I Tried to Write a Genre Guide to Satirical Cosmo Snapchat Articles and You Won’t Believe What Happened

Coming out of my last experiment cycle, I knew I needed to narrow my topic. By deciding to do a vignette collection I spent a lot of time thinking about overarching themes and not enough thinking about the details of each vignette and what specifically I wanted to communicate with them. For this experiment cycle, I had to be more decisive not just about what, specifically, I wanted to communicate, but also what exactly is the topic I’m writing about.

So, I’m going to write a satire in the form of an article similar to what you would see in the Cosmopolitan magazine’s Snapchat story. Cosmo is a casual, chatty fashion magazine aimed at a mainly female audience. The company overview on their Facebook page describes the magazine “a bible for fun, fearless females … Cosmopolitan delivers the latest news on men and love, work and money, fashion and beauty, health, self-improvement and entertainment.”

Cosmo and a few other platforms like Buzzfeed have adopted a “I did ___ for a week and [insanely click-baity result] happened!!” style. The structure follows the day by day drama of “wearing Instagram makeup” or “living like Queen Elizabeth” for a week (both real articles by the way). For my experiment, I’m going to write an article following this structure, specifically, “I went without makeup for 7 days and here’s what happened.”

Satire is both genre and literary device. According to Literary Devices.net, it’s used to expose and critique society. I think we are most familiar with satire as in a comedic, if still political, context (think Daily Show, John Oliver, The Onion, some Saturday Night Live sketches etc.) However, there are several types of satire. Here are two of the most well-known categories:

Horatian: The primary goal here is humor, not social change or critique. Rather, the focus on the absurdities of human life, hopefully offering the reader some personal insight or at least a laugh at themselves.

Juvenalian: Bitter, ironic criticism often full of moral indignation and pessimism. For example, A Modest Proposal is a Juvenalian satire.

I want my satire to be comedic, but it’s important to me to make a meaningful, nuanced commentary on women, makeup, and societal standards. To accomplish this, I will use satirical techniques, listed and described here, to push beauty standards to a logical extreme.

In my research for this post, I’m finding that the most effective satires are the ones that tend to make you uncomfortable. The classic example is A Modest Proposal, but there are others. For example, this article from The Onion, “Wealthy Teen Nearly Experiences Consequence,” is has it’s funny moments, but it’s mostly unsettling when you think about how close it is to reality. This satirical makeup tutorial, Getting a Man 101, is funny more than anything, but while watching it, the viewer, at least the makeup wearing viewer, is prompted to think about why we wear it.

The challenge going forward is definitely going to be finding a balance between the hilariously absurd and the more nuanced criticism of society I hope to make with this piece. Hopefully by employing some satirical techniques and keeping my focus in mind, I’ll be able to keep that balance in check

How to Write a Vignette

My origin piece is a poem I wrote in high school for an assignment based on the Allen Ginsberg poem “C’mon Pigs of Western Civilization Eat More Grease.” The goal was to focus on themes of excess, like Ginsberg, so I wrote about makeup in the context of high school and adolescence.

If I’m being honest, it’s a terrible piece of writing. My knowledge of free verse poetry was limited to what we’d covered in class. The structure is a glaring indication that I had no idea what I was doing. The purpose is vague and undefined. Then there’s the fact that the Ginsberg poem I based my poem on was written for spoken word. I cringe at the idea of my poem being read, much less read aloud. Not to mention that it’s riddled with teen angst.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yeah, it’s not great.

Despite all that, I think there is a salvageable topic among the wreckage here. For my first experiment, I want to write a collection of vignettes about the culture surrounding makeup and beauty. I’ve only attempted to write vignettes once before for an assignment after reading Sandra Cisneros’s House on Mango Street, which is the only vignette collection I’ve read. I did what anyone does when they aren’t sure what something is. I typed “vignette” in Google, and my search produced two definitions:

  1. “a brief evocative description, account, or episode.”
  2. “a small illustration or portrait photograph that fades into its background without a definite border”

The word “vignette” is familiar to a lot of people as a tool in Instagram’s photo editing.

