Satire: Democracy’s Most Unexpected Enemy

SPNick Meador writes on his blog:

A 2009 study found that people tend to interpret ambiguous political satire according to their own views and self-image. This has enormous implications for satirical programs mocking democratic behavior, produced by media conglomerates that support Internet censorship. (The following is an essay that I was not able to place with a magazine, but still wanted to share with the world. Feel free to re-post on your blog or website, in accordance with the Creative Commons license. Just give me credit and link back here.)

“The revolutionaries of any decade will become the reactionaries of the next decade, if they do not change their nervous system, because the world around them is changing. He or she who stands still in a moving, racing, accelerating age, moves backwards relatively speaking.” – Robert Anton Wilson, Prometheus Rising (1)

On Thursday, December 1, 2011, Stephen Colbert addressed the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a bill currently under consideration in U.S. Congress, on his late-night political satire program The Colbert Report (pronounced “Cole-bare Ree-pore”). Fight for the Future, a group coordinating the push against SOPA and Protect-IP (a similar bill being considered; the “IP” stands for “intellectual property”), says that such a bill would allow the government to shut down websites for any copyright infringement, while making it a felony to stream copyrighted content without permission. (2) According to PCWorld, the government could also restrict access to foreign sites with the help of Internet service providers (ISPs), or block advertising and payment services from working with the sites. (3) The result, as anyone with a cursory understanding of the issue can predict, would be a drastic reduction our free speech rights and possible damage to the DNS system upon which the Internet depends.

Some critics of the proposed bills regard this Colbert episode as important national coverage. After all, if SOPA passes, it would possibly be the worst change at the federal level – by which I mean, bringing the worst consequences for our democracy, our culture, and our individual lives – since the 2010 Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited corporate and union spending in political campaigns under the guise of “free speech.” (4) What those critics do not realize is that a large portion of Colbert’s audience probably missed the point about the proposed intellectual property bills.

A 2009 study from Ohio State University evaluated the way that political beliefs affect a viewer’s perception of both humor and the host’s intentions in The Colbert Report. The peer-reviewed journal article by LaMarre, et al, called “The Irony of Satire: Political Ideology and the Motivation to See What You Want to See in The Colbert Report,” says that “conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements.” (5) However, according to the authors, self-identified “conservatives” and “liberals” (measured on a seven-point range) both found Colbert equally funny.

This would come as a devastating surprise to many of Colbert’s viewers. Since his show’s launch in late 2005, when he split from his role in The Daily Show (which itself is known as a “fake news program,” hosted by comedian Jon Stewart), Colbert has built a devoted audience by supposedly pretending to be a “right-wing” or “conservative” news pundit. Such viewers see The Colbert Report as a satire program, and therefore a contribution to “progressive,” “liberal,” or “left-wing” political movements. That’s because satire involves “wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly” (6) – so a satire program about a “conservative” news pundit would inherently be produced with the intention of denouncing “conservative” views, not promoting them.

Satire has long been viewed as an important part of free expression in all societies that aspire or claim to be democratic. It’s a sneaky way of pointing out the absurdities and hypocrisies in any culture that thinks of itself as more advanced or accomplished than it really is. As the study authors point out, “governments and institutions have banned political satire on the grounds that it challenges and pushes the status quo.” (7) Of course, this isn’t just a matter of bipartisan (or bipolar) politics. Another historical purpose of satire has been to fight the consolidation and abuse of power. Thus, we live in a very strange time, when some of the most powerful media conglomerates in the world produce some of the most-watched satirical content.

In present-day America, one can easily find satire created in the highest echelons of the entertainment industry. In addition to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, Comedy Central also produces the long-running animated show South Park, created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone in 1997. And midway through the last decade, the network had a huge hit with Chappelle’s Show, starring comedian Dave Chappelle. Furthermore, feature films have offered a consistent supply of sharp satire, often gaining international distribution due to the style’s popularity. Recent examples include 2004’s Team America: World Police (created by the same duo responsible for South Park), and the major film spin-offs of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Da Ali G Show, 2006’s Borat and 2009’s Brüno (both directed by Larry Charles).

What sets The Colbert Report apart from some other satire is Stephen Colbert’s “deadpan” delivery, which the study authors distinguish from Jon Stewart’s presentation style on The Daily Show. A previous study found that Stewart “interjects commentary during segments, moves in and out of character, and even laughs at himself. …Stewart aids viewer interpretation by offering himself as an unambiguous source and providing external cues. In contrast…Colbert’s deadpan satire and commitment to character do not provide viewers with the external cues or source recognition that Stewart offers.” (8) This problem stems from the fact that satire is essentially a form of irony, a type of humor in which someone does not always say what one actually means.

Because deadpan satire has such ambiguous intentions and is usually presented as entertainment, it allows viewers to interpret the content based on their own political views – what the study authors call “biased information processing.” “Thus, with biased processing individuals actually see and hear different information depending on whether that information will help or hinder their personal goals and needs. Stated differently, biased processing goes beyond perceptions of whether the entertainment was realistic, or whether the media treated one side more fairly than the other…to an underlying cognitive process in which the information is interpreted, encoded, stored, and retrieved in a manner that most benefits that individual.” (9) (In my Reality Sandwich essay “Doublethink and the Mental Construction of Reality,” an excerpt from my upcoming debut book, I explore self-deception in quite a similar way.)

The results of the 2009 study suggest that ambiguous satire might actually reinforce someone’s preexisting political views, because the satire’s meaning can be evaluated so subjectively. In short, the satirist appears to be on the same side as the viewer, whichever side that is. Because of this either/or conundrum, the net effect is political polarization of the audience, which has been known since the late 1970s “to have negative consequences for our democracy,according to LaMarre, et al. (10) But even in the 1930s, Alfred Korzybski warned (with his system of general semantics) that our either/or thought patterns disconnect us from the empirical universe and produce “un-sanity” in the world.

Knowing all this, it’s frightening to think that Colbert is more the rule of satire than the exception. What I mean is that few satirists or satirical programs break character or provide other interpretive hints the way Stewart does on The Daily Show. LaMarre, et al, cite another study from 1974 that performed a similar assessment of the television sitcom All in the Family, a show that featured a bigoted, under-educated patriarch named Archie Bunker. “It is noteworthy that the producer of All in the Family, Norman Lear, regarded the show as an effective weapon against bigotry and racism. Lear reasoned that audiences would see that Archie Bunker had convoluted logic and his counterpart, liberal son-in-law Mike, was the one who made sense. Instead, the show may have been perceived by audiences as condoning and even encouraging prejudice.” (11) Clearly the American public did not renounce Bunker, since, according to Wikipedia, TV Guide singled him out as “the greatest television character of all time.” (12)

As a child of the 1980s, I had no personal exposure to All in the Family – but based on this description (and some quick catch-up on YouTube), Bunker sounds like a template for the character Eric Cartman of the program South Park. Cartman, as the other child characters unanimously refer to him, consistently harps about “gays,” “tree-hugging hippies,” “minorities,” and other groups and cultural categories commonly considered “liberal” or “left-wing” (as Cartman might say, part of the “liberal establishment”). Similarly, he refers to his friend Kyle as a “stupid Jew,” denigrates his friend Kenny for being “poor,” and calls everyone around him “fags” and “homos.” Since South Park debuted in the fall of 1997, when I was 14 years old and just starting high school, I assumed that Cartman was a parody of close-minded people – which I would now describe as homophobes, xenophobes, “reactionaries,” “fascists,” and “arch-capitalists.” Now I’m not so sure.

