The State of Satire, and the Satire of State
By Jonathan Gray, Jeffrey P. Jones, and Ethan Thompson, editors of Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era
The recent announcement that Peabody Awards have gone to Saturday Night Live for Tina Fey’s brilliant Sarah Palin impressions, and to The Onion News Network (see below) continues a long line of recent victories by satirical programming. South Park, The Simpsons, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and The Colbert Report have all won in past years too.
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Satire TV has quickly become one of the go-to genres for meaningful, thoughtful commentary on all things political, especially to younger generations who have largely been abandoned by regular news’ constant quest to lasso the grumpy old white man demographic. Satire TV often presents itself in a refreshingly vernacular approach.
With the rise of Satire TV, it has become in vogue to see Satire TV as only so much posturing and noise. And yet recent events should give us pause before attacking Satire TV as ineffective: Sarah Palin’s candidacy was undoubtedly savaged by Tina Fey’s impressions, Jon Stewart single-handedly killed CNN’s Crossfire (and may live to kill Rick Santelli, Jim Cramer and CNBC), Stephen Colbert’s White House Press Correspondents Dinner speech offered President George W. Bush some of his only direct dissent (not counting shoe projectiles), and throughout the recent presidential election campaign, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report frequently scooped network and cable news, offering an interview with the current mayor of Wasilla regarding the office’s responsibilities (fast forward to 1.45 in the clip below), for instance, or a lone interview with the actual Socialist Party’s candidate for President when, in the campaign’s closing days, Obama was being labeled a Socialist.
It has also become in vogue to bemoan a world in which young people supposedly get their news “only” from The Daily Show, resulting in a nation of supposedly stupid youth who think they know more than they do, and who are cynically dispossessed of any resolve to change the world. Numerous surveys have questioned such beliefs, however, suggesting, for example, that Daily Show and Colbert Report viewers are more politically knowledgeable than viewers of almost any other news source.
But the effects, power, and workings of Satire TV are more complex than many popular accounts allow, or than many surveys can uncover. With this in mind, we assembled a collection of original essays about various aspects and faces of Satire TV, written by an outstanding group of cultural, media, political, and rhetorical analysts: Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era.