Monday’s Mtg: Comedy’s Effect on U.S. Politics

I thought we would start the new year with what this group does best: Comedy.  It’s been ten years since social scientists started noticing that young people get much of their news from comedy sources like the Daily Show.  Sure, political comedy goes back a long way.  Will Rogers.  Lenny Bruce.  Chevy Chase as Gerald Ford falling down the stairs.

But, to me at least something seems different now.  Maybe it’s our wired world, our ultra-cynical times, or just one more effect of our hyper-polarization.  But, I think political comedy is more influential as a source of news and a shaper of public opinion than in the past.  There is some research to back that up.

So, below are some articles on the “Daily Show Effect,” and other ways that political comedy may be shaping our politics.  It would be way too ironic for me to lecture ponderously on the topic of comedy.  So, I’ll just open our meeting on Monday with a five minute set, I mean, presentation summarizing a few of the major findings cited in the articles below.  The most important point will be about – as always with me –how much the world has changed in just the last 10 years.  Short, punchy, sketch comedy bits and late night one-liners fit perfectly into the new wired, video-centered world of young people.  Whether that is a good thing or whether political comedy just makes them more cynical and/or biased is not yet clear, from what I’ve read.

Discussion Questions –

  1. What are the major sources of political comedy these days? 
  2. What effects does comedy have on people’s political knowledge and opinions?  Are they greater for some types of people; i.e., young Americans, liberals, less well-informed voters?
  3. What about comedy’s effects on the politicians themselves?  Do they change what they say and do at all because of it?
  4. What does the success of political comedy shows say about the quality of the news media and the public’s trust in it?
  5. How biased is today’s political comedy?  Is it naturally progressive/liberal because comedy is inherently iconoclastic and anti-establishment?
  6. Who is your favorite political comedian?  What have you learned from him/her?  What have you learned that does more than reinforce what you already believe?

Links –

Just for fun – a few of my favorite political comedy sites and videos.

NEXT WEEK:  What if criminality can be predicted?  Dean’s awesome idea for a topic.   


4 responses

  1. As a big fan of satire and parody–although I try to refrain because, for many reasons, it’s not wise to overuse them–I have to say that in the modern political climate, they seem to have been superseded.
    I mean, how can one satirize something which is already a parody to begin with?
    The statements themselves need no elaboration.

  2. I agree. My personal opinion is that the unmooring of one of our political parties has greatly accelerated the march of political comedy, and not just Colbert/Stewart. That party’s use of misleading advertising as a core organizing strategy is the main focus of Daily Show et., al. Also, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the rise of political comedy shows has happened as the news media has failed in its most basic responsibilities.

    Of course, my brief opening remarks will not be this partisan. I’ll just list a few basic findings of the research I found.

  3. Also, see this Daily Show criticism of CNN’s journalistic laziness. To me, it is the essence of what makes TDS so important.

  4. If the story about Obama’s birth certificate had appeared in, say, the Harvard Lampoon, everyone would have taken it as a great piece of satire.

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