Laughing Yet? Satire becomes a Medium for the Informed

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Whether it be John Oliver ripping into the latest White House Scandal, a wacky yet oddly relatable article from The Onion or an outlandish headline published by Seattle University’s Hard Copy Satire, satirical material is all around us.

At its most basic level, satire is the use of humor to reveal or critique something. It comes in many forms, the most popular and commercially successful of which being political satire.

“As long as Americans have had a political process, Americans have made fun of their political process,” said Patrick Schoettmer, a professor in the political science department. “The main difference today as compared to, say, the 1950s, is the explosion of the media commons, so that there are so many more outlets for political satire today.”

While satire has always existed as a way to critique those in positions of power, several revolutions in media and news helped it reach the immense popularity it now sees.

As television news became an accepted and popular source for information, it allowed for satire to utilize this growing medium. Early examples that parody traditional news broadcast, such as Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, still exists to this day.

Jon Stewart began hosting the Daily Show—one of the most popular and influential political satire shows in American pop culture—nearly two decades ago. e show continues to this day and is now helmed by Trevor Noah. It spawned numerous spin- offs including Stephen Colbert’s The Colbert Report, John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight and Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal as well as international versions of the Daily Show. Jon Stewart and his legion of satirical prodigies have established themselves as some of the biggest names in not just political satire but television news.

These shows have wide appeal but have become particularly popular amongst millennials.

This however, as Victor Evans, a professor in the Communication and Media department, pointed out, does not mean political satire shows are the only source of news for the younger generations, a common misconception.

“Young people get their news from everywhere especially through social media. They are getting news from everywhere so it’s not like they are only depending on these satirical shows for all of their news, they are getting it from multiple viewpoints.” Evans said.

Julie Homchick Crowe, a professor in the Communication and Media department, explained how satire as a comedic form actually requires the audience to be informed prior to consuming it.

“The way in which satire might segment the public is sometimes the degree to which audiences are made to feel like insiders. We don’t understand satire if we are unfamiliar with the object being satirized,” said Homchick “Stephen Colbert’s character on The Colbert Report is funny to audiences who understand who Bill O’Reilly is, which is who Colbert modeled his character after. In this sense, the audiences gets to be “in” on the joke.”

Both Evans and Homchick’s sentiments are supported by a study of the 2012 presidential election news cycle which concluded that “Millennials don’t watch [political satire] to get informed; they watch because they are informed.”The study also found that 50 percent of millennials watched political satire shows for election coverage but that these same millennials also got news from network or cable news and/or through the internet and social media.

The internet and social media have also vastly changed the ways in which people consume both news and satire in their own ways.

Schoettmer believes satire in the age of the internet may be important to the future of American politics, “I think we are seeing political humor increasingly democratized by the internet, where anyone could go viral with a well-crafted satirical political meme. is could potentially allow for conservatism to rediscover its funny bone” Schoettmer said. “I think recreating a sense of irreverence and an ability to laugh at oneself within the political class could help to take the edge o of the sharp cultural divides that currently make bipartisan cooperation difficult. People who can laugh together are people who can live together.”

Caitlin Carlson, yet another professor in Seattle University’s Communication and Media, department described her own reasoning for why these shows have gained such popularity and sustained this through the internet revolution, “The accessibility is a huge reason. The segments of these shows break up well to be shared on social media so I can see a topic I am interested in and watch it while I’m doing something like waiting for the bus,” Carlson said.

Carlson expressed her own reasons for watching current political satire shows. “I trust John Oliver, I trust Samantha Bee, I don’t always trust the mainstream media and I think particularly for millennials who have grown up in a 24/7 news cycle and are so media literate, they understand that part of the point of media is to make money so they will sensationalize things” Carlson said.

Evans echoed similar sentiments as to why there is more trust in political satirists than mainstream media outlets, “The younger generation has a mistrust for the media. They don’t believe what they are being told especially because it appears to be unbiased but it’s generally not. Satire shows point that out and make it clear just how biased they are and I think that transparency draws young people in.”

Brian Onishi, a professor in the Philosophy department, despite his admiration for satire offered a different perspective on how social media and satire may actually be a potentially troublesome combination.

