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Satire as Journalism
November 6, 2009 1:51 PM   Subscribe

Satire has long been part of discourse, with written records going back to the Ramesside Period of Ancient Egypt, and two primary classifications of satire originate with the Roman satirists Horace and Juvenal. Other notable historic figures have also been authors of significant satire, but not always with much appreciation. News satire furthers the awkward stance with public, as the public may read satire as an outrageous truth, and be angered instead of amused. The Daily Show, and Jon Stewart in specific, ranks well in the fractured world of current news programming, and the show was noted in the New York Times as "a genuine cultural and political force" (previously), but you don't have take their word for it. Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism studied the content of The Daily Show for an entire year (2007), providing interesting (if slightly dated) details on the show. That year included their much-viewed coverage fo the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. And in poll results published July 24, 2009, Jon Stewart was voted America's most trusted newscaster, apparently filling the position previously held by Walter Cronkite. But is it because Stewart is one of the few journalists willing to ask the hard questions or has America been won over by "cheap laughs"?
posted by filthy light thief (54 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
If you missed it, the earlier deleted thread had some interesting comments.

The Pew Research Center study introduction includes mention of satirists whose works were once printed in American newspapers: Russell Baker, Art Hoppe at the San Francisco Chronicle (including "To Root Against Your Country", a column against the Vietnam War, first published on March 5, 1971), Art Buchwald (Obit, prev) at the Washington Post, and H. L. Mencken.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:51 PM on November 6, 2009


It should be pointed out that it was a stupid online poll, not a real poll.
posted by empath at 2:00 PM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know, Jon Stewart's recent deconstruction of Fox News, while very funny, was also brilliant. He pointed out exactly how the bullshit actually works, in plain terms and without pandering to his audience.

Just because he's coming at it from the 'funny' angle, instead of the Dreadfully Serious Professorial angle, doesn't make his analysis any less cogent or incisive. Scholarly analysis is so often about the person doing the analysis, rather than the thing being analyzed, choosing complex words to sound erudite, instead of simple ones that better explain a concept. They use their words to confuse instead of illuminate, trying to convince their audience that they're Really Smart People and Should Be Taken Seriously.

By abandoning all pretense, other than trying to be funny, Stewart had a clearer and better explanation than anything else I've personally seen.

Here's the link if you're interested.
posted by Malor at 2:03 PM on November 6, 2009 [21 favorites]


... with only 7 people representing Montana, compared to 133 for Colorado and 628 for New York.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:04 PM on November 6, 2009


malor: By abandoning all pretense, other than trying to be funny, Stewart had a clearer and better explanation than anything else I've personally seen.

Here's the link if you're interested.
Here's what I suspect is the same segment for Canadians. It's absolutely merciless satire and hysterically funny.
posted by Decimask at 2:12 PM on November 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


I had a more detailed comment in the deleted Hitchens thread, but the gist was this: when your nation's journalism is a joke, it's no surprise that a comedian will be best at it.
posted by Riki tiki at 2:14 PM on November 6, 2009 [9 favorites]


Here's one comment I wrote in that thread:

--
He's got a point in that the political comedians on television are all liberal.

That's because conservatives have no sense of humor, duh.

What about Dennis Miller? Sure, he used to be a liberal. He seems to have become a conservative a few years after he stopped being funny. I wonder if there's a connection...

Actually studies show that conservatives actually do have a sense of humor, but it's actually less selective. They find more stuff funny, and therefore it stands to reason that their standards are a lot lower. That's why they find people like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck "funny".

Intelligent people tend to be liberal as well.

I have a theory about that. Intelligent conservatives realize how repellent their philosophy actually is, so they don't talk about it. They either get hopped up Randianism or just don't discuss their theories honestly. A lot of them just lie all the time (Like bill Kristol, people like that). The fact is lies always sound dumber then truth, because a liar has to keep entire imaginary worlds in their mind, while honest people only need the truth. Obviously it gets confusing, so they either have to play dumb and act like they don't understand how what they're saying is inconsistent.