The timeliest example of Cartman’s antics came in the season 15 episode entitled “1%,” which first aired on November 2, 2011. In the show, Cartman’s obesity brings down the whole school’s average fitness, resulting in a rigorous work-out program for all students – despite the fact that Cartman is the only one with a weight problem. (13) It starts as a subtle parody of the “99 percent” meme, which holds that the “one percent” of people in possession of society’s wealth – and, therefore, society’s power – has been solely responsible for the current economic recession, widespread environmental crisis, and gradual decreases in civil liberties, among other troubles. The episode’s premise, while harmless enough, soon leads to Cartman claiming that he’s being wrongfully persecuted because, as he says, “people voted for Obama, so now that everything sucks they have to blame me!” He calls the other students “the 99 percent” who are “occupying the cafeteria” (a reference to the international Occupy Movement), and argues that they “think it’s wrong to be pissed off at a black president, so you’re all just pissed off at me!” Cartman later seeks refuge with Token Black, the only African American kid on the show, because, in Cartman’s words, “in this day and age, black people are just impervious to being fucked with,” and “are somehow incapable of doing anything wrong.” Meanwhile the “99 percent” is portrayed as a psychopathic mob bent on vengeance.

In a 2006 interview with Reason Magazine, South Park creators Stone and Parker confirmed that they “hate” both “conservatives” and “liberals” (they first made a similar statement in 2001, implying that they have less hate for “conservatives” [14]), and agreed that the term “libertarian” fits their worldview. (15) In explanation, Stone said he doesn’t want anyone to “control my life” or “tell me what I should do.” And according to Parker, South Park “is saying that there is a middle ground, that most of us actually live in this middle ground, and that all you extremists are the ones who have the microphones because you’re the most interesting to listen to, but actually this group isn’t evil, that group isn’t evil, and there’s something to be worked out here.” In other words, Stone and Parker seem to believe solidly in the current dominant system of bipartisan politics. And they both certainly consider South Park an important contender in the ongoing fight for free speech, in light of the controversies caused when poking fun at sensitive groups, religious or otherwise.

Apparently neither Stone nor Parker have considered the potential negative repercussions of the kind of speech they use in South Park, wrongfully assuming that their work could, at worst, offend people. Cartman does seem to be a mostly satirical character – but it’s not uncommon for deadpan satire to mirror actual “conservative” pundits and politicians. For instance, plenty of real-life, self-identifying “right-wingers” would agree with Cartman’s (horribly ill-informed) claim that Obama could have, in his short time as President, significantly reduced the quality of life in the U.S. LaMarre, et al, note in their 2009 study that, while interviewing CNN’s Anderson Cooper on October 28, 2007, Stephen Colbert attacked global warming in similar terms used by “reactionary” radio host Rush Limbaugh. And the Colbert Report clip used in the study features Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! supporting her 2006 book Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and the People Who Fight Back. In the short interview, Goodman discredits the effectiveness of embedding journalists with marines during foreign combat, particularly during the War in Iraq. The researchers discovered that, after watching the clip, “individual attitudes regarding embedded journalists were fully mediated by perceptions of Colbert’s opinion regarding embedded journalists.” (16) In other words, viewers were measurably influenced by what they perceived to be the views of the authority figure.

Dave Chappelle stands as a lone example of a satirist intuiting the broader effects that his brazen comedy could have on our culture. After two incredibly successful seasons of Chappelle’s Show in 2003 and 2004, Chappelle rejected his $50 million deal with Comedy Central and – just before the launch of season three in mid-2005 – disappeared to South Africa. TIME Magazine interviewed him to find out why he fled, and to clarify rumors that he had a drug problem or had suffered a mental breakdown (both rumors were false). “The crux of his crisis seems to boil down to his almost obsessive need to ‘check my intentions.’ He uses the phrase a few times during the interview and explains that it means really making sure that he’s doing what he’s doing for the right reasons.” (17) Then, in a 2006 interview with Anderson Cooper, Chappelle elaborated by revealing that he had reacted to someone on set while filming season three of his show. When performing a skit in blackface make-up, Chappelle cringed at the way a Caucasian person near him was laughing. “The way he laughed, it made me feel like this guy’s laughing for the wrong reasons. […] It stirred something up in me emotionally that I was like, I don’t want to subject anyone else to.” (18) The incident gave Chappelle the feeling that at least some of his satirical methods were, in his words, “socially irresponsible.”

Of course, Chappelle’s Show season one had already broken the all-time record of DVD sales for a TV show, beating out The Simpsons season one by moving over 2 million units before the end of 2004. (19) Many considered Chappelle’s Show to be an important soapbox for discussing difficult cross-cultural issues in a humorous way, especially when the show took on racism, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry and inequality. Chappelle started off the program’s first season with a sketch about a blind “white supremacist” who doesn’t know he’s actually “black,” and that daring take on our culture’s sensitive topics set the tone for the whole series.

But even by season two, Chappelle was expressing concerns about the fall-out from his satirical comedy. In episode two of that season, he announced to the crowd, “Last season we started the series off with this sketch about a black white supremacist. Very controversial. Yes, very—it sparked this whole controversy about the appropriateness of the ‘n-word,’ the dreaded ‘n-word.’ And, you know—and then when I would travel, people would come up to me, like—white people would come up to me, like, [in a Southern voice] ‘Man, that sketch you did about them niggers, that was hila—’ [Chappelle recoils] ‘Take it easy! I was joking around!’ I started to realize that these sketches, in the wrong hands, are dangerous.” (20) He followed up in episode three: “…remember, whenever we do these racial commentaries, it’s always about the subtleties. We’re all part of the same human family. Our differences are just cultural.” (21) This was a rare case of a satirist providing interpretive clues for the audience, as LaMarre, et al, pointed out about Jon Stewart (a long-time friend of Chappelle’s).

That brings us back to Stephen Colbert’s coverage of SOPA on 12/1/2011, which seems much more ambiguous having learned about the LaMarre study. Colbert begins by quoting from news stories on the subject. With a straight face and an authoritative tone, he says, “The FBI reports that U.S. businesses lose [$200 to $250 billion] to counterfeiting on an annual basis.” (22) After a pause, he continues in a lighter tone: “And that is a shocking number, especially when you consider that the FBI admits it has no record of source data or methodology for generating the estimate, and that it cannot be corroborated.” This second line is what makes it satire, because it points to the “folly” of the proposed legislation. In other words, neither the copyright holders nor the government have a sure way to demonstrate that U.S. businesses are actually losing that amount of money due to copyright infringement (including “counterfeiting”). But because of Colbert’s “deadpan” style and advanced vocabulary, it’s not difficult to imagine that self-identifying “conservatives” simply didn’t notice, comprehend, or remember that sentence. That’s the basis of “biased information processing,” after all. LaMarre, et al, also say that understanding deadpan satire requires a high level of cognitive functioning, which is less prevalent during the passive consumption of entertainment. (23)

Colbert proceeds with some jokes about peer-to-peer file sharing that would likely be funny to both “liberals” and “conservatives” – only to finish on a note that sounds unambiguously “conservative.” He says, “Sadly piracy is just one of those crimes that everyone commits, like jaywalking or setting your ex-girlfriend’s couch on fire. But thankfully – thankfully Congress is finally taking action with the Stop Online Piracy Act. The bill, which is supported by all the big media companies, grants rights-holders the unfettered power to effectively kill websites.” Next comes another joke. Colbert says, “At last, we will bring swift and sure justice to hardened criminals on YouTube,” and then the viewer sees a home video clip of three girls dancing to a pop song. This last part may have been intended to criticize the aspect of SOPA that would make it a felony to “perform” copyrighted songs on the web without permission (normally it would be protected as a “fair use”). But with our newfound ability to transcend the satirical perspective, we can deduce that many viewers left under the impression that such social media activity actually is morally reprehensible especially since Colbert ends by saying that such “offenders” would go to jail!

