Satire is shaping the next generation of american citizens

Dec 19, 2012

(Phys.org)—Satire has always played an important role in democracy, but acurrent group of television satirists are more influential than ever with American citizens, particularly younger ones, according to a Penn State researcher.

Sophia McClennen, professor of international affairs and , said that and Jon Stewart, like Jonathan Swift and Benjamin Franklin before them, use satire and parody to poke fun at politics and society with the hope that the humorincreases awareness and motivates change.

"What satire does is reveal the folly of the human condition and most, but not all, of satire has a political angle to it," said McClennen. "Satire is different from typical political humor because it demands critical reflection on the part of the audience, so the laughter isn't the end of the joke."

McClennen writes in her book, Colbert's America (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), that Colbert's type of satire is playing an important role in because, in a media environment with a 24-hour news cycle that increasingly blends news and entertainment to attract viewers, young people are seeking more engaging sources of news and information.

's Colbert Report and Jon Stewart Show are not just popular entertainment shows with the younger generation, according to McClennen, they are also cited by younger viewers as important news sources. She said that the ability of these comedians to entertain, while prompting critical reflection is the key to raising awareness about political and social issues discussed on the shows.

"I think what's happening is, younger views are tuning into the Colbert Report, and then after the show they are going out and actively looking into the issues," said McClennen.

As an example of Colbert's ability to stir activism, she writes that he has instigated campaigns from the silly—naming a Hungarian bridge after himself—to the serious—donating to Japanese tsunami relief—that were embraced by his fans.

McClennen writes that Colbert's show averages more than a million viewers for each episode, and he has more than 1.9 million Twitter followers. In 2008, when Colbert briefly ran for president, he had a million Facebook users sign up to back his campaign.

Colbert does a twist on satire by adding parody to his routine, McClennen said. The comedian portrays a conservative television commentator modeled on Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly.

"He has to be the thing he doesn't like, the guy he detests," said McClennen. "Colbert is essentially saying, 'you have been suckered into pundit culture, then I'm going to be the biggest pundit there is.'"

Colbert has been able to not only raise awareness, but change the dialogue at times, too. He coined terms like, "truthiness" to describe when people believe something without facts to support it and "wikiality" to describe the ability to edit out parts of reality that people do not like.

McClennen writes that several factors are increasing the importance of the Colbert Report and other showsthat use political satire. The rise of fundamentalist religious groups, theincreasing power of corporations in the media and a deep divide between political parties are harming the democratic process in the country, McClennen said.

"These are harming the democracy in a pretty direct way," she said.

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User comments : 7

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jonnyboy
1.6 / 5 (7) Dec 19, 2012
idiocy, nothing but idiocy.
rc_yvr
2 / 5 (4) Dec 19, 2012
Thinking for Dummies: a how not to guide.
Shinobiwan Kenobi
1.6 / 5 (7) Dec 20, 2012
I take it both of you knuckle-draggers are fans of Drudge, O'Reilly, Hannity, Beck, Limbaugh, and/or Fox News. Congratulations, it is because of your unquestioning nature that viewers of satirists are more informed than fans of pundits and conservative media. Remember when Rove's brain almost exploded when Obama won? That's a direct result of living in a bubble and ignoring the inconvenient truth that's directly and readily available for anyone willing to dig past sensationalism and out right propaganda.

High-five, tardies! <3 <3 =^-^=
Tausch
2 / 5 (4) Dec 20, 2012
Thirty years and going strong*
*Without TV/radio.
What am I missing in life?
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Dec 20, 2012
If politicians and news networks were doing their jobs then satirists would not have such ample material to play off of

(then again we would have less to laugh at - but if I could choose between not having Stewardt/Colbert and seeing better politics and a more educated electorate in the US it would be a tough call to make)
Shinobiwan Kenobi
1.7 / 5 (6) Dec 20, 2012
Better educated electorate over less for Steward/Colbert hands down. Those comedians are gifted enough to adapt, I wish I could say the same for the other group.
VendicarD
5 / 5 (1) Dec 20, 2012
The more people watch Faux news, the less they know, and the less connected they are to the real world.

Filth.

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