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Richard Morin breaks the news today that sarcasm and satire produces cynicism in those who get continually exposed to it, and the effect causes them to lose interest in political participation, especially voting. Since the essence of satire is ridicule and devaluation, this should be almost akin to the correlation between the sunlight and warmth, but apparently it comes as a shock to some people.
Morin reveals this dynamic in the demographics of Jon Stewart fans, whose show discourages its fans from voting, according to a new study:
This is not funny: Jon Stewart and his hit Comedy Central cable show may be poisoning democracy.
Two political scientists found that young people who watch Stewart's faux news program, "The Daily Show," develop cynical views about politics and politicians that could lead them to just say no to voting.
That's particularly dismaying news because the show is hugely popular among college students, many of whom already don't bother to cast ballots.
Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan S. Morris of East Carolina University said previous research found that nearly half -- 48 percent -- of this age group watched "The Daily Show" and only 23 percent of show viewers followed "hard news" programs closely.
I have always assumed that people who found Jon Stewart hilarious suffered from a form of superficiality, and this tends to prove it. Not that the phenomenon necessarily limits itself to Stewart, who has managed to successfully turn SNL's "Weekend Update" into a daily routine; satire and sarcasm's corrosive effects generate cynicism regarding any topic, given enough time. Jerry Seinfeld made a mint satirizing self-infatuation, and most of his fans failed to get the joke when the final episode made the point about how obnoxious his main characters had become.
The study tested responses of viewers to political speeches from Democrats and Republicans before and after watching "The Daily Show". Instead of biasing viewers towards one side or another, the researchers found that support for both parties dropped with repeated viewings of Jon Stewart. They also expressed more negative feelings about the political system in general -- and also of the media.
This should surprise no one. I love good satire, and sarcasm can hit at hypocrisy to an effect that perhaps no other approach can match. However, both satire and sarcasm take inherently negative attitudes towards their subjects, and relentlessly negative approaches result in increased negativity. These results simply confirm what common sense should tell us.
In the end, a reliance on satire and sarcasm alone requires little real courage, especially in a free society. It takes some courage to offer positive solutions and make arguments for their adoption, or even to offer rational arguments in opposition to them. Poking fun continuously without ever taking responsibility to advance some rational agenda as an alternative amounts to a form of political cowardice. One cannot hide behind the excuse of "I'm just a comedian" forever without taking responsibility for one's effect on the process. If we continue to denigrate our political environment in this manner, we will eventually wind up having only a few with any interest in public policy, with the rest of us wallowing in apathy.
That may look like a democracy when it arrives, but functionally we will have surrendered liberty to the next strongman to come along.Sphere It View blog reactions
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» The Daily Show: Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out Of Voting from Ed Driscoll.com
In the Washington Post, Richard Moran has a column portentously titled, "Jon Stewart, Enemy of Democracy?". It begins:This is not funny: Jon Stewart and his hit Comedy Central cable show may be poisoning democracy. Two political scientists found that y... [Read More]
Tracked on June 24, 2006 1:24 PM
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