In another segment from the same episode, Colbert interviews two guests – one who approves of SOPA, and one who opposes it. (24) Colbert gives the “liberal” a harder time, but generally both sides get to state their viewpoint in a calm, civil manner. However, once the program is over, Colbert has still labeled critics of SOPA – regardless of whether they actually participate in copyright infringement – as thieves, criminals, pirates, etc. The underlying implication is that they are anti-American, anti-social, ungrateful of the consumer/capitalist economic system backed by the U.S. armed forces, a heretic, a lunatic, etc. And thanks to the LaMarre study, we have scientific evidence that self-identifying “conservatives” and people who don’t understand satire probably felt convinced by Colbert that SOPA and/or Protect-IP should pass! (For more on why copyright law is already broken, please see my RS essay “CC-BY: A Step into the Belated Future”)

But we’ve passed over an essential point. Colbert says that SOPA “is supported by all the big media companies.” He doesn’t say which companies, but Viacom – the owner of Comedy Central and, therefore, The Colbert Report – is one of them; so are the other major media conglomerates included in what’s called the “Big Six.” Ordered from least to most profitable, they are CBS Corporation ($13 billion profit in 2009), Viacom ($13.6 billion), Time Warner ($25.8 billion), News Corporation ($30.4 billion), The Walt Disney Company ($36.1 billion), and General Electric ($157 billion). (25) All six (along with 353 other companies and trade groups) signed a September 22 letter to U.S. Congress calling for “rogue sites legislation” – basically what Protect-IP or SOPA would be (NBCUniversal is on the list as a subsidiary of General Electric). (26) That means that The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, South Park, Chappelle’s Show (via syndication, rentals, and DVD sales), etc., are indirectly supporting potential bills like SOPA and Protect-IP. A program like The Daily Show is less to blame because it’s less ambiguous and less open to “biased information processing.” But it’s still part of Viacom, and Viacom supports this legislation that would make so much of the social media activity that has enriched our culture in unprecedented ways so much more illegal.

Notably, Stone and Parker of South Park actually approve of people downloading their content without paying. In the Reason Magazine interview, Matt Stone responded to a question about intellectual property by saying, “We’re always in favor of people downloading. Always.” (27) And Parker said, “We worked really hard making the show, and the reason you do it is because you want people to see it.” In line with those statements, people can stream full episodes of South Park for free on the website South Park Studios (though the site is still associated with Viacom). But unfortunately, the duo doesn’t have much to offer our troubled democratic process. When we synthesize these different elements, we find that Stone and Parker have – ironically, through the effect of their content – become the very extremists that they warn against! “It’s really what Team America is as well: taking an extremist on this side and an extremist on that side,” said Parker. “Michael Moore being an extremist is just as bad, you know, as Donald Rumsfeld. It’s like they’re the same person. It takes a fourth-grade kid to go, ‘You both remind me of each other.’”

The problem there is that only a fourth-grade kid would think Moore and Rumsfeld are equivalent, either as ideological individuals or as representations of different political parties. (If Stone and Parker ever made that argument about politicians or news pundits, or wrote it into their show, they might have a legitimate point.) In short, Stone and Parker seem anchored in the very mentality that they are often assumed to be lampooning – personified by Eric Cartman, and even sometimes Stan and Kyle (the more “rational” or “moderate” ones). Stone and Parker also appear to be projecting themselves into other authority figures in the show, like the news reporters in the “1%” episode who mock the “occupation” of a restaurant that might be causing people to becoming obese (remember, it’s a parody). I would argue that the Occupy Movement is a legitimate international outcry for full-functioning democracy, to provide basic life necessities and civil liberties for all human beings on Earth – but all the creators can South Park can do is point and giggle.

It’s telling that one of their favorite targets, Mr. Michael Moore, is actively involved with the Occupy Movement around the country. Whatever your opinion of his films, Moore is working to produce the most constructive possible outcome from what started as a totally spontaneous civic uproar. The “1%” South Park episode depicts protestors as clueless sheep. On the contrary, the majority of Occupy demonstrators have, all along, had an intimate knowledge of their primary purpose: to petition the U.S. government for grievances over the private acquisition of gargantuan sums of public money during and after the Crash of 2008, and to bring to justice those responsible.

On November 22, Moore published an article under the title “Where Does Occupy Wall Street Go From Here?” that contains a clear and concise mission statement for the movement, and states “10 Things We Want.” One applies very specifically to our discussion: “Require corporations with more than 10,000 employees to restructure their board of directors so that 50% of its members are elected by the company’s workers. We can never have a real democracy as long as most people have no say in what happens at the place they spend most of their time: their job.” (28) As you might have guessed, every single one of the “Big Six” media conglomerates employs more than 10,000 people. (29) They range from Viacom with 10,900 employees, to General Electric with 287,000 employees (as of 2010 or 2011, in the different cases). If, for instance, Viacom’s employees elected half of its board of directors, programs that in effect encourage bigotry and harm our democratic process due to ambiguous political satire might not stay on the air very long.

I should emphasize that this is not a moral or ethical condemnation of South Park, but a socio-political and existential one. I don’t think their kind of speech should be outlawed, but we may have reached a point when such divisive media should be socially rejected. There’s even a valid argument that Viacom is unfairly influencing the American political process with ambiguous satire (though for now it’s legally protected, thanks to the 2010 Supreme Court decision) – an argument that wouldn’t exist if mere individuals distributed such content.

I’d like to close with a few other suggestions:

– Avoid using irony, sarcasm, or deadpan satire – or provide clarification (interpretive clues) after you do. The point is to say what you mean as often as possible. That means working to make your communication as clear as possible and to avoid miscommunications. After all, “free speech” only matters if we’re using it in a way that improves our democracy and the quality of all life. (Side note: seek out ways to pay creative workers directly if you support their methods, without going through “middle men” like the companies, as law professor and activist Lawrence Lessig has recommended.)

– Refuse to self-identify with political terms. The dominant bipartisan system has failed us and must be dismantled. Calling yourself a “liberal” or “conservative” allows others to define you based on their idea of what those terms mean. Try to look at every situation as unique and deserving of its own independent decision-making process. This would be in line with Korzybski’s general semantics.