The setting blurs the edges to draw the eye to a specific focal point of the image, which is not far from the definition of “vignette” as a literary device or genre. Vignettes are not limited to written word. They can also be used in photography or even in film like in Sam Wright’s 11-vignette comedy, Coffee and Cigarettes. The HGTV website even uses vignette as an interior decorating technique in guide called “8 Tips for Making Beautiful Vignettes.”

For my experiment, I will be focusing on written vignettes like in House on Mango Street, but no matter the medium, all vignettes have a few key qualities:

Vignettes must have a singular focus.

Literarydevices.net defines vignette as a short essay, focusing on a particular moment, mood, setting, or object. In vignette photography, this quality is a literal one, with the focal point of the image being sharp against a blurred background with darkened edges. In written vignettes, like in House on Mango Street, each vignette is focused on one thing, like a particular character, or the house the narrator lives in.

Vignettes can be fiction or nonfiction, but they have to be short.

Writersrelief.com advises that, while there is no hard cut off, a vignette should not be longer than two thousand words. Some of Cisneros’s vignettes are as short as a few hundred words. However …

A vignette is not a short story or flash fiction.

According to Vine Leaves Literary Journal, a vignette is distinct from these genres. Where short story and flash fiction require defined structure and plot, a vignette is more about leaving an impression through “poetic description.”

If part of a collection, it should have a unifying thread.

A collection of vignettes should have a universal theme running through each piece to tie them all together. Each snapshot should somehow relate to the others to create a bigger more complete idea.

Bonus vignette fun facts:

  • The word “vignette” comes from nineteenth-century French writers who drew images of vines on their title pages.
  • The app Vine originates from the word “vignette,” since (if you’re using the definition loosely) Vines are essentially 6-second video vignettes.

Putting it all together:

Here is an excerpt from the vignette “My Name” from Cisneros’s House on Mango Street.

Cleary, the vignette has a singular focus: the narrator’s name. It only goes on for a couple more paragraphs, so it’s short. Cisneros uses poetic descriptions of the narrator’s name, Esperanza, to give an impression of her character. While the unifying thread isn’t necessarily clear from reading this one excerpt, I know from reading the whole collection that two major themes in House on Mango Street are gender and identity, which are woven into this piece.

I think the biggest challenges for me will be breaking away from the framework of plot and structure and being intentional with my details. Exploring my topic through the frame of a vignette will allow me to strip down the topic to a universal theme. Moving forward with these guidelines is at least a step in the right direction of that goal.

 

Introduction: Who am I?

My name is Caitlyn. My mom once told me that if I were a boy, she would have named me Christian. I’m not named after anyone in particular, my mom just likes names that end with ‘n’. Hence, my older sister’s name is Allyson. Then there’s my last name, Zawideh, which puts me at the end of every alphabetical list I’ve ever been on. I was always last to take my yearbook photo in school. Alphabetically assigned seats always put me in the back of the room. My locker was always at the very end of the hallway. I don’t mind being at the end of the alphabet so much now. Yearbook photos and locker placement are no longer things I need to worry about.

Once, I asked my dad what our last name means. He told me he couldn’t remember exactly, but it might mean “great” or “great ones,” something like that.

We called his mom to ask, and she replied, “Great, good, some of us are okay.”

Names are always the first thing we think to give in an introduction, and they are important insofar that people know how to address you, but other than that, they say nothing about who you are as a person. When we are asked to give an introduction, we are answering the question “Who am I?” If given enough time, this question can easily become an existential one. Instead of dwelling on the existential, here are some icebreaker-eque fun facts:

  • I’m a Sophomore studying Computer Science
  • I transferred here last semester from Michigan State
  • My favorite movie is Baby Driver 
  • Once, a Buzzfeed quiz told me if I were a character on Friends I would be Rachel.
  • Buzzfeed should know that I’m a Chandler.
  • If I found a genie in a bottle that would grant me three wishes, my first wish would definitely be to write better introductions.