Then, They Laughed: The Evolution Of Satire From The Past To Social Media

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In the “1960’s” the newness of connectivity TV provided brought together families and friends alike and contributed to the feeling of a national culture. Almost all families in the United States owned at least one TV. In the “1960’s” Americans primarily used television as a news source and to enjoy “variety shows.” Variety – “a mix of Vaudevillian sketches, musical performances, and stand-up comedy” (Danelo5) was the largely defunct genre of television that broadcast during prime-time hours. Throughout the last sixty years, the United States has gone through some tremendous revolutionary times. With the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, and the corruption of the White House the American people began to fight back and poke fun. Satire shifted from lighthearted comedy to late night political talk-shows that criticized the government, informed the public of political affairs and sometimes even mock the citizens being ruled all while performing various hilarious skits.

There are many ways to define Satire, most notably satire was defined as “a playfully critical distortion of the familiar’; it is also ‘an amorphous genre’ (Petro5). In 1968, there were shows like The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, and other variety shows that pushed the boundaries of what was appropriate for television. The variety shows told jokes and acted out sketches that related to the current issues of the day. Satire has allowed the American people a way to cope with the issues citizens faced as a nation

During the sixty’s a large population of young people grew angry with tales of drug experimentation, patriotic battles for civil rights, protests like the Vietnam War and the collective mourning of the deaths of prominent Americans such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy. With all of the tension rising there was a growing distrust in government and nightly news stations often reported on the “Crisis of Authority”(Danelo14). Satire gave a new voice to the people by mocking the authority and making people laugh.

Satirical jokes have dual purposes: to make the audience laugh while informing them through criticism. Within satire, there are subgenres: social satire and political satire. Social satire focuses on society and its cultural interactions and political satire makes jokes at the expense of those in authority and those who are ruled. Satire is ultimately an opinion-based commentary therefore a satirist cannot help to include their own ideologies when telling jokes.

Since one of the purposes of satire is to criticize, it should be obvious to the reader what is being criticized. Satire should not have to be interpreted by the critic to the reader. Edward J. Rosenheim, Jr. insists that the reader should be able to point out the individual, group, institution, custom, belief, or idea which is under attack. The targets of satire are almost never fiction the objects they represent exist or existed.

Satire has been presented in several ways over the years. The norm or ideal counterparts of satire are explicitly and implicitly which the satiric target is an aberration. This concept of satire sprung from the uncertainty and ethical relativism or better known as “morality of elitism”, found in many satirists, critics, and interpreters of satire. (Petro18).

Modern political satire is displayed in late night television shows such as The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and SNL. These shows defy the traditional broadcasting journalism standards that were established in the early “1950’s”. These shows have fused conservatism and satire, which created a paradox for some conservative TV viewers. Satire is more effective in communicating a message than traditional news, because satirist present more serious issues embedded in laughter.

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The targets of satire have shifted incredibly over the years. Americans are entrusting late night talk shows to get the current events in the world. In the last sixty years, there has been an extreme shift in news and how it is presented to the American public. In 2011 Stephen Colbert changed and challenged the boundaries of traditional satire forever. He became a part of the national finance debate, drifting away from the role of the comedic observer to cynical activist.

Colbert created Americans for a better Tomorrow, tomorrow (FEC, 2010), a political parody of real-world activism as “performing the debate”, as an act through which the comedian gives the electorate with “an extended civics lesson”. Colbert super PAC parody has gained so much national media attention. Providing the comedian, the opportunity to extend his political parodies beyond the boundaries of the show and appearing different characters across a variety spectrum (e.g., Letterman, This Week, Morning Joe, etc.). In modern society people are deciding on the political satire late night shows than the traditional news networks for information on current events.

With the widespread adaptation of online media, it is now easier for new satirists to emerge via multiple platforms. Because of the rise of digital technology as a mass medium, rookie satirists can define their own audience parameters and easily cut satirical riffs based on any level of political leaders they choose. Bloggers can publish or broadcast their jokes online, making them accessible to millions. However, clips of original programming are often circulated on the Internet only after originally broadcast on television. (Danelo42)

The powerful contribution of entertainment programs has tremendous effect on the public’s political knowledge. The show’s combination of humor, information and visual media adds depth and interest to evening news broadcasts. For example, actress Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impersonation in 2008 went viral over 14.3 million viewers. Fey’s perceptions of Palin affected her during that election.

Politics and Politicians are heavily influencing satire, changing the dynamic of how we get our news and our views on government. Political satire stands as one of the more well-known types of comedy on television today. The cultural dynamics of this state is changing satire continuously. Politicians are noticeable exerts of power in today’s culture. The most likely self-aims to be diminished to basic judgments through comedy. In this society, they have a major influence on the audiences, and therefore are subject to targeting by well-known media satirists.

A satirist can get away with saying things that would usually be deemed disrespectful or too far. With them being able to have this certain privileged to say what they want is changing cultural society for the good and the bad. These statements or comedic humor from satirist distract viewers from very serious issues that we are facing in America and in the world. Misinformation will not help that world progress. Some of these satirists are just saying certain things for rating, views, and laughs this is hurting society. Many people who watch these shows are not getting current accurate information. More satirist should be more serious when it comes to world issues. However, even though jokes are being made by these satirists this helps bring awareness to important issues that people disregard or never pay attention to. Especially during election season, the satirist help expose things that we did not know about the politician. This also helps us when it is time to vote, because many people do not watch the local news, they do not watch the debates, and a lot of people do not attend local rallies. Having the politicians come on the show and present themselves to world helps their campaigns and this helps give the public a chance to get to know that politicians they are going to vote for. Most questions that the satirist ask are humorous but at the same time enlightening to the viewers. Sometimes that politicians are under a little fire, but it is nothing they cannot handle. With the help of social media and the modern-day satirist society has become more aware of local, national and world events more than ever.

Satire evolved from the evening variety shows to late night political comedy shows that enhance the public’s political enlightenment. Satire has shifted the culture of the United States with political influences and relatable TV shows that were designed to mimic and educate the public. Satire has opened the conversation about things that we choose not to talk about or discuss, which is bringing awareness to epidemics that get over looked daily. Satire sometimes distract the viewers and sometimes it opens their minds to things and issues unknown. In generation, satire has brought up a call to action on a lot of things that are going on and it has impacted this cultural in a mighty way.

Not only has the culture changed because of satire, but the methods in which satire is used and broadcasted changed. The internet and social media created new platforms for satirist to share their ideologies with the public. This helped pull in the attention of the public, for example, Fey’s Palin sketch went viral. This sketch made people laugh, and it also influenced the Palins campaign, ultimately causing her the election. Satire is a helpful tool in society as it keeps the citizens informed and entertained.

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