What Are Some Examples of Social Criticism?

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Social criticism appears in many media, with art, music, literature and academics often being the most conspicuous sources. Among the most famous literary works of social criticism are George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” and “Hard Times,” Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” In the realm of painting, many works of social criticism are found within the movement called “social realism.”

By general definition, social criticism is any utterance or mode of criticism that exposes and delineates sources of social evil or injustice. Often such works need to be placed within the historical context that produced them. Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” for example, seeks to expose the hypocrisy and failure of communism’s application in the 20th century, whereas Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” highlights the evils of mid-19th century American slavery.

In music, social criticism is a dominant element within the rebellious spirit of punk rock, as well as in the frequently analytical and racially aware stylizations of rap. In painting, social criticism reaches as far back as the early modernists and impressionists, with painters such as Manet and Toulouse-Latrec depicting the hopeless lot of the absinthe drinker.

In the United States, social realism really took root during the Great Depression era when members of the famous Ashcan School offered glimpses of poverty and urban life without romanticization. In academics, some of the most prominent social critics come from the Marxist tradition, such as the Frankfurt School, and focus on the perceived abuses and cultural hegemony of capitalist society.