1 The Blurring BoundariesRunning Head: THE BLURRING BOUNDARIES BETWEEN NEWS AND ENTERTAINMENT The Blurring Boundaries By Andrew Ciccone Baruch College COM 9505 – Fall 2008 Media Analysis Professor William Boddy
2 The Blurring Boundaries The Blurring Boundaries between News and EntertainmentAbstractThe history of every art form has critical periods when that form strives towards effects that caneasily achieved if the technical norm is changed, that is to say, in a new art form (Enzenberger,1970). This paper examines the dynamics of news presented in a satirical comedic frame andconsiders if this new form of fictive entertainment is shaped by our postmodern world. Networknews is not the only network program to conceal its symbolic fabrications in naturalistic film.Most movies, television series, and even advertisements present themselves as an unmediatedreality. Network news programs are constructed not only from shared ―referential frames‖ andtheir common symbiotic relationship to established power, but also from the paradigmatic andsyntagmatic operations that manufacture the news as narrative discourse (Stam, 2000). Thefocus of this paper considers Jon Stewart‘s, The Daily Show impact on blurring the boundariesbetween news and entertainment shaped by societal forces.Dramatization of the NewsTelevision news promotes a narcissistic relationship with an imaginary other. It infantilizes inthe sense that the young child perceives everything in relation to itself; everything is ordered tothe measure of its ego. Television, if it is not received critically, fosters a kind of confusion ofpronouns: between ―I‖ the spectator and ―He‖ or ―She‖ the newscaster, as engaged in a mutuallyflattering dialogue. This fictive ―We‖ can then speak warmly about ―Ourselves‖ and coldlyabout whoever is posited as ―Them‖. This misrecognition of mirror-like images has profound
3 The Blurring Boundariespolitical consequences (Stam, 2000). News stories are stories, as well as news. Good narrativesembody the root elements of a human drama. In a real sense reason disappears as actors flitacross the journalistic stage, perform and hurriedly disappear (Goldberg & Elliot, 1979). Newsis about the actions of individuals, not corporate entities, thus individual authority rather thanexertion of entrenched power is seen to the mover of events. More so than ever to keepaudiences interested, the never-ending cycle of immediacy feeds upon itself. A story that lacksdrama is perceived to have ‗no real news value‘. The pressure to produce sensationalist elementsinto news stories is a constant and ever increasing necessity. News and broadcast news inparticular, is the last refuge of the great man theory of history (Stam, 2000).Mindich (2005) considers the emotional indifference that many journalists adopt in their pursuitof balanced reporting and which he believes has helped to privilege entertainment over newsmedia in the minds of young audiences. Farai Chideya, a long-time journalist interviewed byMindich, suggests, the objectivity of news is too often pitted against the ‗humanity‘ of otherparadigms; such humanity, or passion, should also be permitted to permeate the boundaries ofnews (2005: 48).The Post Modern News ViewerSeveral studies have argued that entertainment television and films are likely contributors topolitical attitudes (Adams et al. 1985; Feldman and Sigelman 1985; Lenart and McGraw 1989)and socialization (Ball- Rokeach et al. 1981). Media critic Jon Katz writes (1993), ‗for theyoung, culture is politics, personal expression and entertainment all fused together, often thebiggest and most important story in their lives‘ (1993: 130). Barnhurst (1998) offer evidence for
4 The Blurring Boundariesan understanding of political life among young people that is primarily discursive. Barnhurst(1998) finds that ‗news is but one of many genres, especially entertainment media, they use tomake sense of the political world. Understanding an issue comes scattershot from pop songs, TVcommercials [and] documentary films‘ (1998: 216).Calavita (2004), reports that young adults appreciate the sarcasm, irony, parody, and satirepervasive in popular culture. Specifically, Calavita cited comedy-news hybrids like PoliticallyIncorrect, Dennis Miller Live, and The Daily Show as pop culture favorites and spoke of beingsimultaneously amused and informed by them. Other researchers have attempted to make senseof how young people interpret and respond to traditional forms of news. Buckingham (2000)found a shared lack of enthusiasm for television news in