“My concern is that because we are so entrenched in these digital cultures that we make it very easy to speak in 140 characters or to have messages disappear, it’s part of these platforms, it seems to me that satire is built for this time in that we can laugh at something and then move on very quickly. The danger about it is that satire sometimes presents very serious things in a very funny way but it also allows us to move past it very quickly and not care about it as deeply as we can” he said.

Onishi did, however, see the positive side of satire when he wrote a chapter for the book, “Futurama and Philosophy”. e book delves into the ways that the cartoon Futurama presents philosophical themes and questions. Onishi’s chapter, titled “Queer eye for the robot kind” focuses on the season six episode, “Proposition Infinity.”

Futurama, as the name would suggest, takes place in the future and as such did not deal with the real-life political issue of the legality of same- sex marriage, but instead swapped it out for robosexual marriage, marriage between a human and a robot. e episode satirized Proposition 8, a California ballot proposition that passed in 2008 that banned same-sex marriage, which was approved but later ruled unconstitutional.

Onishi added to his earlier critiques and offered “Satire is almost always critical, it’s negative, it doesn’t always seem to give a lot of space for what ‘we ought to be doing’. Maybe that’s no the job of the satirist but if we look to these cultural heroes and they’re just providing laughs, there might not be someone who gets listened to in the same kind of way with the same audience.’”

While national political satire may receive the overwhelming majority of attention Seattle University does have its own satire publication: Hard Copy.

Founded in 2015, Hard Copy describes itself as “a weekly co- operative satirical and humorous publication open to all mediums of expression.”The online-only publication is published anonymously. In an anonymous interview, one Hard Copy writer satirically claimed they wrote under a pseudonym because they were in the Witness Protection Program.

As for why Hard Copy was founded in the first place, one writer who spoke anonymously stated that they founded Hard Copy after they “got turned down for a staff position at the Spectator.” Another Hard Copy writer compared this incident to a scene from the Star Wars film, Revenge of the Sith “Seriously, it was like when Anakin was denied the rank of Jedi Master. A villain was born that day.”

The satirical publication pulls no punches and has time and time again shown their willingness to go after just about anyone and everyone at Seattle University. This includes even President Fr. Stephen Sundborg S.J., who is a common subject of many Hard Copy articles. The publication and its writers refer to him as “Father Steve Daddy” and one writer expressed one of the publications long-term goals relating to Sundborg: “Our greatest challenge will forever and always be attempting to get Daddy Steve to read one of our stories.”

An article from February proclaimed “Budget Cuts Force Father Steve to Sell His Full HouseTM Box Sets.” In response to the alleged tragedy, Hard Copy created the website dvdsforstevieplease.com, which features a photo of Sundborg crudely photoshopped to appear with the main cast of Full House. “We’re still at a mere $20 for our GoFundMe campaign to buy Father Steve a Full House DVD box set”.

While Hard Copy primarily tends to stick to satirizing campus news, they do occasionally foray into the realm of politics, sometimes intertwining the two as seen in the recent article “Traumatized by the mere thought of an email scandal, James Comey cancels visit to SU” in which both the absurd email chain involving the entirety of the College of Arts and Sciences and James Comey’s tumultuous political career were skewered.

Hard Copy’s own staff had their ideas on why younger generations seem to be particularly receptive to satire, one writer simply responded “Our sad, sad lives.” Another suggested, “Something has to fill the gaping void.” And yet another posited that “upsetting news has been more or less inescapable our whole lives and satire is a way to cope. That and Trevor Noah is just so damn charming.”

Evan’s is not unfamiliar with this kind of thinking, “ at’s one of the biggest things I hear from students when I ask why they don’t watch the news, ‘it’s depressing, it’s dark, it’s all horrible things.’. Satire still uses the same stories but because it’s done in a humorous way it takes that effect out of it and I think young people prefer that.”

While political satire has been around since the birth of the country, there is no doubt it has increased in popularity in modern times, though and that while this generation may not be the first to utilize it, it is now an undeniably necessary and integral part of today’s media political and political media landscapes.

Alec can be reached at
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