– Occupy the media conglomerates! People are already protesting in plenty of ways besides just congregating in front of financial institutions. Let these media companies know that they are driving us to political extremes and harming our democratic process. Also let them know that you will not be consuming (i.e., watching or buying) their products if they continue to support legislation such as SOPA or Protect-IP, since those would make felons out of millions of otherwise innocent people. Tell them that we’re ready to grow up!

- Visit AmericanCensorship.org and follow instructions on how to fight bills like SOPA and Protect-IP!

The Reason Magazine interviewers mention that Barbra Streisand criticized South Park in its very first season, “not for showing her as a [Godzilla-like] monster but for promoting cynicism among children.” I was one of those cynical kids raised by ironists and political satirists. I’m trying to break out of this programmed mentality that says we cannot change the world or make it a better place to live. Each one of us has a responsibility to use our expressive abilities in ways will create a healthier democracy and a happier world.

Actually, the late comedian Bill Hicks embodied this transition from ambiguous political satire and cynicism to a clear statement on the reality of conscious human evolution. He would often start off very ambiguous, combining all shades of sarcasm, irony, and political satire when discussing the polarizing subjects that have dominated political discourse over the last three decades (Hicks died in 1994). But by the end of every performance, Hicks made his true philosophy unmistakably clear (and it was surprisingly similar, in my opinion, to Moore’s proposal for the Occupy Movement). That is, Hicks ensured that his overall expression was unambiguous. He said what he meant!

For the present era, at least, we might want to consider doing the same.

# # #

Nick Meador made the image at SP-Studio (used with permission) and customized it with text.

NOTES:

1. Wilson, Robert Anton. Prometheus Rising. p. 214.

2. American Censorship Day. Accessed on 12/4/2011. http://americancensorship.org/

3. Gross, Grant. “The US Stop Online Privacy Act: A Primer.” PCWorld Business Center. 11/16/2011. Accessed on 12/4/2011. http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/244011/the_us_stop_online_piracy_act_a_primer.html

4. Tedford, Deborah. “Supreme Court Rips Up Campaign Finance Laws.” NPR. 1/21/2010. Accessed on 12/8/2011. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122805666

5. LaMarre, Heather L., Kristen D. Landreville, and Michael A. Beam. “The Irony of Satire: Political Ideology and the Motivation to See What You Want to See in The Colbert Report.” International Journal of Press/Politics. Vol 14. No 2. April 2009. pp. 212-231. Accessed on 11/28/2011. http://www.democracynow.org/resources/63/263/The_Irony_of_Satire.pdf

6. “Satire.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Accessed on 12/3/2011. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/satire

7. LaMarre, et al. Ibid. p. 228.

8. LaMarre, et al. Ibid. p. 216.

9. LaMarre, et al. Ibid. p. 215.

10. LaMarre, et al. Ibid. pp. 225-227. Italics are mine.

11. LaMarre, et al. Ibid. p. 228.

12. “Archie Bunker.” Wikipedia. Accessed on 12/5/2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archie_Bunker

13. “South Park: 1%” South Park Studios. Written and directed by Trey Parker. 11/2/2011. Accessed on 12/5/2011. http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s15e12-one-percent. Also, see Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1%25_%28South_Park%29

14. “South Park Republican.” Wikipedia. Accessed on 11/28/2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Park_Republican

15. Gillespie, Nick, and Jesse Walker. “South Park Libertarians.” Reason Magazine. December 2006. Accessed on 11/28/2011. http://reason.com/archives/2006/12/05/south-park-libertarians

16. LaMarre, et al. Ibid. pp. 225-226.

17. Farley, Christopher John. “On The Beach With Dave Chappelle.” TIME Magazine. 5/15/2005. Accessed on 1/22/2011. http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1061415,00.html

18. “Dave Chappelle on 360 Tonight.” Inside Cable News. 7/7/2006. Accessed on 1/22/2011. http://insidecable.blogsome.com/2006/07/07/dave-chappelle-on-360-tonight

19. Lambert, David. “Chappelle’s Show - S1 DVD Passes The Simpsons As #1 All-Time TV-DVD; Celebrates by Announcing Season 2!” TVShowsOnDVD.com. 10/19/2004. Accessed on 12/6/2011. http://www.tvshowsondvd.com/news/Chappelles/2338

20. Chappelle, Dave. “Episode 14. 2-2.” Chappelle’s Show. Comedy Central. 1/28/2004. Italics reflect his verbal emphasis.

21. Chappelle, Dave. “Episode 15. 2-3.” Chappelle’s Show. Comedy Central. 2/4/2004. Italics reflect his verbal emphasis.

22. “Stop Online Piracy Act.” The Colbert Report. Comedy Central. 12/1/2011. Accessed on 12/6/2011. http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/403465/december-01-2011/stop-online-piracy-act

23. LaMarre, et al. Ibid. p. 217.

24. “Stop Online Piracy Act – Danny Goldberg & Jonathan Zittrain.” The Colbert Report. Comedy Central. 12/1/2011. Accessed on 12/6/2011. Italics reflect his verbal emphasis. http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/403466/december-01-2011/stop-online-piracy-act—danny-goldberg—jonathan-zittrain

25. “Media cross-ownership in the United States.” Wikipedia. Accessed on 12/6/2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_cross-ownership_in_the_United_States

26. “U.S. Chamber Joins Broadening Coalition in Support for Rogue Sites Legislation.” Global Intellectual Property Center. 9/22/2011. Accessed on 12/7/2011. http://theglobalipcenter.com/pressreleases/us-chamber-joins-broadening-coalition-support-rogue-sites-legislation. See the actual letter here: http://www.theglobalipcenter.com/sites/default/files/pressreleases/letter-359.pdf

27. Gillespie and Walker. Ibid.

28. Moore, Michael. “Where Does Occupy Wall Street Go From Here?” 11/22/2011. Accessed on 12/6/2011. http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/mike-friends-blog/where-does-occupy-wall-street-go-here

29. Wikipedia. Accessed on 12/6/2011. Follow the links to the “Big Six” companies on this page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_cross-ownership_in_the_United_States

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  • chinagreenelvis

    Conservative audiences who see Colbert as equally conservative “pretending” to joke clearly have never bothered to research the man himself (a simple gander as his Wikipedia page reveals that Stephen Colbert, the actor, is as a matter of fact more liberal than Jon Stewart) but instead decide to take his performance at face value. Only fools fall victim to this kind of drastic misinterpretation that can only come as a result of some fundamental need to make the rest of the world fit into their box.

    Those who misunderstand satire are not the audience that the satire is meant for. And those people can (and should) go fuck themselves.

  • chinagreenelvis

    Conservative audiences who see Colbert as equally conservative “pretending” to joke clearly have never bothered to research the man himself (a simple gander as his Wikipedia page reveals that Stephen Colbert, the actor, is as a matter of fact more liberal than Jon Stewart) but instead decide to take his performance at face value. Only fools fall victim to this kind of drastic misinterpretation that can only come as a result of some fundamental need to make the rest of the world fit into their box.

    Those who misunderstand satire are not the audience that the satire is meant for. And those people can (and should) go fuck themselves.

    • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

      Dear God. I just remembered when I was conservative and first read “I Am America.” I’m going to go throw up at myself now.