general, which was rejected for beingboring, repetitive, and lacking in entertainment value. While young people do want to beentertained, they also want to be informed. They resist the trivialization and tabloidization ofnews, rendering what he calls ‗add[ing] sugar to the pill‘ an inadequate solution for engaging ayounger news audience (2000: 211).The basic assumption that the television audience is ‗active‘ rather than ‗passive‘; and thatwatching television is a ‗social‘ rather than ‗individual‘ practice is currently accepted in bothperspectives . . . that texts can generate multiple meanings, and that the text/reader relationshiptakes the form of negotiations, is not in itself a significant condition for the declaredconvergence. We should not loose sight of the fact that any call for convergence itself is not aninnocent gesture – it invariably involves a selection process in which certain issues and themesare highlighted and others suppressed. The aim of cultural studies is to arrive at a more
5 The Blurring Boundarieshistorized insight into the ways in which ‗audience activity‘ is related to social and politicalstructures and processes (Ang, 1989).Young audiences have consistently expressed disdain for the artifice and aloofness thataccompany so-called objective reporting (Mindich, 2005). David Morley (1983) argues that thetelevision audience must be seen neither as undifferentiated mass nor as autonomous individuals.Instead, it comprises ‗clusters of socially structured individual readers‘, where readings ‗will beframed by shared cultural formations and practices. These formations are in turn determined bythe position of the individual reader in the class structure. The viewers decide text in differentways and sometimes even give oppositional meanings to it; this Ang (1989) argues should not beconceived as ‗audience freedom‘ but as a moment in the central struggle, an ongoing struggleover meaning and pleasure, which is central to the fabric of everyday life. New viewers of thenews are pre-disposed towards a more irreverent interpretation of events as they unfold, in their―view‖ of reality.While Letterman and Leno viewers are more likely to be watching local news than other late-night viewers, Daily Show viewers are not. Instead, after controlling for political anddemographic variables, Daily Show viewers are more likely to be watching cable news andlistening to National Public Radio. Whether they are watching network news, local news, cablenews, news radio, and late night comedy. Stewart‘s viewers do not appear to be relying solelyon their preferred late-night program for their daily dose of news. Interestingly, it may that theviewers of The Daily Show follow a pattern more akin to traditional political informationconsumption than to consumption of purely entertainment-oriented media.
6 The Blurring BoundariesChallenging Conventional Notions of NewsThe Daily Show airs on cable‘s Comedy Central in the late night time slot during the week for apre-broadcast half-hour. The nightly news parody offers satiric interpretations of politics andcurrent events, hosted by faux anchor Jon Stewart. He mocks those who both make and reportthe news. The program features a cast of ‗correspondents‘, who are variously introduced as theshow‘s senior analysts (e.g. senior political analyst, senior environmental analyst, etc.). Eachepisode includes an interview with a celebrity guest culled from the entertainment, political, ormedia worlds. Having entertainment celebrities and serious journalists creates an implied realityto the program. To Jon Stewart, the idea that young people are tuning in to his program toactually get the news is improbable. Stewart argues that it would be impossible for viewers tolearn the news from his program: The truth is I know [most kids] are not [getting their news from us] because you can‘t—because we just don‘t do it. There‘s not enough news to get. . . . If [kids] came to our show without knowledge, it wouldn‘t make any sense to them.In 2000, The Daily Show won the prestigious Peabody Award for its election coverage, and in2003 the show garnered five Emmy Awards. All nine Democratic presidential candidates visitedThe Daily Show during the 2004 primary season, in fact The Daily Show was invited to coverboth the 2004 Democratic and Republican National Conventions. As Stewarts‘s show is takenmore and more seriously as a news source, it also increasingly blurs the distinction between newsand entertainment, challenging the historical conventions between serious news and comedicentertainment.
