rationale for Using the Movie: This humorous film is an excellent example of social satire, a literary genre that began with the plays of Aristophanes and has continued in all art forms through the ages. Examples in literature include, Candide, Gulliver's Travels, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Catch 22. This film, like all good social satire, has meaning beyond the laugh, spoofing social status, social conventions, religion, advertising, and more.
Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students will learn about social satire through exposure to an excellent example of the genre. Students will examine how the techniques of satire work and exercise their skills in literary analysis and writing.
Possible Problems: Minor: There are references to masturbation and sex. Like all good social satire, The Invention of Lying challenges strongly held beliefs and important institutions, including religion. It will infuriate some, but give new perspectives to all.
LEARNING GUIDE MENU
AN INTRODUCTION TO SOCIAL SATIRE
Social satire can be introduced through direct instruction or by having students research the genre and provide examples for the class in various forms of expression such as the visual arts, literature, drama, music, television, film, political cartoons, comic strips, and jokes. The class can be divided into groups and assigned to find and present to the class an example of social satire in each of these forms. Other groups of students can be asked to report on how satire works.An excellent way to start any presentation about social satire is to show the following picture.
Ask the class the question, "What is this artist trying to tell us?"
Tell the class that this is an example of a genre of art called "social satire", which is the effort to use humor in a way that makes us look at our lives, our institutions, or our culture in a different way. Social satire exposes the contradictions and foibles in our institutions, our society, and ourselves.
Techniques of social satire include irony, hyperbole, demonstrating incongruity, for example showing the differences between how we behave and what we say we believe in, and fantasy.
Ask students to give specific examples of social satire on television, in movies or from books they have read. [Examples can come from TV programs such as The Simpsons, Southpark, Family Guy, movies like Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, poetry, such as "The Unknown Citizen" by W.H. Auden, or literature such as Catch-22, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Animal Farm, Gulliver's Travels, Don Quixote, Candide, Mark Twain's "A Toast to the Oldest Inhabitant . . .", Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, "Game" by Donald Bartholemew, "A Modest Proposal" by Jonathan Swift, "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, and "The Princess in the Tin Box" by James Thurber].
Tell the class that one of the earliest practitioners of social satire was a Greek playwright named Aristophanes, who poked fun at the gullibility and greed of the people of Athens in their willingness to follow whichever leader promised them the most food and benefits.
There are magazines and websites devoted to social satire. One website is The Onion.
Many cartoons and comic strips are works of social satire. Doonsbury is an example. Political cartoons can contain social satire. Jokes are a source of social satire.
An Exercise in Social Satire on Both Sides of the Political Spectrum:
Have students compare this series of short jokes:Note to Teachers. Different levels of students will appreciate different levels of humor. The following exercise is suitable for honors or AP level classes. If the class does not have the background or frame of reference to appreciate what follows, try using the "Only in America" jokes in Discussion Question #4. Another alternative is to ask the class to find jokes that are examples of social satire. Be sure to instruct students that racist and sexist jokes or jokes demeaning a particular nationality or the handicapped are not acceptable.
You know that you are on the left side of the political spectrum if:
Humor is based on an incongruity between what is expected and what occurs. Just think of the punch line of the last joke that you heard. But humor is funniest when it relates to something which troubles us, consciously or subconsciously, and allows us to discharge some of the mental energy that is generated when we think about those topics or when we repress what troubles us.
Thus, at the opening of the movie, The Invention of Lying, a worker is shown calling in sick, telling the people at work what he is really thinking, "I'm not sick, I just hate it there." The incongruity is stating what he really feels in a situation in which, in real life, no one would do that. The bit works, because we've all wanted to call in sick or stay home from school or not gone to a family event, not due to illness, but because "We hate it there!" However, we've controlled ourselves and kept to the lie or gone anyway and those actions built up mental energy surrounding the idea of calling in sick which is released by this little comedic sketch.
After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.
1. In a world in which everyone believes everything you say without question, what would you do? Would you tell "white lies" to avoid hurt feelings? Would you lie about anything important? Suggested Response: There is no one correct response.
2. When Anna interrupted her wedding asked Mark to tell her what the man in the sky wanted her to do, why wouldn't Mark tell her? After all, she would have believed him without question. Suggested Response: He didn't want her to choose to marry him based on a lie. The marriage would have felt false all his life.
3. In what ways does Mark misuse his power to lie? Suggested Response: To steal money from banks and casinos and to make up stories that he sells as the literal truth. It can also be argued that in making up a religion based on "the man in the sky," Mark was abusing his power. On the other hand, he thought he was just trying to make people feel better about their lives and deaths. Otherwise, Mark was pretty good about not using his power to lie to his own advantage or to hurt people.
4. Ask students the point behind each of the following "Only in America" jokes. One is not an example of social satire. Ask students to identify it.
Only in America:
5. Identify a work of social satire that the class has read or watched and ask students to identify the values sought to be promoted in that work.
Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:
1. Students can be asked to bring to class one example of social satire from three different modes of expression and to write a short description of the moral or reformist point behind each example.
2. If you believe that the satire in the movie is in any respect off the mark and makes fun of something that you hold dear or agree with, describe the scenes in the movie that relate to this and why you believe the criticism to be unwarranted.
3. Take three attitudes or customs of our society that are satirized in the movie and describe the scene and what is being satirized.
4. Students can create a work of social satire and present it to the class. This can be a drawing, a skit, a poem, a song, a dance or however they want to express themselves.
This Lesson Plan was written by James Frieden and last revised on April 21, 2013.
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