Previous post: American Liberalism
The previous post was excellent but I have to disagree with some of your points. I’m not going to go into too much detail about how much has changed since ‘the days of old’ because there would be simply too many changes to mention. To start, I doubt the nation believed it was ‘the primary defender of democracy’ during or prior to its isolationist period. And for the first several hundred years of its existence the citizens of the USA wanted nothing to do with their government. For the majority of the people the democracy was equivalent to the state doing the absolute minimum to interfere with the lives of its people. Therefore, the change in the recent decades has been immense! I propose that some of the most influential factors that have led to the policies of today’s government are world wars and the fall of communism. Basically, winning wars, investing into, and at times manipulating developing countries/regions is ideal for the neo conservative mind-set.
I absolutely agree with you that political comedy does not presuppose free media. However, relevant political comedy in the USA is rare. Luckily, this has been changing in the past year. South Park and The Daily Show were the few political motivated comedy shows on US television for a long time. Even to this day there are a handful. This is in a country where the majority believes that the mass media has a liberal bias! Also remember that these shows are on cable television. If you were to equate this with other countries where cable TV is less common than the USA effectively has zero political comedy shows.
Why is political satire so important? Well, if it’s about the private lives of politicians than I could care less. But if it’s on relative topics then political comedy can be the only means for the masses to obtain alternative perspectives or information that the mass media does not present. For example, the Jeff Gannon scandal was initially only reported on in the blog-o-sphere and on The Daily Show. This is incredibly sad. Ideally, news shows should be presenting pieces that are news worthy but this hasn’t occurred in the US for quite a while.
“The National Annenberg Election Survey at the University of Pennsylvania ran a study of American television viewers around the same time and found that fans of The Daily Show had a more accurate idea of the facts behind the 2004 presidential election than most others. The study primarily focused on comparing the audiences of TDS with that of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Show with David Letterman, but Daily Show viewers also beat out people who primarily got their news through the national evening newscasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC and those who mostly read newspapers, while roughly matching the knowledge level of viewers who watched a considerable amount of cable TV news. The study attempted to compensate for the fact that many viewers of TDS get information from many sources including the Internet.”
I also disagree with you that Americans simply want to feel good while watching TV. As you’ve stated yourself, if Americans are hell bent on doing the right thing (even when it’s incredibly misguided) then why would they only be interested in feeling good? Certainly, they must feel some sort of interest in learning what’s really happening out there. Sure, violence is entertaining and people love to experience it vicariously. But I think there are many more factors that have to be taken into account when assessing the American public. The most significant one of these is simply time. Compared to all industrialized countries in the world the average American’s working hours has increased. Whereas, the working hours in other industrialized countries has either decreased or remained stable. American’s work the most number of hours as well. Because of this the majority of Americans rely on television as their main media outlet rather than what they perceive to be the more time consuming newspaper.
Another huge change since the foundation of the USA is the notion of trusting your government. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the government was set up to be controlled by its people, not the other way around. People fled to America because they wanted to live outside the control of their oppressing governments. There was an inherent distrust in the state which made the country one of the most wonderful places to live (not unlike today’s Czech Republic). Even though the Christian right, ultra capitalists, mass media and general consumer culture have been partially responsible for the errosion of the country’s dissident stance for the past few decades, it wasn’t until September 11th that the government got its carte blanche. Today, tapping phone lines is considered a necessary evil to fight the war on terrorism which would have been unheard of 6 years ago. This is the underlying logic of most conspiracy theories behind 9/11. Regardless, for years after this date the idea of even questioning the decisions of the state was taboo. Not only was the media’s coverage slanted but hardly a single voice stood up on television against it, except for the Daily Show.
“Daily Show… is not a challenge to the establishment, it is not a white knight who wishes to topple the government and change the rules of the game. It is quite the opposite – it is a tool that uses the current rules of the game to its own advantage. Criticism does not have to be right, it is simply a never-ending, one-sided attack against an enemy that can not defend itself.”
I think the Daily Show very much is a challenge to the establishment. The show mocks the administration by presenting logical inconsistencies within their policies and stances. The Daily Show will probably do little to the government directly but I think it has already done a bit to change the established status quo of the media and the opinions of many Americans. I would be so bold as to suggest that ‘Countdown with Keith Olbermann’ on MSNBS was created and inspired by the success of the Daily Show. Jon Stewart was also partly responsible for ending a show on CNN titled ‘Crossfire’.
Stewart attracted media attention as a result of a television exchange with former CNN personality Tucker Carlson on Crossfire in October 2004. Stewart decried the state of television journalism and pleaded with the show’s hosts to “stop hurting America”, and referred to both Carlson and co-host Paul Begala as “partisan hacks”. He also asserted that Crossfire had failed in its responsibility to inform and educate viewers about politics as a serious topic. Carlson began to point out the fact that Stewart hosts a news programme, and that if CNN isn’t doing things right, maybe Stewart should. Stewart pointed out that he’s on a “fake news” show, and replied by saying, “You’re on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.” This exchange became one of the most widely viewed Internet videos to date and a topic of much media discussion. In January 2005, CNN announced that it was canceling Crossfire. When asked about the cancellations, CNN/U.S.’s incoming President, Jonathan Klein, said about Stewart’s appearance on the show, “I think he made a good point about the noise level of these types of shows, which does nothing to illuminate the issues of the day.” Soon after Stewart quipped on The Daily Show that “I fought the law, and the law lost!”
Comedy Central on which South Park and the Daily show are aired, had $7,089,100,000 in net Income last year. It owns Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks, Republic Picture, MTV Networks (including MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, VH1, CMT, Spike TV and others), BET, DreamWorks Television, Sega of America and Xfire. Thank god it and the US administration can’t do anything about political comedy on cable television. NOTE: Viacom has banned an episode of South Park to air and also censored a depiction of Mohamed earlier. More on this in later posts.
Jon Stewart has been criticizing the US administration since he joined the Daily Show in 1999, long before Bush fell out of opinion. Since then the show has received seven Emmy Awards and two Peabody Awards. The show is not about clinging onto a wave of opinion and trying to suck it dry.
Everyone, including Jon Stwart would love to see free media broadcasting across the United States. But when you’re going up against multi billion dollar conglomerates, I sure damn appreciate any informative political satire out there. I don’t doubt disrespect your perspective Esoteric Sheik and I know exactly where you are coming from. Living in and watching TV in America might persuade you of the merits of the Daily Show.
But I agree with you wholeheartedly that America needs a little gray in its life.
“My job is to watch the news and make jokes about it, we’re like an editorial cartoon. The news doesn’t need me to be better, the news needs to be better so that my job is harder. Comedians don’t have bunker busters. None of our jokes are uranium tipped. We’re just goof balls.”-Jon Stewart