7 The Blurring BoundariesGoldberg and Elliot (1979) argue news ideology represents the ‗integrated picture of reality,‗which it provides, is a picture, which legitimizes the interests of the powerful in society. It doesthis by omitting two key elements in the world it portrays. This first is social process:newsreaders invisible in the process of change, presenting the world as a succession of singleevents. The second ‗absent dimension‘ is social power: news offers us politics in the form ofrituals of political office and omits consideration of economic power altogether. The result is apicture of the world that appears both unchanging and unchangeable.The Daily Show straddles these news and comedy genres, employing comedy and satire to mockthe conventions of mainstream news and the politics it reports. The program has, according tothe Chicago Sun-Times, ‗managed to tell us as much or more about the world in which we livethan many of the legitimate TV news outfits it so brilliantly parodied‘ (Rosenthal, 2003b: 39).Revolutionary situations always bring with them discontinuous, spontaneous changes broughtabout by the masses, in the existing aggregate of the media. The enormous political and culturalenergies are hidden in the enchained masses with what imagination they are able, at the momentof liberation, to realize all the opportunities offered by the new media (Enzenberger, 1970).The New MediaNews and entertainment, like high and low art, are cultural categories that have arisen, not fromany kind of theoretical underpinning, but from a certain set of historical conditions and socialprocesses, (Levine, 1988). What we may be witnessing is evidence for a trend that Delli Carpiniand Williams (2004) described in which individuals use diverse forms of content to create
8 The Blurring Boundariespolitical understanding, regardless of whether that content is on the NBC Nightly News or a late-night comedy program. The new news genre perhaps indicates a larger trend in informationenvironment. The Daily Show is a form of political discourse that contrasts what ―is‖ and what―ought to be‖ (Bergson, 1956: 27). It ―weeps, scolds, and ridicules, generally with one majorend in view: to plead with man for a return to his moral senses‖ (Bloom & Bloom 1979: 38).While Levine does not reference journalism as an example of one such form of culture, hecertainly could have. Indeed, Eason, in his reflection on the origins and functions of journalisticauthority, explains: I do not take ‗facts‗ and ‗fictions‗ to be givens that we all recognize but rather the product of interpretive communities whose work is the making of the two categories and explaining how they interrelate. ‗Facts and fictions,‘ like other cultural categories, are the result of social and symbolic processes that publicize, authorize and legitimize the reality of a group. (1986: 431)The information model of journalism came to be associated with decency and truth, whereas thestory model was relegated to a lesser, even immoral status. While Schudson argues (1978: 119)that, ‗information journalism is not necessarily more accurate than story journalism‘, itssuperiority has nonetheless come to seem natural.Today‘s new media environment – characterized by the accelerated concentration andglobalization of ownership, the proliferation of media choice and audience fragmentation, theubiquity of the internet – seems to now require an interrogation of the once uncontestedassumption that news and entertainment be maintained as discrete paradigms. Discussions of
9 The Blurring BoundariesThe Daily Show and Jon Stewart can be seen as a way for journalists to negotiate this new terrainand, within it, the limitations of the profession‘s historically constructed definitions of whatjournalism should or needs to be. We should not be surprised by The Daily Show’s continuedsuccess upon considering the lack of trust of our government, the uncertainty of the war in theMiddle East and the current financial crisis, the instant on-demand technological globalization ofour lives has been distorted living in this fragmented post 911 world.Unhampered by journalistic conventions, Jon Stewart is able to engage with news content, andthus with his audience, in a way that the traditional journalist cannot. The Daily Show’s use ofirony and satire does more than inject emotion and subjectivity into the news. It implies a sharedunderstanding between communicator and receiver (Glasser & Ettema, 1993; Gring-Pemble andWatson, 2003), as the viewer can be an active participant in the news process. The Daily Showmay indeed shed light on ways of developing new forms of journalism that depart from standardnews models, appealing to younger audiences. Despite how Stewarts and his cohorts assailevents and the reporting of news, journalists continue to attend to and discuss the show in theircolumns or news programs. For it is significant that journalists participate in this farce, in muchin the same context of the show itself, journalists‘ voice their concerns about journalism‘s placewithin the current media environment. Wisely their ombudsmen have begun to re-evaluate theonce consensual notions of their craft, most notably the distinctions between news andentertainment, the objectivity of their profession while acknowledging the often-satirical truthsvoiced by Stewart and his band of provocateurs.