    • fenris23

      Welcome to completely missing the point of the article. Those people who don’t get it… simply don’t get it. They then take their misunderstanding of people like Colbert as support for positions that people like Colbert are actually against. This means that by not including sufficient interpretive clues Colbert is giving support to those things he supposedly opposes. And if he wants to be a force for good, it is HIS problem to fix.

  • MimirsHead

    Another funny thing about biased information processing is that when people who are firmly set in their beliefs are shown concrete evidence contrary to what they believe to be true, they somehow use that as evidence of their belief.

    Also, satire is highly intelligent form of insult, really.  It’s hard to get a message across to someone if they are incapable of understanding the means of delivering the message.

  • MimirsHead

    Another funny thing about biased information processing is that when people who are firmly set in their beliefs are shown concrete evidence contrary to what they believe to be true, they somehow use that as evidence of their belief.

    Also, satire is highly intelligent form of insult, really.  It’s hard to get a message across to someone if they are incapable of understanding the means of delivering the message.

  • fusionism

    What a crock. Slamming Colbert, or Southpark for not explaining their views in simple to understand terms is one of the most stupid things i have heard in a while. If people are too stupid to think about what is being presented to them and delve beneath the surface then it is surely a sign of a much bigger problem in society; namely we are being bred to be idiots. Sure Southpark sometimes is challenging, as is Chappelle, as was Bill Hicks. That’s the point! To push you out of your safety zone and challenge the way you think. Comedy and satire are the only way to get this across to the mainstream, not many want to be preached to, i certainly don’t.
    And to defend Michael Moore, as if he is some savior of our time! What a load of shit. That guy can bite me, and I do believe very strongly in the Occupy movement. The whole point though, is that there aren’t any demands, because the system is fucked; no-one can give us what we want, for the changes that need to happen to take place we must reconstruct from the ground up. Michael Moore is heavily invested in the current system and hence is trying to steer things in his own way, which is counter-productive to the movement.

    But in the end the best part about satire is that no-one and nothing is sacred, everyone and everything is up for ridicule and that i believe is a very good thing. Think for yourself!

  • fusionism

    What a crock. Slamming Colbert, or Southpark for not explaining their views in simple to understand terms is one of the most stupid things i have heard in a while. If people are too stupid to think about what is being presented to them and delve beneath the surface then it is surely a sign of a much bigger problem in society; namely we are being bred to be idiots. Sure Southpark sometimes is challenging, as is Chappelle, as was Bill Hicks. That’s the point! To push you out of your safety zone and challenge the way you think. Comedy and satire are the only way to get this across to the mainstream, not many want to be preached to, i certainly don’t.
    And to defend Michael Moore, as if he is some savior of our time! What a load of shit. That guy can bite me, and I do believe very strongly in the Occupy movement. The whole point though, is that there aren’t any demands, because the system is fucked; no-one can give us what we want, for the changes that need to happen to take place we must reconstruct from the ground up. Michael Moore is heavily invested in the current system and hence is trying to steer things in his own way, which is counter-productive to the movement.

    But in the end the best part about satire is that no-one and nothing is sacred, everyone and everything is up for ridicule and that i believe is a very good thing. Think for yourself!

    • anonymouse

      Wow this article is kind of fucked up, I gotta agree with you.

      It’s well-written, but some of the things the author is suggesting are pretty
      whack. Censoring Viacom for “ambiguously influencing the election
      process”? Offering disclaimers for when one is speaking satirically?
      Sorry, I don’t pander to the stupid. If people lack the cognitive
      fortitude to properly recognize and process satire, or even lack just the ability to
      laugh at how ridiculous society often is, well then fuck ‘em.

      • http://twitter.com/guolaosi Euphoric Participant

        He doesn’t suggest censorship, he’s suggesting that we have personal responsibility to understand how our actions are going to be interpreted apart from our intents. It’s actually insightful.

        • DeepCough

          By its very origin, satire is supposed to be subtle, because time was that if you said what you meant, you were killed for it, and while that course of action is frowned upon in this day and age, that don’t mean it stopped. It’s not satire that’s bad for democracy insofar as it’s flat-out illiteracy of the populace. (You could say that serves as an explanation for why people think Michelle de Nostradame was a prophetic mystic, not a commentator of his day.)

        • tripoli

          I haven’t heard anyone defending the stupid people yet, so here I am. Maybe it would be better for the more intelligent folk to realize that yes; people are stupid, it IS true. But don’t hate them for it. Hate the generations before us that didn’t teach us properly. Maybe we are wrong about a lot of things, and we need to teach our children differently if we want a brighter future.

      • andyk4102

        You may not want your satire to pander to the stupid but there are plenty manipulative, power-hungry, greedy folks out there who do just that and they’re winning.

  • Hadrian999

    if you don’t realize the colbert report is mocking right wingers, well you have much bigger problems than satire

  • Hadrian999

    if you don’t realize the colbert report is mocking right wingers, well you have much bigger problems than satire, oh and bluntly saying what you mean isn’t a good idea when it’s legal to kill or rendition citizens for disagreeing with the government.

    • Anarchy Pony

      We’d all end up in the gulags within a fortnight.

    • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

      I’ll take my chances and try being really, really blunt just this once…(as if I was subtle before!)

      Modern conservatism and neo-liberal market philosophy are the moral and intellectual equivalent of coprophilia!!! To have any faith in either of the two requires a love of fecal matter that surpasses the acceptable!!! They are shit…and only shit-lovers can endure the presence of them for more than seconds before fleeing from the stench.

      There…I feel better. I might disagree with the primary concern of the article…but I have to admit it feels good to be extremely honest :-)

      • Liam_McGonagle

        Amen!

        Problem is, anybody under 120 years old was raised on a steady diet of shit.  Only a relative handful of us come to realize that fact in our waning years and begin to develop a healthier palate.

        That realization is likely to be such an unpleasant existential shock as to make us question our very sanity.  My guess is that a large portion of us, maybe the majority, just aren’t up to the task of admitting that everything we know is wrong.

        • MadHierophant

          This’d explain the mental gymnastics people do to validate their view point. But people are getting exhausted, at least from what I’ve seen, and I’m hoping more people at least get to that “Shit is fucked up and bullshit” point of realizing exactly how corrupt everything is. 

          • Andrew

            Those mental gymnastics are an ancient martial art, developed over centuries.

  • Anarchy Pony

    I still just plain can’t believe that people actually take Colbert at face value. It just blows my mind…

  • Anarchy Pony

    I still just plain can’t believe that people actually take Colbert at face value. It just blows my mind…

  • http://twitter.com/talkbackty Tyler Shotwell

    Well written article. Thanks for sharing. 

    I actually worked with a guy that didn’t think Colbert was joking. He believed everything Colbert did was non-satirical, just funny. He thought of him as the anti-Jon Stewart.
    I was completely baffled. 

  • http://twitter.com/talkbackty Tyler Shotwell

    Well written article. Thanks for sharing. 

    I actually worked with a guy that didn’t think Colbert was joking. He believed everything Colbert did was non-satirical, just funny. He thought of him as the anti-Jon Stewart.
    I was completely baffled. 