Anyway the point is: Smart conservatives either keep their conservatism to themselves, or lie and therefore seem stupid. Result: Intelligent people seem to be more liberal.
--

That said, I don't see why anyone would consider this post that much better. It's just a research dump of links. The history of Satire, some links about John Stewart, and then the deleted link at the end. It reads like the bibliography of a high school English class paper.
posted by delmoi at 2:15 PM on November 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Whoops, I'm wrong. Malor's link is to the Oct 29th show.
posted by Decimask at 2:19 PM on November 6, 2009


Methinks Christopher Hitchens doth protest too much.
posted by UseyurBrain at 2:25 PM on November 6, 2009


It reads like the bibliography of a high school English class paper.

Than ur doin it rong. A bibliography would just be a list of the links, as if I were providing sources for a longer paper. This is a quick amalgamation of information, so it could be likened to a hasty one-page summary of satire and news satire, and how The Daily Show fits into such a history, which was my intent. Hopefully you'll have a moment to browse through the other links, as I found them rather interesting.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:31 PM on November 6, 2009


Those laughs aren't cheap.

A cheap laugh is me running a picture of George W Bush next to a picture of a chimp with a similar facial expression. What Stewart does requires a ton of research and analysis. The fact that the work is in the service of humour doesn't mean it isn't work.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:36 PM on November 6, 2009 [8 favorites]


Peter Gomes on Christopher Hitchens: "Mr. Hitchens is a self-made man who devoutly worships his Creator."
posted by jefficator at 2:47 PM on November 6, 2009 [11 favorites]


Satire? From now on I'm watching POX news!
posted by GuyZero at 2:48 PM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


This from the other night is also a hoot. Yeah I said it. A hoot.
posted by nola at 2:48 PM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


an evening with the CheapLaughs.
posted by philip-random at 2:50 PM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah I said it. A hoot.

I approve. Hoot more, devour small rodents less.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:51 PM on November 6, 2009


Malor: You know, Jon Stewart's recent deconstruction of Fox News, while very funny, was also brilliant.

Speaking of satire and Stewart, have you seen the Glenn Beck bit he did last night? It is utterly, utterly brilliant.
posted by WCityMike at 2:52 PM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ah, nola already posted the link. Sorry.
posted by WCityMike at 2:53 PM on November 6, 2009


And in case you haven't been doing your own Onion-filtering, the controversial Victim in fatal car accident tragically not Glenn Beck.
posted by philip-random at 2:54 PM on November 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Stewart really just does something no one else seems to be doing: he gets his laughs by ridiculing the lies and hypocrisy of the powerful and rich, without limiting himself to targeting only one side.

Faced with a deceitful government spokesman, or a lying "activist" Olbermann and O'Reilly will call it out, but only when it's the other team. Their own side gets a pass, and if there's no lies being told by the other team that day, they'll make up some.

Faced with a lying politician or deceptive business mouthpiece, ABC, CBS, NBC and the "MSM" won't ever call it out, preferring instead to take no position at all and achieve "balance" by quoting what some tepid third party had to say. They wouldn't call Joseph Goebbels a liar; they'd find someone to politely disagree.

Only Stewart -- because his humor depends on the contrast between facts and lies, and between words vs deeds -- seems to owe his primary allegiance to the truth. His skewering is only funny if it's accurate. So that makes him the "trusted" one.

