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Looks at the relationship between politics and comedy.
Looks at the relationship between politics and comedy.
With the world more and more connected and the then increase in significance of news, thus also journalism has made some communication theorists, sociologists and particularly political scientists very much worried. Journalistic representation of news according to the theory of Professor Tuchman can take two forms: ‘Hard’ news, that is news which concerns information to keep the individual informed of important details that may or may not effect them; and ‘Soft’ news, which concerns informal and light hearted topics (1973: 113-4). These two categories have been seen to have their place in journalism, but there has been a trend towards the usage of ‘Soft’ news in the media; this is the stem of the worry. It is not just the news subject itself that is changing and becoming ‘Soft’, as both Professors Lehman-Wilzig and Seletzky state, but also the “medium (or its ‘packaging’)” as well (2010: 41). There is another highly related term, ‘infotainment’, which is often used in the context of television, which is as the Cambridge dictionary puts it “the reporting of news and facts in an entertaining and humorous way rather than providing real information” (Cambridge: 2010a). Although on the other hand, the Encyclopedia of Journalism deems it rather just as a synonym of ‘Soft’ news (Matthews 2009). A particular form of infotainment that has been used to demonstrate this change in media has been political humour or political satire, exceptionally this is so in the case of the television program The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. With this in mind, this essay will examine the merger of media and politics in the context of political humour and political satire, as well as argue that in this context the merger is positive for democracy.<br />Worry Redefined<br />Politics is a shadow of itself, as to the voters it only exists through second-hand accounts retold by the media (Louw 2005: 31). This with the trend towards ‘Soft’ news, creates the fear that the individual will become less informed without ‘Hard’ news to make political decisions, thus highly weakening the quality of democracy (Bennett 2004: 140). The shift in the quality of media (thus also democracy) has been acknowledged by the Committee of Concerned Journalists and academics alike under a movement to “narrow sound bites”, one sentence quotes, the use of light “entertainment formulas” in reporting important news topics (Plasser 2005: 50). The trend has been developing since the 80’s, However American president Richard Nixon was outspoken about his belief that there was a trend towards the media becoming scandal-mongering sensationists ten years beforehand (Nolan 2005: 77). <br />The Humour of South Park<br />Subjectivism and sensationalism is but a guarantee in political satire, this is due to the Subjective nature of humour, and the sensationalist nature of parody. The cartoon television show South Park has increasingly become a kind of satire show by making cynical points about the activities of politicians and the media, away from the more traditional misadventures of the four young lead characters (Weinstock 2008: 98). An example can be seen in the second two part episode ‘Cartoon Wars’ where the creators lampoon the censorship around the newspaper cartoon of the Muslim prophet Muhammad and the media and political reaction to it (Cartoon Wars: part II 2006 & Williams 2009: 6 ). In‘“I Hate Hippies”: South Park and the Politics of Generation X’ Matt Becker argues against the earlier claims (Anderson 2005) that South Park is of a pro-conservative view point, but that rather it demonstrates the erroneous nature of all views, and that its classification should be seen as ‘nihilistic’. South Parks’ nihilistic world view and utter “contempt of all traditional institutions” can be seen as being anti-political, anti-news & media, anti-academic, and form of the “cynicism, apathy and disengagement” of “generation X’” (Matt Becker 2008). This disengagement can be seen in the results of a study that showed young people (between 18 to 24) were less likely to vote after seeing such radical cynical elements in satire. This study was based on the satire of Jon Stewart’s take on both presidential candidates in the American election of 2004 in his show the Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Baumgartner & Morris 2006: 362). It is Important to point out that South Park has a very low level of realism in comparison to the Daily Show, which sets itself as a parody of a traditional news media. The Daily Show follows the formula of a realistic and normal news bulletin of the evening news. Although South Park retells political and media events, the ‘nihilistic’ message may corrupt any knowledge gained from the show. Unfortunately there has been no appropriate academic research on the links between South park (and other such animated satiric cartoons) and politics (Armstrong 2005: 11-12). <br />Jon’s Satire<br />The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as previously explored is a parody of a traditional news media. It is often called a “fake” news show, although