Fall Conference 2010
Comedy and Satire: It’s No Joke
November 12–13, Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa, Stowe, Vermont
This November, the Vermont Humanities Council presents its 37th annual conference, Comedy and Satire: It’s No Joke. From satire’s classical origins, through the golden age in eighteenth century Great Britain, to the brilliance of Mark Twain, and on to modern mass media, satirists in all the arts have wielded razor (and bludgeon) in pursuit not just of humor, but of justice—and just deserts.
As both a literary device and as a genre, satire has been a means of commenting on all manner of failings, from character weaknesses to broad injustice, in order to promote a better world. We will explore these traditions, asking ourselves along the way: How do satire and comedy work? Does satire really achieve its purported purposes? And what is the status of contemporary satire?
On Friday afternoon, Barry Snyder, the former chair of film studies at Burlington College, will examine the roots of satire in film and television, and how those industries have had an impact on satire as a genre. After dinner, New Yorker cartoonist Edward Koren and National Portrait Gallery Director Emeritus and former Director of Prints and Drawings at the Library of Congress Alan Fern will look at satirical drawings and cartoons. A reception (cash bar) will follow, with the opportunity to renew old friendships and meet some of this year’s presenters.
Saturday morning’s opening plenary session features acclaimed Williams College professor Robert Bell’s overview of satire and its limits, followed by Dartmouth Professor Emeritus of Classics James Tatum’s examination of what makes us laugh. Both professors Bell and Tatum will take a longitudinal perspective, drawing on history as well as modern examples.
The afternoon plenary features award-winning British author Claire Harman, who also teaches at both Columbia and Oxford Universities. Her latest book is Jane’s Fame: How Austen Conquered the World. Harman will speak to Austen’s use of satire in her early works, and some of its manifestations in her later and much beloved novels.
Afternoon breakout sessions offer the opportunity to dig more deeply into Swift, Shakespeare, Twain, and others with such accomplished scholars and writers as UVM’s Philip Baruth, Williams’ David L. Smith, Dartmouth’s David Wykes, and our plenary speaker Robert Bell.
The afternoon concludes with a conversation with two writers from the Onion about its comedy, satire, and its sometimes irreverent take on the news of the day.
Comedy and Satire Brochure
Over 230 people attended VHC’s 37th annual fall conference, Comedy and Satire: It’s No Joke at the Stoweflake Resort in Stowe on November 12–13. Presenters including New Yorker cartoonist Edward Koren, critic and author Claire Harman, Williams College professor Robert Bell, writers from the satirical news outlet The Onion—and others—provided attendees a master tour of why we laugh and why satire matters. Thanks to all who attended and helped make the 2010 conference one of the most successful in VHC’s history.
Photos: Gullivers Travels; Onion writers Brian Janosch and Joe Garden brought their own very funny take on current events to their presentation at VHC’s fall conference.