In an approximately 2200 word essay, describe how the world portrayed through a television show genre (i.e. sitcom, soap opera, reality TV., drama…) may alter our perceptions, behaviors, attitudes or have other “cultural” implications, in order to persuade your reader whether this programming is acceptable or unacceptable for mass consumption—whether you feel the programming defines culture in mindful ways or not.
Out of Class Essay 3
A Culture of Laughter
In an article by Kate Snyder, it is quoted that “Humor often mirrors deeper cultural perceptions and offers us a powerful device to understand culturally shaped ways of thinking and feeling” (Snyder). Since different cultures face different issues and have different senses of humor, comedy is a fantastic genre to analyze when trying to learn about another culture. A more specific branch of the comedy genre has the potential to give off more entertaining and accurate information about a culture; this genre is satire news. I define satire news as a comedy show that uses current events as the basis of their comedic routines. Shows that fit this genre are The Daily Show, Saturday Night Live (specifically “The Weekend Update” segments), and The Colbert Report. Though some may argue that comedy depreciates the value of societal and cultural issues by “making light” of the situations, these three shows are actually wonderful examples of how satire news’ combination of humor and current events can be used in a beneficial way that not only reflects the views of a culture but to educates the culture as well.
In order to understand how satire comedy is able to reflect and influence culture, we first need to understand why viewers find the information credible. People tend to watch comedy for laughs, and do not view it as a credible news source, which is what makes comedy news so valuable. Though the show is intended for laughs, the content often leaves viewers more curious and informed about current events, this might be why in “one prominent study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that viewers of The Daily Show were better informed about the positions and backgrounds of candidates in the 2004 Presidential campaign” (Erion 196). There are several ways that comedy or satire news upkeeps a vibe of authenticity while entertaining its viewers. For example most of these shows are set up to look like professional news rooms. In The Daily Show, Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” and The Colbert Report all of the hosts sit behind news desks, dress like professional news anchors and even use the popular news outline of using a box in the upper right corner of the screen to display a picture of something related to the topic being discussed. This setting gives the stories being told a sense of official importance or legitimacy. Also in comedy news, real news stories are taken and used for the comedic material rather than being a work of fiction which adds to the aura of legitimacy these shows produce.
The Daily Show hosted by Jon Stewart is a satire news show because it takes serious issues, mostly political issues, and turns them into a comedic routine. The way the issues are presented to the viewer are meant to either spark debate amongst or perhaps confirm the views of the culture watching the show. Stewart has been known to make fun of controversial issues such as the demonstrations in Wisconsin. In his March 7, 2011 episode, Stewart focused on the ridiculousness of right winged news that claimed the “7 million dollars in tape damage” protestors created inside the capitol building was the big story coming out of Wisconsin. This piece was followed by a segment where a fake “Senator Hunter” was trying to hunt down the Democratic Senators acting to recall the election of Wisconsin’s governor satirically—painting them as the enemy (The Daily Show). The outlandish claims were all real, but it took a comedy show to portray the absurdity of the issue. In a book about the importance of television, authors George Comstock and Erica Scharrer state that “The media have the power to establish the viability of contenders. Status is a function of nonnegative news attention” (Comstock 147). By bluntly revealing the frivolous vandalism charges about tape marks and portraying a crazy man accusing democrat senators of being traitors, Stewart is really trying to shape our culture’s public opinion. The way he presents the tape story makes it pale in comparison to what the protests are actually about in Wisconsin. By portraying the man looking for the democrat senators as crazy, the show in fact is making satire of those who seek to incarcerate the men. The Daily Show’s use of satire serves to discredit Republican actions. Though humor is the primary medium of delivering the information, the satire and sarcasm used send a very potent message and a very opinionated stance in favor of the protestors and Democratic senators in Wisconsin. This specific example of satire comedy shows us that one important and beneficial cultural implication of this show is to educate through what our culture finds humorous.
The allure of a satire comedy show like The Daily Show, can also educate on political culture by luring and audience in for humor and ending on a serious note. Though much of the show is satire and comedy based, Jon Stewart concluded the quoted episode by having a serious debate with Senator Rand Paul about the nation’s national deficit. By adding serious political messages into the popular media, it more likely that people will pay attention and absorb the political debate because when “televised commercials and political news accounts are embedded in programs with vast and diverse audiences, political message are less easy to avoid” and thus taken in (Comstock 152). Many U.S. citizens may be aware of our nation’s debt, but information about what it means or different ways to fix it is not as available to the general public. By including this piece into the show, Stewart is using satire news not only to entertain and give opinion, but also in attempt to spark critical thinking in the culture of viewers. The Daily Show is a wonderful example of how the genre of satire news show can be considered be educating the viewer about current political issues, or perhaps even be reflecting the opinions of the more liberal population of the culture.
