Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Satire TV

Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era

Jonathan Gray
Jeffrey P. Jones
Ethan Thompson
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Satire TV
    Book Description:

    Satirical TV has become mandatory viewing for citizens wishing to make sense of the bizarre contemporary state of political life. Shifts in industry economics and audience tastes have re-made television comedy, once considered a wasteland of escapist humor, into what is arguably the most popular source of political critique. From fake news and pundit shows to animated sitcoms and mash-up videos, satire has become an important avenue for processing politics in informative and entertaining ways, and satire TV is now its own thriving, viable television genre.Satire TV examines what happens when comedy becomes political, and politics become funny. A series of original essays focus on a range of programs, from The Daily Show to South Park, Da Ali G Show to The Colbert Report, The Boondocks to Saturday Night Live, Lil' Bush to Chappelle's Show, along with Internet D.I.Y. satire and essays on British and Canadian satire. They all offer insights into what today's class of satire tells us about the current state of politics, of television, of citizenship, all the while suggesting what satire adds to the political realm that news and documentaries cannot.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3309-7
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    At a time when 24/7/365 fails to adequately quantify the world’s information-gathering capacity, people cannot be blamed for finding themselves in need of a good laugh more than knowledge of the events that spawned it. Nevertheless, a small but growing segment of the American television audience is discovering that keeping up with The News is more necessary than ever. Why are people young enough to know better putting themselves through the horror show of disappointments, brutality, dysfunction, stupidity, and greed that plays out daily on video screens and, if rumors are true, newspapers? There simply is no other way to...

  4. PART I Post 9/11, Post Modern, or Just Post Network?

    • 1 The State of Satire, the Satire of State
      (pp. 3-36)
      Jonathan Gray, Jeffrey P. Jones and Ethan Thompson

      Few would have guessed that one of the most talked about American television broadcasts of 2006, and whatNew York Timescolumnist Frank Rich would declare as the defining moment of the 2006 midterm elections, would be on C-SPAN, the congressional access channel.¹ Though congressional or parliamentary access channels have cropped up around the world, offering citizens the ability to watch the political process at work and hence to serve as more knowledgeable political deliberators, such channels have tended to attract more ridicule than ardent viewers. Ironically, though, it was ridicule on offer when millions downloaded C-SPAN’s blockbuster hit of...

    • 2 With All Due Respect: Satirizing Presidents from Saturday Night Live to Lil’ Bush
      (pp. 37-63)
      Jeffrey P. Jones

      Embodying his on-screen persona as a conservative talk show host, faux television pundit Stephen Colbert offered a mouth-dropping satirical performance as the featured speaker at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2006. As is typical in his television parodies on Comedy Central, Colbert proceeded to lambaste both the press and the president, neither of whom seemed to appreciate the effort. Not to make the same mistake twice, the organizers of the 2007 event took a safer route by hiring the crowd-pleasing presidential impersonator Rich Little for the evening’s entertainment. But in reviving the long-since flagged career of the former late-night...

    • 3 Tracing the “Fake” Candidate in American Television Comedy
      (pp. 64-82)
      Heather Osborne-Thompson

      My family has a tradition of talking back to politicians on television. From my days as a Watergate-era preschooler, I had less an understanding of the power of television to craft political images than I did an inkling of the pleasure involved in taking those images apart. Indeed, before I knew of Richard Nixon’s tearful TV declaration that he wasnota crook, I observed my father telling the televisual Richard Nixon that hewas(and why). Later, I learned that my father had observed his father saying the very same thing to a much younger televised version of Nixon...

  5. PART II Fake News, Real Funny

    • 4 And Now . . . the News? Mimesis and the Real in The Daily Show
      (pp. 85-103)
      Amber Day

      Four nights a week, anchor Jon Stewart holds court in his studio, relaying and evaluating the day’s news stories, debating the issues with politicians and pundits, and, oh, telling a fart joke or two. He is a comedian who traffics in complex policy discussion, a news host with a penchant for the absurd. Stewart’s vehicle,The Daily Show,is a program that confounds genre expectations, resembling other examples of late-night comedy in form but involving a far more complicated and slippery relationship with the real political world. What is immediately striking aboutThe Daily Show,in contrast to many of...

    • 5 Jon Stewart and The Daily Show: I Thought You Were Going to Be Funny!
      (pp. 104-123)
      Joanne Morreale

      The Daily Showis a discursively integrated text that is part talk show, news, and comedy.¹ In a larger sense, it exemplifies the merging of politics, entertainment, news, and marketing in contemporary American culture. As Jon Stewart noted in an interview for the now-defunctGeorgemagazine, “The longer I’m doing this I’m coming to learn that entertainment, politics, and the media are really juggling the same balls. We’re all going for ratings, so we function by the same rules. What’s a political poll except a focus group for a television show?”² Stewart expressed his discomfort with this state of affairs...