    • Butter Knife

      Sadly, I’ve met some otherwise quite intelligent people who dislike(d) his show because they are liberal, and found his Conservatism troubling… obviously this is disturbing on several levels. First, that they were unable to recognize heavy-handed and obvious satire EVEN WHEN IT OPENLY PRESENTS ITSELF AS SUCH (see: Colbert’s interviews on right-wing talk shows, his WH Correspondents’ Dinner speech). Second, they were scared off by a disagreeing position, and sought to “silence” it by changing the channel.

      Some days, I wonder how I find the will to live.

      • http://twitter.com/talkbackty Tyler Shotwell

        There’s puzzlement, confusion and anger coming from those who can’t believe others don’t understand Colbert’s satire. Which makes the article’s point. We see things a certain way and don’t like when those views are challenged.

        • Hadrian999

          no it shows we get upset that we share a genetic link to people that stupid

          • Andrew

            My father, pretty liberal for the most part, hated Colbert for the first year or so because he thought he was serious.

  • anonymouse

    Wow this article is kind of fucked up, I gotta agree with you.

    It’s well-written, but some of the things the author is suggesting are pretty
    whack. Censoring Viacom for “ambiguously influencing the election
    process”? Offering disclaimers for when one is speaking satirically?
    Sorry, I don’t pander to the stupid. If people lack the cognitive
    fortitude to properly recognize and process satire, or even lack just the ability to
    laugh at how ridiculous society often is, well then fuck ‘em.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

    Yeah, um…I don’t think it’s productive to blame Colbert because people who don’t understand satire watch his show. This position is, to use a term from logic, retarded.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

    Yeah, um…I don’t think it’s productive to blame Colbert because people who don’t understand satire watch his show. This position is, to use a term from logic, retarded.

    • http://twitter.com/guolaosi Euphoric Participant

      He’s not blaming Colbert, he’s talking about the realism of the situation. Vague satire strengthens political divides. Mainstream political satire is vague. It’s an intelligent observation, his suggestions at the end of the article are reasonable.

      • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

        Except he is blaming Colbert, and those like him, in that he is telling Colbert et al that they are the ones who should change what they do. It’s not just analysis–it’s also recommendation. The analysis I agree with, the recommendation I do not. Why? Because it has nothing to do with comedy. Comedy is intended to be funny, not socially beneficial (although it should not be socially harmful, of course). Colbert’s comedy is funny *because* it’s deadpan all the way through. I really don’t watch comedy for its social value; I watch it because it makes me laugh.

        • fenris23

          It’s not blame to indicate who it is that has the power to change a situation and tell them how.

          IF Colbert wants to support progressive causes, THEN he needs to include more cues as to what his beliefs actually are, otherwise the conservatives will take him as support of them and he will be effectively aiding them.It’s not blame, it’s a question of what Colbert actually wants to do.

  • Anonymous

    “– Avoid using irony, sarcasm, or deadpan satire – or provide clarification (interpretive clues) after you do. The point is to say what you mean as often as possible.”

    …they realy, REALY  do NOT want me to start doing this.  [looks for meds]

  • Calypso_1

    “– Avoid using irony, sarcasm, or deadpan satire – or provide clarification (interpretive clues) after you do. The point is to say what you mean as often as possible.”

    …they realy, REALY  do NOT want me to start doing this.  [looks for meds]

  • Anarchy Pony

    We’d all end up in the gulags within a fortnight.

  • Anonymous

    It is very Good and Impressive article for support a Democracy.
    http://leanbodyx.net/overstock-coupons-overstock-promo-codes-coupon-codes-deals-2.html 

  • Butter Knife

    Sadly, I’ve met some otherwise quite intelligent people who dislike(d) his show because they are liberal, and found his Conservatism troubling… obviously this is disturbing on several levels. First, that they were unable to recognize heavy-handed and obvious satire EVEN WHEN IT OPENLY PRESENTS ITSELF AS SUCH (see: Colbert’s interviews on right-wing talk shows, his WH Correspondents’ Dinner speech). Second, they were scared off by a disagreeing position, and sought to “silence” it by changing the channel.

    Some days, I wonder how I find the will to live.

  • http://twitter.com/talkbackty Tyler Shotwell

    There’s puzzlement, confusion and anger coming from those who can’t believe others don’t understand Colbert’s satire. Which makes the article’s point. We see things a certain way and don’t like when those views are challenged.

  • Sirius Fnord

    Smart man is good old uncle bob and wise words doth he speak.

  • Sirius Fnord

    Smart man is good old uncle bob and wise words doth he speak.

    • Nunzio X

      I like to imagine Uncle Bob “is” sitting in “heaven” where sumbunall comic-philosophers regale each other with wonderful stories, told in e-prime.

  • Hadrian999

    no it shows we get upset that we share a genetic link to people that stupid

  • Nunzio X

    I like to imagine Uncle Bob “is” sitting in “heaven” where sumbunall comic-philosophers regale each other with wonderful stories, told in e-prime.

  • Theneonheart.com

    *football hits author of article in crotch*

  • Theneonheart.com

    *football hits author of article in crotch*

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    I understand your concern that irony, sarcasm and wit might be going over the heads of certain people and thereby doing as much harm as good…
    …but there’s a flaw in that concern you should consider carefully. The kind of folks who are literally, visibly, comfortably DUMB enough to miss every attempt at humor…are almost uniformly of a conservative ilk. They have minds made up for them from the get go…and its (deploy sarcasm quotes) “cute” that they may laugh (for the wrong reasons) at the shows the rest of us find hilarious for their subtlety…but those minds aren’t being changed for the better…or for the worse. It’s a zero sum game. The ignorant remain ignorant (and being ignorant to start with and generally very happy that way, if you try to ‘enlighten’ them they just despise you and/or change the channel) and the mentally competent remain competent (as well as briefly amused instead of constantly horrified).

    Nothing is served by literally dumbing down comedy until it can be absorbed by even the lowest common denominator. At that point we’re left with knock knock jokes and fart noises. I know you want good things and thoughtful examinations of the effects of humorous commentary…but take a deep breath and relax. The ramifications aren’t by half as serious as you imagine.

    That aside…it’s well written article with superb inclusion of reference data. Well done.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    I understand your concern that irony, sarcasm and wit might be going over the heads of certain people and thereby doing as much harm as good…
    …but there’s a flaw in that concern you should consider carefully. The kind of folks who are literally, visibly, comfortably DUMB enough to miss every attempt at humor…are almost uniformly of a conservative ilk. They have minds made up for them from the get go…and its (deploy sarcasm quotes) “cute” that they may laugh (for the wrong reasons) at the shows the rest of us find hilarious for their subtlety…but those minds aren’t being changed for the better…or for the worse. It’s a zero sum game. The ignorant remain ignorant (and being ignorant to start with and generally very happy that way, if you try to ‘enlighten’ them they just despise you and/or change the channel) and the mentally competent remain competent (as well as briefly amused instead of constantly horrified).

    Nothing is served by literally dumbing down comedy until it can be absorbed by even the lowest common denominator. At that point we’re left with knock knock jokes and fart noises. I know you want good things and thoughtful examinations of the effects of humorous commentary…but take a deep breath and relax. The ramifications aren’t by half as serious as you imagine.