That's a sad state of affairs, but Stewart certainly isn't the one to blame for it.
posted by tyllwin at 3:16 PM on November 6, 2009 [11 favorites]


I worry that with the advent of 24 hour news shows, broadcasting not only gets shallow, but they can't offend anyone who might provide easy information in the future. In short, when delving into murky business of politics means that you offend the party as a whole, keep the gloves on and ask the soft questions. Wholly unsubstantiated, but I still fear this might be part of the truth.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:21 PM on November 6, 2009


Almost none of the above is visible from Ireland. Why, lord, why?
posted by fcummins at 3:27 PM on November 6, 2009


Than ur doin it rong. A bibliography would just be a list of the links, as if I were providing sources for a longer paper. This is a quick amalgamation of information

It's called a metaphor. And anyway you have 212 words and 16 links, for a total 13.25 words per link. So it's actually hardly any more then a list of links.
posted by delmoi at 3:36 PM on November 6, 2009


Ah, nola already posted the link. Sorry

I should have spelled it out. My bad.
posted by nola at 3:53 PM on November 6, 2009


Which is in fact significantly more words per link than most posts near as I can tell. I do think that it would have improved legibility to not have the links span so many words. But that's neither here nor there.

As to the actual subject...

Is it really a bad thing to have the news presented humorously? John Stewart runs a good show that's both entertaining and informative. The lack of competition says more about the state of the news presentation elsewhere. This whole concept of journalistic objectivity is too often, as has been pointed out above, interpreted to mean a limp echoing of the people in power. I think the news would be a lot better if they just sacked the idea of objectivity relative to a political party or some such, and just tried to be objective with respect to, you know, objective reality.

Sanity isn't determined by the masses, nor is objectivity. Just be honest about where the facts end and where your opinion begins and you're doing your job.
posted by Zalzidrax at 3:59 PM on November 6, 2009


Malor: Scholarly analysis is so often about the person doing the analysis, rather than the thing being analyzed, choosing complex words to sound erudite, instead of simple ones that better explain a concept. They use their words to confuse instead of illuminate, trying to convince their audience that they're Really Smart People and Should Be Taken Seriously.

I agree totally with your point about Stewart's humorous take also being incisive and brilliant, but I have to derail to address this absolutely unfair characterization. There are small corners of academe that are exactly as you describe here, and sometimes these small corners expose themselves and their babblings to large swaths of students, but the majority of academic disciplines, especially those like mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, agriculture, engineering, medicine, and public health, are quite the opposite of your characterization. The enormous amount of public good that has flowed from these disciplines far outweighs the pompous mouthings of some of the less robust members of the academic community.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:00 PM on November 6, 2009


Who said this? "If you're going to tell the truth, make people laugh. Otherwise they will kill you."

That's a good insight about satire--the Horatian kind, not the mean old Juvenalian kind.
posted by John of Michigan at 4:02 PM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


The thing we all need to keep in mind here is that Glenn Beck really sucks.
posted by diogenes at 4:13 PM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jon Stewart is not a newscaster. I'm not saying that as a criticism, but as a statement of fact about what the man does: he hosts a talk show.

It's fine to think he's funny, and it's good that some people learn stuff about current events they might not have otherwise known, but to call him a newscaster or journalist demeans all the people who do it for real.

Personally, I miss the old Jon Stewart show on ABC. Damn funny whether you were in the choir or not.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:27 PM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


to call him a newscaster or journalist demeans all the people who do it for real.

You haven't been paying much attention to "the news" of late, have you? Because what Stewart is doing actually seems to be journalism by comparison.

The interview Bill Moyers did with Jon Stewart (no "h" please) is quite revealing about his own feeling about his position within the spectrum of news - humor.
posted by hippybear at 4:40 PM on November 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


So, where are these newscasters or journalists who are doing it "for real"?

I'm sure they exist, but they certainly don't get any exposure on what we're told is "the news".
posted by phliar at 5:07 PM on November 6, 2009


Who said this? "If you're going to tell the truth, make people laugh. Otherwise they will kill you."

Oscar Wilde. Great quote.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:19 PM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have no sense of humor about people who have no sense of humor about humor.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 5:49 PM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is it really a bad thing to have the news presented humorously?

No, not bad at all. I remember reading a Hakim Bey essay a decade or so ago where he was critical of the prevailing sentiment in our mediated culture that one could be either:

A. serious + sober
b. trivial + not sober

... with no wavering allowed. The end result was that serious subjects were always presented in dullest way imaginable, with anything remotely "fun" being an insult to one's intelligence.

