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Opinion: The power of political satire

Photo by Douglas Gorenstein (NBC)

Comedy and politics have been a match made in heaven for as long as conflict has existed. With this in mind, the current presidency has led to a surge in comedians taking jabs at the administration and poking fun at their faults.

Some of the more prominent figures around this trend are Jimmy Fallon and Alec Baldwin with their impersonations of President Donald Trump, and Melissa McCarthy as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “Saturday Night Live” (SNL), and many other late night television shows have upped the ante when it comes to talking about politics and current events with a comedic twist.

The use of satire as political commentary is not new by any means. Satire can be seen as far back as Ancient Greece with the work of Aristophanes to political cartoons that are still used today. However, modern comedy is more direct and can be seen within different forms like stand up, skits, and Stephen Colbert-esque delivery.

Political satire as a whole is meant to pair entertainment and politics, but the execution of this includes anything from exaggeration and sarcasm to flat-out ridicule. Well-known political satirists that utilize these methods include Colbert, John Oliver, and the former host of “The Daily Show” Jon Stewart. Their respective shows take similar approaches by including segments that discuss daily news but also go into interesting topics that not many people are aware of.

Over time, more and more people are becoming increasingly aware of current events, and political satire has been a popular method in achieving that.

Some of the more traditional entertainment outlets using political satire include the wide array of nighttime television shows who are not necessarily meant to provide political commentary.

“The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “SNL” both execute political sketches and skits where they use current events as the punch line. Other late night talk show hosts like Kimmel and Seth Meyers use a less critical form of political satire and tend to make jokes while discussing daily news.

In addition to television shows, satire is utilized in written work. The Onion, which is a satirical haven disguised as a news source, has been extremely successful in their developments. According to their demographics, the publication has over 50 million visitors monthly.

Mixing comedy and politics can be unexpectedly effective as it can educate an audience while retaining their attention because of its incredible absurdity. It can take things to the greatest extreme in order to make an undeniable argument. This is why in many cases, satire can be a tool that is even more effective than traditional news.

In the Vox video “Comedians have figured out the trick to covering Trump,” Vox contributor Carlos Maza states one of the main things that makes satire far superior and more captivating than conventional news: it has an extremely low tolerance for nonsense. Thus, this allows viewers to only concern themselves with relevant news and topics rather than focus on the speculation and wide breadth of mainstream news outlets.

Humor in general is able to resonate with audiences, so when it comes to the complicated concept of politics, humor not only makes it more understandable, but more entertaining and engaging. Due to this accessibility of politics there is an increase in an informed public.

In addition to the receptiveness and enjoyment that comes with political satire, it trains people to think more critically about the news they see. Satire teaches people to be more skeptical of things that are presented to them from traditional news outlets and to use common sense and critical thought.

Though it may not seem like it, Baldwin’s spot on impersonation of Trump and Oliver’s one liners play a huge role in helping people understand politics. In the end, humor and politics will continue to be a force that fosters rational thinking while everyone else is left to catch up.

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