Political Humor: Not a Laughing Matter This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     Although laughter is the best medicine (which has even been clinically proven), the side effects, especially in terms of political humor, are ignored. Talk shows like “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” which seek to impart news in a witty way, will not result in nausea, heart disease, or drowsiness (unless you stay up to watch Conan), but they do create a mockery of current events that only serves to foster political ignorance.

Before the last presidential election, a national survey revealed daunting results about the average American’s lack of political knowledge. Seventy-five percent of citizens (who met the voting requirements) knew almost nothing about the Patriot Act (which had been in existence for over three years at that point) and were unable to name their congressperson. What is even more startling is that a similar percentage of voters could not explain the difference between the three branches of the government. Last August, a follow-up questionnaire had similar disappointing results. For instance, a substantial 46 percent thought Hezbollah was America’s ally.

However, last weekend as I was watching Comedy Central, I began to question my own political knowledge. In the last few weeks, I realized I had spent a great deal of time watching “The Daily Show” (and other satirical news-related comedies), and virtually no time watching the news - without Jon Stewart. I don’t believe I would have done as poorly on the survey, but I am ashamed to admit that I received most of my information from the Comedy Partners LLC.

The problem isn’t that political facts are hard to attain. In fact, the opposite is true. With myriad newspapers and magazines, over 10 C-Span channels, and especially the advent of YouTube (which posts hundreds of clippings daily), it is more improbable not to hear about current events. However, research has confirmed that as accessibility to news has increased, the typical American’s political knowledge has decreased dramatically.

One example of this phenomenon is that indifference to politics has increased. With over 300 million Americans (and each person accounting for only a fraction of a percent of the popular vote even in the most significant election), it can be understood that people would not bother becoming educated about the issues. However, since voting for the president has been a reality since 1789, it’s not likely to be responsible for the widespread political illiteracy.

Instead, what has changed is the number of people who watch political humor. Another off-putting statistic is that 29 percent of Americans under 30 claimed they regularly learned of presidential campaign news on “Saturday Night Live.” In addition, Newsday recently published that among the top 20 people whom readers felt influenced the upcoming campaign most, respondents included Jon Stewart and Sean Hannity.

Since these comedians and their shows are geared toward engaging audiences - unlike straightforward news programs, which are laced with details rather than drollery - they are extremely exaggerated and overwhelmingly vituperative. After all, insults make news interesting! However, as CNN analyst Jeff Greenfield so appropriately stated, “In politics, humor is like nitroglycerin - powerful but dangerous.” Humor can make or break (think Ronald Reagan) a career. But most of all, it is what molds the majority of the public’s opinion, especially with so many Americans acquiring news from comedic programs. Thus, when Jon Stewart pokes fun at Congress or when Stephen Colbert “wags his finger” at President Bush, millions of impressionable viewers begin to disparage the government and regard it as worthless. The transmission of these negative opinions leads to lackadaisical attitudes about politics, which in turn causes Americans to mistake GWB and the GDP

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

JennyBean said...
May 11, 2009 at 11:20 pm
I really liked this article! You make really interesting, well-supported points, and you actually changed my point of view on the subject! Great job!
 
naturelover123 replied...
Mar. 13, 2010 at 12:58 pm
Agreed...great article.
 
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