there is more mockery in it than falseness. Stewart starts the show with an introduction and then a fake nightly news bulletin that one might see in an ordinary ‘Hard’ news programme. He then dissects the item for maximum humour and irony. Afterwards he interviews note worthy people from political, news media and academic realms (Druick 2009: 304). With communication theorists and political scientists now critically investigating the effects of ‘Soft’ news a in serious manner, the Daily Show is an important and prime focus of the study into this relationship between ’soft’ news and politics. This is a result of people considering Stewart to be the fourth most admired journalist in America (cao 2010: 28). Stewart has tried to deflect the importance of the show by stating that his show “is comedy, not even pretending to be information” and that the Daily Show is “not breaking any news” as satire is a “very reactive business” (Milibank (2000) in Brewer & Marquardt (2007: 249)). Although the interviews that Stewart hosts can be more serious than other late night comedy shows, it still behaves in the same manner; a “relaxed, lightheated interview [that] can make a stiff, somewhat formal candidate … seem almost personable”(Mason 2004, in Parkin 2010: 3). When these interviews are political and used for political enlightenment, they are acting as a substitute for the ‘Hard’ news that they are replacing (ibidem). These late night comedy shows also focus excessively on the candidates personal image rather than their political policies (Parkin 2010: 3). This is exemplified by the Daily Shows coverage of the 2004 American presidential election where candidate George W. Bush was depicted as “incompetent” and a “dimwitted fraternity boy” (Baumgartner & Morris 2006: 342-3). <br />Jon’s Effects<br />While there is no hard evidence showing that standard late night comedy show’s political satire really affects the voter to a substantial degree, professors Baumgartner & Morris argue that the Daily Show is different and more influential than other such shows due to the youthful demographic of its audience and their alleged persuadability ( 2006: 342-3). They also argue that Stewart can have radical cynical elements in his satire, in which people are less likely to vote after consuming his ‘Soft’ news (2006: 361-2). They also state that the perception’s of lesser known candidates are diminished, and therefore it is important as a candidate to have high name recognition in ‘infotainment’; this in turn therefore must be damaging to democracy (ibidem). With this, as well as the fact that the Daily Show is ever increasing in popularity (Baumgartner & Morris 2006: 342-3) to the point that over 16% of Americans claim to watch the show and/or its spin-off The Colbert Report (Cao 2010: 28), therefore a decrease in young voters in the 2008 American presidential election would be expected. This is in contradiction to the U.S. Census Bureau (2009) who rather reported an increase in young people voting ( between 18 to 24); from a 47% turnout in the 2004 presidential election to 49% turnout in the 2008 presidential election. The importance of high name recognition for candidates due to Stewart humour contradicted the research of professors Moy et al. which found higher name recognition among viewers (2005: 205) . Other research found that young people do gain some knowledge about political campaigns and can recall the said knowledge, but they overestimated their knowledge(Hollander 2005: 441-2). As well as university graduates who watch the Daily Show have slightly more political knowledge than those that do not(Cao 2008:57).<br />Political Knowledge and Jon<br />Historically there were only a few television channels in each country, and politics was only shown through ‘Hard’ news media; back then, the individuals would have to watch the political hard news or turn the television off. Today there is a considerable amount of television designed purely for entertainment purposes. The Daily Show allows people once alienated from politics to gain a base understanding while providing light entertainment (Cao 2010: 26; Baum 2007: 117). Professor Cao continues along these lines when he states that the basic understanding “in turn reduces the cost of paying attention to additional information about the topic” (2010: 31). Further more, individuals who do watch the Daily Show can use the show to digest complex political events and use that information to understand further details in a ‘Hard’ news context (Baum 2003:48). These people act in a rational way, for the individual is unlikely to be an influence on political outcomes and thus its pointless to indulge in in-depth political analyse (Cao 2010: 31). Therefore, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is an important political television show; it has its share of fans who believe that Jon Stewart should be respected and admired for his political journalism. While Baumgartner & Morris saw the Daily Show in an overly negative light, research since then has been much more favourable, showing that the show adds to some degree to political knowledge. <br />In Reverse and Synthesised <br />The hardening of ‘Soft’ news, due to journalistic respect, has its fair share of research; the study of ‘Hard’ news acquiring infotainment elements has had less study.