    • 6 Stephen Colbert’s Parody of the Postmodern
      (pp. 124-144)
      Geoffrey Baym

      It wouldn’t seem to be the usual fare for the late-night talk show, a point made more acute by the 1950s imagery of a June Cleaver-style homemaker—imagery that, to a twenty-first century mind, oozes with political incorrectness. Even more confusing are the guests that night—Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem (neither the June Cleaver type), whom the host introduces as “two of the most special American ladies.” The host, of course, is improv comic Stephen Colbert, the show his self-celebratoryColbert Report.Like most topics on his show, Colbert’s salute to the American lady is complex—a multilayered satirical...

  6. PART III Building in the Critical Rubble:: Between Deconstruction and Reconstruction

    • 7 Throwing Out the Welcome Mat: Public Figures as Guests and Victims in TV Satire
      (pp. 147-166)
      Jonathan Gray

      The above quotations read as parodies of public service announcements (PSAs) by erstwhile public figures trying to “make a difference.” The science is ludicrous (“flattened” and then “sodomized” electrons, “wobbly matter,” electricity in “its wild state”), the metaphors overreaching (as with the mad invisible horse), the willingness to believe in the foreign abnormal worrying, the calls for pathos with the notion of children being hit by “lead soup” and reduced to a mere eight inches tall overdone, and the editorial comment that Geeta “must feel quite dreadful,” a clear tipping point . . . if one was needed. Both are...

    • 8 Speaking “Truth” to Power? Television Satire, Rick Mercer Report, and the Politics of Place and Space
      (pp. 167-186)
      Serra Tinic

      In 2003, theNew York Timespublished a front-page article proclaiming that the emergence of a distinctive Canadian identity, marked by a notably European sociocultural sensibility, was the foundation of the nation’s increasingly fractious relationship with the United States.¹ The fact that the most influential newspaper in the United States had pronounced the resolution of the national identity crisis that had defined Canada since the end of British colonialism should have been remarkable in and of itself. More astonishing, however, was that the source of this revelation was Canada’s “leading political satirist” Rick Mercer, who was interviewed after the following...

    • 9 Why Mitt Romney Won’t Debate a Snowman
      (pp. 187-210)
      Henry Jenkins

      Newscaster Anderson Cooper opened the CNN/YouTube Democractic Debate with a warning to expect the unexpected: “Tonight is really something of an experiment. . . . What you’re about to see is, well, it’s untried. We are not exactly sure how this is going to work. The candidates on this stage don’t know how it is going to work. . . . And frankly we think that’s a good thing.”¹ The eight candidates would face questions selected from more than 3,000 videos “average” citizens had submitted via YouTube. Speaking on National Public Radio’sTalk of the Nationa few days before,...

  7. PART IV Shock and Guffaw:: The Limits of Satire

    • 10 Good Demo, Bad Taste: South Park as Carnivalesque Satire
      (pp. 213-232)
      Ethan Thompson

      In March 2003, theHollywood Reporternoted what seemed a curious meeting of television minds: Norman Lear, the 80-year-old television writer/producer famous for such socially conscious programs asAll in the Family, Maude,andGood Times,was collaborating with Trey Parker and Matt Stone on the latest season of their notorious cartoon,South Park.¹USA Today—preeminent arbiter of what constitutes the American “now”—picked up the story and directed the attention of the general public to this curious pairing: Lear, the icon of relevant, liberal-minded TV joining forces with the duo responsible for “Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo.” Though...

    • 11 In the Wake of “The Nigger Pixie”: Dave Chappelle and the Politics of Crossover Comedy
      (pp. 233-251)
      Bambi Haggins

      When Dave Chappelle left behind his incredibly successful Comedy Central series (and a $50 million paycheck) for his South African walkabout, it was in the wake of the “Nigger Pixie,” a character created and played by Chappelle. The aforementioned pixie, clad in the costuming of minstrelsy (blackface, white lips and gloves, red vest and a Pullman Porter’s cap), was the centerpiece of a controversial sketch screened as part of the “Lost Episodes” ofChappelle’s Showin which culturally and racially specific devils exhorted individuals to react “naturally” and perform the stereotypical tropes of racialized masculinity.¹ When Chappelle greeted journalists between...

    • 12 Of Niggas and Citizens: The Boondocks Fans and Differentiated Black American Politics
      (pp. 252-274)
      Avi Santo

      Aaron McGruder’sThe Boondocksis a successful transmediated brand with a loyal community emotionally invested in its controversial and satirical take on black cultural politics and political culture from a black American perspective. Loyalty is expressed both through the community’s purchasing power and through their ongoing conversations aboutThe Boondocks,generating buzz and effectively advocating for the brand. While many brands cultivate and exploit positive emotional associations from their communities,The Boondockslargely trades on the power of controversy.The Boondockshas faced repeated accusations of political propagandizing for its explicit anti-Bush, anti–Homeland Security, and anti–Iraq war commentaries...

  8. About the Contributors
    (pp. 275-276)
  9. Index
    (pp. 277-283)