What I love about Stewart, Colbert, Maher et al is that they've flipped this paradigm rather nicely. Honorable mention to the Bush administration who forced the issue.
posted by philip-random at 5:51 PM on November 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


Jon Stewart is not a newscaster.

True. He's something strangely else; a jester who has assumed a seat at the king's table and as such must be taken seriously. The only historical comparison that comes to mind is Walt Winchell who, though he was a journalist by definition (he's credited with inventing the gossip column), rose way beyond that level, due to the popularity of his radio show. There's a good movie about him, Winchell, that pops up every now and then on HBO.
posted by philip-random at 6:04 PM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


He's something strangely else

He flies under the "stupid" radar because he's on Comedy Central. The idiots who don't "get" him don't care or notice because they think he's just doing schtick.

If he took over for Andy Rooney on a "serious" news show and did the same commentary, there would be a sudden widespread outcry (manufactured by corporate media) after his first appearance.
posted by Zambrano at 6:22 PM on November 6, 2009


A cheap laugh is me running a picture of George W Bush next to a picture of a chimp with a similar facial expression. What Stewart does requires a ton of research and analysis.

Well, I think "cheap laugh" in this case has more to do with the work that we, as the audience, have to do to uncover the nugget of humor in what the comedian says. You're right that John Stewart's humor isn't as facile as George W. Bush next to a monkey, but I still think it's fairly straightforward in a way that might keep it from being deemed as "sophisticated" humor.

I don't mean to suggest that "sophisticated humor" is better, though, because I think that John Stewart's stuff would fail if it tried to be complex and subtle; it seems to me that one of the main points of his act is that the powerful often try to spin their deeds as good in ways that are too complex and subtle to be apprehended by the public at large, when in fact they are very simply bad.
posted by invitapriore at 6:37 PM on November 6, 2009


Someone once pointed out to me that the best thing about Jon Stewart's show is that it's better researched than actual news programs.
posted by flatluigi at 6:50 PM on November 6, 2009 [6 favorites]


Great quote from Stewart from that Moyers interview that hippybear linked to, he's talking about making a joke that someone may find unfunny for ideological reasons:

People don't understand that we're not warriors in their cause.
posted by dubitable at 9:35 PM on November 6, 2009


Someone once pointed out to me that the best thing about Jon Stewart's show is that it's better researched than actual news programs.

I think that's mostly a function of them actually giving a shit about their jobs.
posted by empath at 9:42 PM on November 6, 2009


(The Daily Show, that is, not news journalists)
posted by empath at 9:46 PM on November 6, 2009


Speaking of telling the truth on tv news -- Kos got a little bit too real with Tom Tancredo and Tancredo walked off the broadcast.
posted by empath at 9:47 PM on November 6, 2009


Stewart is in a fantastic position to ask some tough fucking questions. He eviscerated Kramer. He needs to do it more often.

Jon's tremendous. I feel, though, when you are interviewing a Richard Perle or a Kissinger, if you give them a pass, then you become what you are satirizing
posted by griphus at 9:49 PM on November 6, 2009


i'm no fan of tom tancredo, but he was right to object to an unnecessary ad hominem attack. Maybe he faked depression to get out of going to Vietnam, but maybe he didn't and mocking the psychological history of one's opponents isn't fair debate.
posted by nangua at 5:20 AM on November 7, 2009


Although I have to admit, I didn't find Jon's drawn-out impression of Glen Beck's schtick on 11/5 funny.

I think this will work for Stateslings.
posted by Decimask at 6:21 AM on November 7, 2009


Christopher Hitchens has made the all too common error of preserving his brain for science whilst still alive.
posted by srboisvert at 6:53 AM on November 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


to call him a newscaster or journalist demeans all the people who do it for real.

