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Comedy’s role in political awareness

Allison Kufta, Editor in Chief

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Have you heard of the maxim, “laughter is the best medicine?” Well, comedy may just save us emotionally and intellectually, and with urgent climate change issues, perhaps the earth as a whole.

Comedy shows such as SNL, the Late Show, The Daily Show, Late Night, and several others have brought increased awareness of political issues to the American consciousness. Interestingly, several of these shows have also been personally vilified by Trump, the current President of the United States who recently, has frequently been the subject of the these shows.

SNL’s viewership, numbered at around 10.6 million people, has recently gone up by 2 million people or 20%, and their political videos often trend on YouTube. In fact, Melissa McCarthy’s impersonation of Sean Spicer trended first in early February when it was released. These increased numbers show that satire has impacted a large amount of society and continues to grow. These shows are popular and have been using their large and growing audiences to educate the American public about political issues.

Satire is important because not only does it present problems in a humorous way, but it also asks the audience the essential question: how do we make a change? Comedy has targeted issues across the political spectrum, which is important in considering multiple perspectives and acknowledging that unfortunately, flaws exist across the board. Interestingly, when the Trump Administration attacks the shows that present satire, it creates a  positive feedback loop of more awareness of current issues.

However, not everyone recognizes satire, which can be an issue. If people cannot recognize the real issue, it makes it harder to find a solution.

Mrs. Miller, one of the biology teachers at Nazareth, weighed in stating, “I think it gives people the opportunity to say what they can’t say on regular news programs. This is good and bad. It’s good because a lot of people watch shows like SNL and the Colbert Report that might not also watch regular news programs so it helps educate more people. It can be bad though because serious issues are portrayed in a comedic way and the severity of the issue at hand can be lost.”

The fact that comedy illuminates political issues  in a relatively tension free manner is essential to the health of democratic society as a whole. Politics are not merely a concept that our families tell us to avoid at family parties. Defined by Merriam-Webster as “the activities, actions, and policies that are used to gain and hold power in a government or to influence a government”, politics fundamentally affect all of us in both large and small ways, whether we choose to acknowledge that or not. For this reason, caring about politics and considering issues holistically are important parts of participating in America’s democratic process.

Americans have the freedom to access information and vote for policies that will shape our lives and our future. However, access to an open internet and press also means there is a flood of information to sort through, and not all of it is reliable or true. Comedy television’s ability to reach a broad audience helps illuminate issues and expand perspectives of people who may not always cross check their information, or perhaps only listen to one news network. Often, comedy shows unabashedly present a side that does not align with interests of people in power, who often have financial incentive to leave part of the truth out.

Politicians and publications are not always honest, and with the recent election in 2016 and the new Trump administration, this assertion has become conspicuously apparent.

For example, Jimmy Fallon ran a skit on the Tonight show called “Two Truths and An Alternative Fact” and Seth Meyers created “Trump, ‘Alternative Facts’ and the Women’s March: A Closer Look  criticizing Trump’s Counselor Kellyanne Conway use of the term “alternative facts” to attempt to discredit fact-checked assertions by the media. There are no alternative facts—those are called lies. Not only that, but she has defended Trump’s policies by fabricating entire events, such as the “Bowling Green Massacre” which never actually occurred. In fact, more than five reliable news organizations—the minimum number for a claim to be cited as common knowledge—all debunked Kellyanne Conway’s blatant lie (Washington Post, The Atlantic, npr, New Yorker, Reuters ).

Similarly, a video by The Wall Street Journal highlights the trend of Late Night shows that expose and critique the fact that Trump ran on a campaign that asserted repeatedly debunked claims on topics like voter fraud and invented statistics of crime and unemployment. Then, when he was elected, he decided to “drain the swamp” (Twitter ) by electing a cabinet of billionaires worth over 1.3 billion dollars (Boston Globe). These, plus numerous other policies, have threatened the environment and civil liberties. Stephen Colbert’s satiric news report “No Country For Anyone Not Already Here” and Trevor Noah’s “President Trump’s Muslim-Targeted Travel Ban: The Daily Show” both critically comment on the Trump administration’s Muslim Travel Ban. Additionally, these satirical news report segments have commented on Trump’s regressive women’s reproductive rights agenda, presented concerning conflicts of interest, undermined the voice of America’s free press, and so-on.

All of these issues have been satirized on multiple comedy shows, which offer people fact checks with laughs. These are just a few examples out of the large pool of comedy skits aiming to raise awareness of political issues.

Some people do not actively choose to watch the news or fact check every political assertion they hear on the radio, but they might watch these comedy shows as entertainment. These shows bring news and critical commentary in a relatively accessible manner to America’s political conversation, which is important for democracy because a democracy requires options and information to work properly.

Though it may seem that we are detached from the effects of political decisions, we are not; for this reason, widespread political awareness is vital. Since society begins with the individual, your vote matters, and even if you cannot vote yet, you will be able to relatively soon and it is helpful to be informed on what exactly you are voting for.

People might think that issues will not impact them, but they do. Comedy can and has shown that it exposes truth and starts meaningful conversations. It asks us to consider questions that can seem uncomfortable, but are much more comfortable than what will happen if they are never asked. A multitude of comedic sketches, particularly news report satire, have made skits of dystopic America and continue to explore situations and the potential concern surrounding political issues. Sketches incite questions and reflection by portraying potential futures and inditing social injustices in a humorous way. Such as, who will pay for expensive and questionable projects like a wall? Who will pay for the increased prices on consumer goods if America enters a tariff war with China? Who will pay when oil pipes leak and contamination occurs in the local water systems? We do. The politicians that sold themselves out to lobbyists that threaten our environment, civil rights, and democracy will not pay, we will. In fact, just ask Michigan residents in Flint, who already are paying; the Native Americans that are about to pay now that the Dakota Access Pipeline project has been resumed by the Trump administration; the future generations who will have to deal with the environmental and financial repercussions of this administration; and yourself.

Politics are not really a laughing matter at this point, but comedy shows in America have chosen to use laughter as the best medicine for America’s political issues. Though the cure remains unclear, progress has been made in raising awareness of the diagnosis.


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1 Comment

One Response to “Comedy’s role in political awareness”

  1. Scott Adams on August 15th, 2017 3:14 pm

    It’s interesting that you talked about how a lot of people feel detached from any political decision. I have been thinking about how I don’t have enough interest in what is going on around me. I can see how it would be good for me to use political monitoring to help stay up to date, so I don’t end up unaware of any decisions that could affect my life.

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