    That aside…it’s well written article with superb inclusion of reference data. Well done.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    I understand your concern that irony, sarcasm and wit might be going over the heads of certain people and thereby doing as much harm as good…
    …but there’s a flaw in that concern you should consider carefully. The kind of folks who are literally, visibly, comfortably DUMB enough to miss every attempt at humor…are almost uniformly of a conservative ilk. They have minds made up for them from the get go…and its (deploy sarcasm quotes) “cute” that they may laugh (for the wrong reasons) at the shows the rest of us find hilarious for their subtlety…but those minds aren’t being changed for the better…or for the worse. It’s a zero sum game. The ignorant remain ignorant (and being ignorant to start with and generally very happy that way, if you try to ‘enlighten’ them they just despise you and/or change the channel) and the mentally competent remain competent (as well as briefly amused instead of constantly horrified).

    Nothing is served by literally dumbing down comedy until it can be absorbed by even the lowest common denominator. At that point we’re left with knock knock jokes and fart noises. I know you want good things and thoughtful examinations of the effects of humorous commentary…but take a deep breath and relax. The ramifications aren’t by half as serious as you imagine.

    That aside…it’s well written article with superb inclusion of reference data. Well done.

  • Mysophobe

    Yeah, my dad deeply identified with Archie Bunker and hated the Rob Reiner character. He’s one of those guys who loved Colbert initially until I told him it was satire. He thought it The Colbert Report was CC’s attempt at Fox news style, fair and balanced political humor. It’s strange, my dad’s a pretty sharp guy with a dry sense of humor who uses satire often in regular conversation. It must have something to do with how TV has evolved beyond the trusted, straight-laced media vehicle of his childhood. It also doesn’t help that he finds convoluted reinforcement of his beliefs in almost every aspect of society and culture thanks to 20 years of listening to “satirist” El Rushbo. I’ll admit that I’m guilty as well. I assumed the South Park creators were more in line with my thinking than they claim to be, at least politically.

  • Mysophobe

    Yeah, my dad deeply identified with Archie Bunker and hated the Rob Reiner character. He’s one of those guys who loved Colbert initially until I told him it was satire. He thought it The Colbert Report was CC’s attempt at Fox news style, fair and balanced political humor. It’s strange, my dad’s a pretty sharp guy with a dry sense of humor who uses satire often in regular conversation. It must have something to do with how TV has evolved beyond the trusted, straight-laced media vehicle of his childhood. It also doesn’t help that he finds convoluted reinforcement of his beliefs in almost every aspect of society and culture thanks to 20 years of listening to “satirist” El Rushbo. I’ll admit that I’m guilty as well. I assumed the South Park creators were more in line with my thinking than they claim to be, at least politically.

  • Mysophobe

    Yeah, my dad deeply identified with Archie Bunker and hated the Rob Reiner character. He’s one of those guys who loved Colbert initially until I told him it was satire. He thought it The Colbert Report was CC’s attempt at Fox news style, fair and balanced political humor. It’s strange, my dad’s a pretty sharp guy with a dry sense of humor who uses satire often in regular conversation. It must have something to do with how TV has evolved beyond the trusted, straight-laced media vehicle of his childhood. It also doesn’t help that he finds convoluted reinforcement of his beliefs in almost every aspect of society and culture thanks to 20 years of listening to “satirist” El Rushbo. I’ll admit that I’m guilty as well. I assumed the South Park creators were more in line with my thinking than they claim to be, at least politically.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    I’ll take my chances and try being really, really blunt just this once…(as if I was subtle before!)

    Modern conservatism and neo-liberal market philosophy are the moral and intellectual equivalent of coprophilia!!! To have any faith in either of the two requires a love of fecal matter that surpasses the acceptable!!! They are shit…and only shit-lovers can endure the presence of them for more than seconds before fleeing from the stench.

    There…I feel better. I might disagree with the primary concern of the article…but I have to admit it feels good to be extremely honest :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

    Dear God. I just remembered when I was conservative and first read “I Am America.” I’m going to go throw up at myself now.

  • Anonymous

    Amen!

    Problem is, anybody under 120 years old was raised on a steady diet of shit.  Only a relative handful of us come to realize that fact in our waning years and begin to develop a healthier palate.

    That realization is likely to be such an unpleasant existential shock as to make us question our very sanity.  My guess is that a large portion of us, maybe the majority, just aren’t up to the task of admitting that everything we know is wrong.

  • Anonymous

    This’d explain the mental gymnastics people do to validate their view point. But people are getting exhausted, at least from what I’ve seen, and I’m hoping more people at least get to that “Shit is fucked up and bullshit” point of realizing exactly how corrupt everything is. 

  • Anonymous

    South Park episodes are the Pop Tarts(tm) of the media world.  Diverting and amusing, but not anything a healthy person can make a diet out of.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    South Park episodes are the Pop Tarts(tm) of the media world.  Diverting and amusing, but not anything a healthy person can make a diet out of.

    • Calypso_1

      Aye -That’s why I stick to Irish babies – magically delicious, especially when you hide them in the colcannon.

  • Andrew

    My father, pretty liberal for the most part, hated Colbert for the first year or so because he thought he was serious.

  • Andrew

    Those mental gymnastics are an ancient martial art, developed over centuries.

  • Anonymous

    Nick, I really liked your article/essay. I realized, as I read along, that I had been catagorizing those who “got” or understood satire as more intelligent (liberal?) than those who did not;  more educated, erudite…certainly not part of the “1%”, yet definitely intellectually elite . I also love writing satire, or throwing it into an essay, every so often. I think satire brings a nice twist to an otherwise dull subject, and when I want to poke a little fun, or make the reader think, it’s a useful way to wake them up.
    I will, from now on, look at what I say, and make sure that I am saying what I mean.Thanks for the information!

  • WiseGranny

    Nick, I really liked your article/essay. I realized, as I read along, that I had been catagorizing those who “got” or understood satire as more intelligent (liberal?) than those who did not;  more educated, erudite…certainly not part of the “1%”, yet definitely intellectually elite . I also love writing satire, or throwing it into an essay, every so often.
    It just never occurred to me that some people were taking the meanings as “gospel” and thinking that what was being satirized was true, that it was encouraging people to continue behaving badly, or even worse!
    From now on, I’ll check to make sure I’m saying what I mean to say. However, Satire still is one of the best ways of stepping on toes (just have to make sure that they know they’re being stepped on!)!

  • Jethropem

    I’ve had thoughts along similar lines about satire as an effective political tool. I agree there’s something lacking when you’re a) making serious things into a joke b)playing the jester and making fun of everyone’s foibles equally- as if there’s always a middle ground like you say. I’ve noticed Noam Chomsky tell his audiences not to laugh at the Tea Party. On the other hand stand up comedy is gaining popularity because it’s a bastion on uncensored communication.

  • Jethropem

    I’ve had thoughts along similar lines about satire as an effective political tool. I agree there’s something lacking when you’re a) making serious things into a joke b)playing the jester and making fun of everyone’s foibles equally- as if there’s always a middle ground like you say. I’ve noticed Noam Chomsky tell his audiences not to laugh at the Tea Party. On the other hand stand up comedy is gaining popularity because it’s a bastion on uncensored communication.

  • Anonymous

    Aye -That’s why I stick to Irish babies – magically delicious, especially when you hide them in the colcannon.

