The Role of Satirical Broadcasts on Society

Topics: Satire, The Colbert Report, News satire Pages: 10 (3434 words) Published: May 16, 2012
Frederick Chereshansky
Eng. II
The Role of Satirical Broadcasts on Society

It is safe to say that the phenomenon that is humor is uniquely human in nature. It is not only unique, but it lacks a real comparable in any species in the animal kingdom. We do not truly know how humor came to be, and the evolutionary significance of this strange but important aspect of our lives is unknown, but it’s importance in our lives is undeniable. At face value humor may seem as simply a means of entertainment, a phenomenon that gives us hope in the most dire of circumstances, or simply a unique human luxury that helps us regulate a more favorable affect. However, humor enlightens us as a society and has done so for centuries. Specifically, it is satire that has played a uniquely powerful role in our society, and continues to do so today. In modernity it is programs such as The Colbert Report, and The Daily Show that dominate the sociopolitical satire of contemporary popular culture. These shows present the news of the day to the American populace (skewed toward a young demographic) with a focus on the irony of certain sociopolitical issues.

However, even before television and the arrival of mass media, satire has been the driving force of social reform and the creation and production of a concrete sense of social awareness. In Ancient Greece satire was seen as a powerful method of examining culture and society. Aristophanes, a comic playright, was notably fond of satirical humor and is considered by many scholars to be the godfather of modern satire (Ehrenberg 263). In early twentieth century America, muckrakers brought to light the reality of the widespread corruption of their time, often by means of satirical cartoons that used caricature and exaggeration to make noteworthy of the inequalities present due to the wrongdoings of a certain corrupt people. These pioneers of American satire played a vital role in outing those who sought to defy the righteousness of American freedom.

Today we are quite possibly in the midst of a sociopolitical renaissance in that there is renewed interest in politics, especially in regards to the younger demographic. It is safe to say that satirical programs play an important role in this phenomenon, of course with the election of Barack Obama being a powerful catalyst. By looking to the past we can often find parallels that are relevant to our own time, and the history of satire is no different. Through looking at the history of satire and its evolution we can come to understand it’s power and role in the modern world.

The satirical irony that we see today on programs such as The Colbert Report and The Daily Show are what we would refer to as postmodern broadcasts. Steven Colbert has coined the term “truthiness” which in itself is a symbol of both the program and the genre that it encapsulates. In “truthiness” lies the postmodern ideology that is so critical in understanding what satire truly is. The satire that we are exposed to on The Colbert Report is such that creates a great deal of ambiguity in regards to our perception of reality as a single concrete entity. This phenomenon of a unstable truth is one that has become an important part of satire, as well as our popular culture: “Ironically, though much of the humor in popular culture is ironic, but it is the postmodern irony of cynical knowingness and self-preferentiality. Traditionally, irony has been a means to expose the space between what is real and what is appearance, or what is meant and what is said, revealing incoherence and transcending through the aesthetic form and meaning of a work of art. The irony of postmodernity denies a difference between what is real and what is appearance and even embraces incoherence and lack of meaning.” (“Journal of Popular Culture“ 17)

When discussing postmodernism, a man whose name is rarely not mentioned is none other than Fredrick Nietzsche. A philosopher at the forefront of...

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Marx, Karl. “The German Ideology”. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004.
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