Saturday Night Live also uses humor as a medium for making commentary on events, celebrities and other popular culture topics that are aimed to either support or inform viewers’ beliefs. While The Daily Show focused primarily on politics, Saturday Night Live focuses more on what our culture deems socially important or prominent. For example, in the March 5, 2011 episode’s “Weekend Update” Seth Meyers’ jokes have a lot to do with social commentary. He particularly devoted a lot of attention to Charlie Sheen. Though his jokes about the celebrity covered everything from “winning” to porn stars to drug use and tigers, the comedy provided subtly reflects so much about the culture of people the humor is directed at. The article Comedy is One Way to Understand Other Cultures states that “Humor often mirrors deeper cultural perceptions and offers us a powerful device to understand culturally shaped ways of thinking and feeling” (Snyder). Though Meyers’ jokes seem to be focused on Charlie Sheen’s latest meltdown, they really show us where the majority of our culture stands on certain issues. From this clip alone, an outsider from another culture would be able to see that our culture doesn’t condone drug use and looks down upon hyper-sexualized anything (specifically porn stars and prostitution). Given the amount of time this story was covered, one could also guess that as a culture we put a lot of weight on celebrity gossip. In fact, Meyers even manages to make fun of how much “serious” news press Sheen has gotten over the past weeks, which not only reinforces the idea of celebrity gossip being the center of attention, but could be interpreted by another culture of how U.S. culture is more enamored by its stars than more serious topics of discussion. Though some of the more hilarious, socially centered topics might seem more frivolous to cover on a satire news show, the more pop-culture driven content of Saturday Night Live accurately reflects the American culture’s obsession with the glamour of our celebrities and tendency to exploit their lives while also covertly discussing major social issues such as promiscuous sex and drug use.
While The Daily Show tended to focus on serious politics and Saturday Night Live tended to focus more on social-cultural topics, The Colbert Report seemed to be an accurate balance between the two. Colbert stared off his March 7, 2011 show with a story about the upcoming Ipad 2. In the piece, he made several amusing puns about the latest piece of Mac technology including phrases such as “make me the app-iest man” and comments on the company’s constant newer editions of products (The Colbert Report). This piece of comedy is clearly meant to find humor in the cultural need to have the newest forms of technology even if we just bought the older edition of the product. Colbert also attacks the culture of our politics in his show. Like The Daily Show, Colbert is not afraid to attack the heart of political issues. For example in the aforementioned episode, Colbert brutally attacks Mike Huckabee’s ignorant comment about where the President of the United States was educated. Huckabee had tried to critique the President by mentioning that he had been educated in “Kenya” which meant that President Obama would have a different view than most Americans on most issues including the “Mau Mau Revolution” in Kenya. Through humor, Colbert is able to point out the many shortcomings of Huckabee’s statement such as the President was educated in Indonesia (not Kenya) and by questioning the why would Americans care about Obama’s views on the Mau Mau Revolution when the majority of the culture has never heard of it before. Colbert attacks the ridiculousness of statements in such an amusing way, the political information you receive flows well with the entertainment value and societal comments of the piece. This piece of satire news both accurately reflects the humor our culture finds in the mistakes of those in power make, and serves to education the viewer on the stances of different politicians. Though the emphasis on politics might not reflect the emphasis our culture places on politics, how our culture values humor is still evident and the beneficial use of how satire comedy can be used to influence a culture with its opinions is also very apparent.
Comedy is primarily seen as for entertainment value only, which is why the genre of satire news is so important. This area of comedy is unique in that it can lure people into taking in serious information including politics, depict examples of how our culture views different social issues and serve to educate the people our culture in an entertaining way. Though some may think this genre is not taking serious social and political issues seriously, in reality comedy news is extremely valuable because it makes these issues more palatable and entertaining for our culture to take in.
Colbert, Stephen. “Season 7 Episode 33.” The Colbert Report. Comedy Network. 7 Mar. 2011. Television.
Comstock, George, and Erica Scharrer. “Chapter Five: The Political Medium.” Television-What’s On, Who’s Watching and What It Means. San Diego: Academic, 1999. Print.
Erion, Gerald J. “Amusing Ourselves to Death with Television News: Jon Stewart, Neil Postman, and the Huxleyan Warning.” Common Culture. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2009. 191-99. Print.
Myers, Seth. “Episode 16.” Saturday Night Live. ABC. Weekend Update, 5 Mar. 2011. Television.
Snyder, Kate. “Comedy Is One Way to Understand Other Cultures - The BG News.” The BG News - Bowling Green State University. BG News, 18 Nov. 2010. Web. 16 Mar. 2011. <http://bgnews.com/infocus/comedy-is-one-way-to-understand-other-cultures/>.
Stewart, Jon. “Episode 33.” The Daily Show. Comedy Central. 7 Mar. 2011. Television.