10 The Blurring BoundariesConclusionsCertainly there are limitations of accountability that mainstream journalists must adhere to thatThe Daily Show is not beholden to, and that is its attraction to viewers and guests alike. Stewartcircumvents the traditional conventions through the use of comedic techniques such as parodyand satire. The postmodern period of today is characterized by the end of representation – forcontemporary culture is a culture of ‗simulation‘, the generation by models of a real with originor reality: a hyper-real . . . ‗Realty‖ becomes inseparably bound up with the media and isincreasingly constituted by them. ‗The situation no longer permits us to isolate realty . . . as afundamental variable . . . we will never in the future be able to separate realty from its statistical,simulative projection in the media (Marris & Thornham, 2000). Rather than simple punch line–oriented jokes like those of Leno and Letterman, The Daily Show often employs the tool of ironyto create its humor, revealing the gap ―between what is and ought to be‖ (Bergson, 1956: 127).Take, for instance, this Daily Show clip from October 7, 2004: The official CIA report has come out . . . with a definitive answer on the weapons of mass destructions project in Iraq and it turns out . . . uhh not so much. Apparently there were no weapons of mass destructions in Iraq. Both the president and vice president said that [the report] clearly justified the invasion of Iraq. So, some people look at a glass and see it half full—and others people look at a glass and say . . . it‘s a dragon.This kind of segment structure is typical of the show‘s format and provides a clear illustration ofBergson‘s (1956) notion of ironic inversion, particularly with the contrast between the
11 The Blurring Boundaries―definitive answer on weapons of mass destruction‖ and the ―not so much.‖ It seems thatmainstream news media are continuing to struggle in their attempt to categorize Stewart inkeeping with the strict divide between legitimate and illegitimate political information.Satire, as defined by Berger (1993: 49), is an attack on the status quo, and for young people,perhaps a welcome form of resistance against the ‗serious‘ news. Indeed, satire ‗best makes itspoints by attending to sources and instances of failure in human behavior or institutions‘ (Bloom& Bloom, 1979: 33). Because of the show‘s use of satire is identified by journalists for its abilityto transcend journalistic conventions, particularly that of objectivity, while still delivering‗news‘. There is nonetheless an argument to be made that the irony and sarcasm that pervadeThe Daily Show may only serve to alienate young people further from the political process, andsome research exists to support this view (Baumgartner & Morris, 2006).There is also evidence to suggest that The Daily Show and other late-night comedy serve asocializing function, encouraging young viewers to tune into traditional forms of news so thatthey have the context necessary to appreciate the programs‘ topical humor (Young & Tisinger,2006). These findings indicate that The Daily Show promotes interest in news and politics. Infact, young people who watch Stewart‘s show are also more knowledgeable about politics thannon-viewers (National Annenberg Election Survey, 2004). Thus, even if Daily Show viewers aresomewhat less trusting of the media and government, they do not seem to be disengaging fromthe political system as a result.
12 The Blurring BoundariesThe oppositional hero – someone who is understood by journalists as breaching norms ofprofessional practice but is nonetheless revered because of this very ability to be unburdened byconvention – is manifest throughout the modern history of journalism. Perhaps the best exampleof such a figure is Hunter S. Thompson, whose ‗gonzo journalism‘ – a hybridization of unbridledfantasy and fact – was ‗marked by an emphatic author-participant-protagonist . . . who speaksneither from a detached position nor as a communal voice‘ (Hames- Garcia, 2000: 467). Notunlike his fellow New Journalists (e.g. Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, etc.) whoeluded the boundaries of fiction and fact. Stewart‘s satirical and provocative interpretations ofour fragmented postmodern world have shaped this new form of news and have everything to dowith the show‘s success.
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