Those people are more commonly demeaned by being fired or kept unpromoted so that the jobs they should have can be filled with thoughtless hacks. Having part of their work get done on popular national television anyway, even if it's done in a flawed fashion by a comedian, is an improvement.
posted by roystgnr at 8:26 AM on November 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


holy shiznit, I just watched Stewart's Glen Beck parody that was linked upthread and my head nearly exploded. I actually only laughed once or twice in the whole 8-minute spiel, but that was because most of the time my mouth was wide open in awe at how well Stewart and his writers had analyzed Beck's rhetorical style and strategies, disentangled them from their original content, and re-attached them to a substantially different topic (his internal organs) to make the absurdities and contradictions jump out at you.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a textbook example of parody as critique. So textbook-y is it, that I might just use it as a video example the next time I'm teaching a class on art and political parody.
posted by LMGM at 9:21 AM on November 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


In the Bill Moyers interview, Jon Stewart said: "I can assure them they're not getting any journalism from us. We are, if anything — I do believe we function as a sort of editorial cartoon." In that, you have to know the topic of the jest, or you don't get the joke. But the show provides a bit of back-story, so it's like a three-panel comic, where the story builds to the punch-line. Or maybe Prince Valiant style running story.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:45 AM on November 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


> holy shiznit, I just watched Stewart's Glen Beck parody that was linked upthread and my head nearly exploded.

I agree, it's an impressive bit of theater--but I never knew just how big a hate-on Stewart has for Beck. I couldn't watch all of it, but I got the sense that the audience wasn't laughing all that much. He undermined the mandate of his show to spend 8 minutes grinding his heel on Beck's face.
posted by Decimask at 2:49 PM on November 7, 2009


i'm no fan of tom tancredo, but he was right to object to an unnecessary ad hominem attack. Maybe he faked depression to get out of going to Vietnam, but maybe he didn't and mocking the psychological history of one's opponents isn't fair debate.

He was the head of the college republicans, spoke out in favor of the war, and then when his time came to serve, he sought and got a deferment, and then went right back to attacking anti-war protestors and pretending to speak for veterans. I think it's fair game.
posted by empath at 2:59 PM on November 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


He undermined the mandate of his show to spend 8 minutes grinding his heel on Beck's face.

Sorry? What's the mandate of his show? Is printed online somewhere? I thought it was to skewer the bullshit artists of media and politics (the public realm in general) as only a brilliant satirist can. In effectively holding a mirror to Glenn Beck's face and reflecting the subversion of the man's own innards (in his own words and stylings no less), Jon Stewart and his team have done us all a favour.

Us being people who give a shit about things like truth, beauty, honest discourse etc.
posted by philip-random at 3:01 PM on November 7, 2009


> I thought it was to skewer the bullshit artists of media and politics (the public realm in general) as only a brilliant satirist can.

Traditionally, by being funny. 8 minutes was about 7 minutes too long--beating the horse, killing the horse, beating the dead horse, infecting it with equine solanum, removing the limbs from the zombie horse, then beating zombie horse until it smashes its own skull to make it stop.

Admittedly, I haven't watched it from beginning to end, but then I don't watch Beck either except in snippets of lunacy linked elsewhere.

My experience was:

[60-90 seconds of watching] "Alright, Jon, you hate Glenn Beck & Beck is a nut, we get it."
[skip ahead a couple minutes] "Holy crap, are you still on this?"
[skip ahead] "Holy crap."
[skip ahead] "Holy crap."
[skip ahead] "Jesus, Jon, I'm starting to feel victimized for Beck at this point."
[skip to the last 30 seconds] "STILL?! Wow, you took that gag and drilled all the way through to Australia with it."

Like I said, phenomenal piece of acting. Astonishing (unfunny) satire. But I wasn't laughing--and Jon is in that chair because he's a comedian. I'm assuming the whole point of the bit is to troll FOX again.
posted by Decimask at 3:43 PM on November 7, 2009


It was kind of like watching Howard Beale snapping in Network.

Except in real life.
posted by Decimask at 4:04 PM on November 7, 2009


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