A popular literary and artistic device, satire is more than a comic medium. Although most satirical pieces are humorous, satire is first and foremost a method of social criticism. The genre–which can be found in everything from poetry and fiction to film and TV–utilizes a variety of literary devices to expose societal and political shortcomings, These devices may include hyperbole, parody, exaggeration, imitation, and sarcasm. The genre has a rich literary history, English examples of which can be found as early as medieval England. It was especailly popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, and many renowned writers, including Alexander Pope, Jonathan Taylor, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain, established themselves as biting satirists. Today, the genre has expanded into all forms of media and literature.
The workplace is one of the most popularly satirized subjects; it is something with which nearly everyone can relate, and it serves as a metaphor for consumerism and society as a whole. Shepherd Mead’s How to Succeed… and the subsequent Broadway musical are part of a long tradition of workplace humor. Below are some other popular examples of comedic office films, books, stories, and more:
1936: Modern Times. Charlie Chaplin stars as an assembly-line worker driven insane by the monotony of his job. After a long spell in an asylum, he searches for work, only to be mistakenly arrested as a Red agitator. Released after foiling a prison break, Chaplin makes the acquaintance of orphaned gamine (Paulette Goddard), becomes her friend and protector, and must take on several new jobs for her benefit. The film permits ample space for several of the comedian’s most memorable routines: the “automated feeding machine,” a nocturnal roller-skating episode, and Chaplin’s double-talk song rendition in the nightclub sequence.
1956: The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. A cinemadaptation of Sloan Wilson’s best-selling novel The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit stars Gregory Peck as an ex-army officer, pursuing a living as a TV writer in the postwar years. Hired by a major broadcasting network, Peck is assigned to write speeches for the network’s president (Fredric March). He comes to realize that the president’s success has come at the expense of personal happiness.
1960: The Apartment. Jack Lemmon plays C.C. Baxter, a go-getting office worker who loans his tiny apartment to his philandering superiors for their romantic trysts. He runs into trouble when he finds himself sharing a girlfriend (Shirley MacLaine) with his callous boss (Fred MacMurray). Directed and co-written by Billy Wilder Later adapted by Neil Simon and Burt Bacharach into the 1969 Broadway musical Promises, Promises.
1994: The Hudsucker Proxy. Tim Robbins stars as Norville Barnes, a dull-wit from Muncie, Indiana who wrangles a job with the big Hudsucker Industries. He has a singular idea for a new children’s toy that he wants to present to corporate executive Sidney J. Mussberger (Paul Newman). As he makes his way up to Mussberger’s office, the company president Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning) is on his way down — through the window of the forty-fourth floor boardroom. Hudsucker’s death sets off a panic that Mussberger sees as an opportunity for taking over the company — by installing a total incompetent in Hudsucker’s place and devaluing the stock.
1999: Office Space. Directed by Mike Judge, this cult classic takes a dark and comedic look at the world of cubicle farms and bureaucracy. After a botched hypnosis session, Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), a disillusioned computer programmer, decides to take revenge on his soulless company
2005-2013: The Office: Based on the UK program of the same name, the American TV show followed the daily activities of office employees at the Scranton, PA branch of the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.