<br />The increasing trend of ‘Hard’ news having more ‘Soft’ news elements is firstly to be more appealing to viewers and easer to watch and digest (Cao 2010: 27), and secondly to try and synthesis somewhat for the sake of ratings. Political candidates are increasingly using ‘infotainment’ to skip the up tightness and seriousness of ‘Hard’ news as well creating more “personalised images and messages largely unfiltered by journalists” (Moy et al. 2005: 206). The core of ‘Hard’ news viewers are those of society who are more educated looking for in depth information, ‘Soft’ news viewers on the other hand tend to have less quantifications and rather are looking for entertainment. Thus this move to more ‘Soft’ news elements in Hard news can be seen to appeal to a larger less educated demographic audience (Lehman-Wilzig and Seletzky 2010: 40-1). An extreme example of this is a political show on TVNZ 7 called Back Benchers, in which a panel of New Zealand politicians and other people of note are quizzed about national and international, political and media events and issues. This show is interesting and unique because it encourages the use of wit in comments as well as the show being broadcast live in the Backbencher bar just over the road from the beehive. Most dramatically the considerable consumption of alcohol by all those involved further blurs the line between ‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’ news (Walker 2008; Throng 2008). This blur can also be seen in the American television show 1/2 Hour News Hour on the Fox News Channel, which was a political satire show making fun of ‘liberal’ media and political values. It is important to note that this aired on a non-fiction 24 hour news channel, and it has been the only non-fiction segment on Fox News Channel; this would be comparable to the BBC adding a political satire show amongst their world news service. Jaime Weinman writing in a Canadian popular culture magazine reported the irony that it was not funny nor was it really satire, the skits were rather was just a “Fox News segments with a laugh track”. Weinman also pointed out why Fox News was trying to add satire, to compete with the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, as they felt like they were losing ‘The culture wars’ to the ‘liberals’ (Weinman 2007). At this point, the nonmanclure of ‘hard’/‘soft’ news breaks down, where news is overtly blurred and blended until it becomes synthesised. With homogenization in mind Lehman-Wilzig and Seletzky felt the need to add a extra category in which they called ‘General’ news; therefore this third category is a Synthesis of both ‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’ media, who are including each others elements in their production (2010: 47-8). <br />Conclusion<br />The merger between media and politics in respect to satire and humour can be seen in the way a humorous cartoon which sometimes recalls political events can foster cynicism to the point that individuals have claimed that it decreases the likelihood of voting. It can also be seen in the way people use a political and media satire show to help them to understand and digest complex political events and issues, which then lets them have a base on which to understand the same subject in a more traditional news environment. The merger can also be seen in the traditional news media’s use of satire and humour in some segments in order to be light hearted and more enjoyable to watch, thus increasing the ratings. As well as in the trend, that points toward a blended mix of both traditional news and ‘infotainment’. The merger in relation to democracy, has be seen to be positive in the context of satire and humour, so long as the individuals have the ability to convert the base knowledge gained through ‘infotainment’ to more of a proper understanding with traditional news media. If the over all trend points toward a blended mix of both ‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’ news, which it deteriorates ‘Hard’ news elements to the point that information is gained by infotainment with some slight ‘Hard’ elements, then this is indeed a great worry.<br />Bibliography <br />Armstrong, Paul 2005, The Simpsons and Democracy: Political Apathy, Popular Culture, and Lifelong Learning as Satire, post PhD Thesis, University of Leeds.<br />Baum, Matthew A. 2003, Soft News Goes to War: Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy in the New Media Age, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.<br />Baum, Matthew A. 2007, ‘Soft News and Foreign Policy: How Expanding<br />the Audience Changes the Policies’, Japanese Journal of Political Science, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 114 -145. <br /> <br />Baumgartner, Jody & Morris, Jonathan S. 2006, ‘The Daily Show Effect: Candidate Evaluations, Efficacy, and American Youth’, American Politics Research, Vol. 34, No. 3, pp. 341-367.<br />Becker, Matt 2008,‘“I Hate Hippies”: South Park and the Politics of Generation X’ , In Jeffrey Andrew Weinstocks (ed), Taking South Park Seriously, state university of New York Press, New York, pp. 143-179.<br />Bennett, W. 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