  • Jethropem

    (according to Paul Provenza http://www.jimmydorecomedy.com/comedy-and-everything-else/episode-103-with-paul-provenza)

  • Jethropem

    (according to Paul Provenza http://www.jimmydorecomedy.com/comedy-and-everything-else/episode-103-with-paul-provenza)

  • Theneonheart.com

    Stemming from a loss of finding humor in the television he has been watching (I’m assuming), the author of this article encourages you to become more serious. Taking yourself MORE seriously will lead to the world becoming a better place, because then people will speak more truth… And not become even more… ______ It’s the end of the world as jew know it.
    I specifically heard him say something that sounds very Nazi-rific.
    Stop laughing.

  • Theneonheart.com

    Stemming from a loss of finding humor in the television he has been watching (I’m assuming), the author of this article encourages you to become more serious. Taking yourself MORE seriously will lead to the world becoming a better place, because then people will speak more truth… And not become even more… ______ It’s the end of the world as jew know it.
    I specifically heard him say something that sounds very Nazi-rific.
    Stop laughing.

  • Anonymous

    Fascinating article. I’ve made similar observations before. I tend to use satire a lot, and I’ve tried before to limit it, because it can so often backfire when trying to make a counter-argument. Sometimes I limit myself to some ambiguous statement that my allies will understand, and will confound my enemies… but that’s when I’ve given up any hope for rational exchange with my opponent.

    I think it’s important to note that the ambiguity of satire is not accidental, it’s entirely by design. Satire as a literary style was developed during the early Roman Empire, when saying the wrong thing could quickly lead to one losing one’s head (or worse, finding oneself in the arena). Speaking truth to power was always a dangerous vocation. Satire enabled the author to skewer powerful opponents with is wit, who could read the same thing and think he was actually supporting their positions. As a last resort, the satirist could always smile and say “just kidding!”

  • eyebeam

    Fascinating article. I’ve made similar observations before. I tend to use satire a lot, and I’ve tried before to limit it, because it can so often backfire when trying to make a counter-argument. Sometimes I limit myself to some ambiguous statement that my allies will understand, and will confound my enemies… but that’s when I’ve given up any hope for rational exchange with my opponent.

    I think it’s important to note that the ambiguity of satire is not accidental, it’s entirely by design. Satire as a literary style was developed during the early Roman Empire, when saying the wrong thing could quickly lead to one losing one’s head (or worse, finding oneself in the arena). Speaking truth to power was always a dangerous vocation. Satire enabled the author to skewer powerful opponents with is wit, who could read the same thing and think he was actually supporting their positions. As a last resort, the satirist could always smile and say “just kidding!”

  • Andrew

    If people knew what I really thought, they’d kill me.

  • Andrew

    If people knew what I really thought, they’d kill me.

    • Calypso_1

      …or some might stand back to back to defend the realm of your mind.

      • Andrew

        I don’t believe you.

        • Calypso_1

          : )  Your belief is not a prerequisite for another’s action. 

  • Anonymous

    …or some might stand back to back to defend the realm of your mind.

  • Andrew

    I don’t believe you.

  • Anonymous

    : )  Your belief is not a prerequisite for another’s action. 

  • Tio Holtzman

    I agree with the author.  People are too dumb to understand satire.  Since a majority of people are incapable of critical thinking, then laws against this kind of satire-sans-warning should exist.

  • Tio Holtzman

    I agree with the author.  People are too dumb to understand satire.  Since a majority of people are incapable of critical thinking, then laws against this kind of satire-sans-warning should exist.

  • Sabina lokic

    Interesting piece and we know to be aware of the pitfalls of satire.
    However calling for it to be banned is going way too far…freedom of speech issues.
    Maybe you were just being satyrical!

  • Sabina lokic

    Interesting piece and we know to be aware of the pitfalls of satire.
    However calling for it to be banned is going way too far…freedom of speech issues.
    Maybe you were just being satyrical!

  • http://twitter.com/guolaosi Euphoric Participant

    He doesn’t suggest censorship, he’s suggesting that we have personal responsibility to understand how our actions are going to be interpreted apart from our intents. It’s actually insightful.

  • http://twitter.com/guolaosi Euphoric Participant

    He’s not blaming Colbert, he’s talking about the realism of the situation. Vague satire strengthens political divides. Mainstream political satire is vague. It’s an intelligent observation, his suggestions at the end of the article are reasonable.

  • http://twitter.com/guolaosi Euphoric Participant

    This is a great article, and an intelligent perspective. The people who are insulting it seem to have not read the whole thing… Thanks for posting it.

  • http://twitter.com/guolaosi Euphoric Participant

    This is a great article, and an intelligent perspective. The people who are insulting it seem to have not read the whole thing… Thanks for posting it.

  • Jcathorall

    tldr

  • DeepCough

    By its very origin, satire is supposed to be subtle, because time was that if you said what you meant, you were killed for it, and while that course of action is frowned upon in this day and age, that don’t mean it stopped. It’s not satire that’s bad for democracy insofar as it’s flat-out illiteracy of the populace. (You could say that serves as an explanation for why people think Michelle de Nostradame was a prophetic mystic, not a commentator of his day.)

  • tripoli

    I haven’t heard anyone defending the stupid people yet, so here I am. Maybe it would be better for the more intelligent folk to realize that yes; people are stupid, it IS true. But don’t hate them for it. Hate the generations before us that didn’t teach us properly. Maybe we are wrong about a lot of things, and we need to teach our children differently if we want a brighter future.

  • FearlessMonstrosity

    The issue is, people are really this stupid. Behold, this website archives responses from people who don’t get that the onion is satire!  http://literallyunbelievable.org/

  • FearlessMonstrosity

    The issue is, people are really this stupid. Behold, this website archives responses from people who don’t get that the onion is satire!  http://literallyunbelievable.org/

  • WoodGas1

    I rarely watch television, I catch the Daily Show when convenient, that segues into the Colbert Report and usually I’m done with TV for a while. Another favorite is Al Jazeera News, not that I believe what I see there either, but their bias is aimed at a more intelligent and informed audience. Much as Colbert does, but without the added benefit of humor. The Al Jazeera facts, (facts in a logical sense, not necessarily meaning true) when checked, are much more reliable than say, Fox, and without the emotional manipulation and instructions on what to think about these facts. We used to call that news.

  • Anonymous

    I rarely watch television, I catch the Daily Show when convenient, that segues into the Colbert Report and usually I’m done with TV for a while. Another favorite is Al Jazeera News, not that I believe what I see there either, but their bias is aimed at a more intelligent and informed audience. Much as Colbert does, but without the added benefit of humor. The Al Jazeera facts, (facts in a logical sense, not necessarily meaning true) when checked, are much more reliable than say, Fox, and without the emotional manipulation and instructions on what to think about these facts. We used to call that news.

  • mallory

    I always knew Dave Chappelle was smart, but his actions reveal an even greater intelligence. If one of the satirists himself has found that misinterpretations of his work are harmful (‘socially irresponsible’ as he said) than you should admit the author has a valid point. This article is thoughtful and well written and referenced.
    Trashing people who don’t understand this satire and being dismissive is irresponsible too. They may be dumb, but they’re a part of society and their actions and votes affect us. Satire is funny and should make you think, but it shouldn’t be anyone’s source for their political opinions. And all people can twist almost anything into something that reinforces their beliefs. I hate the idea of our intelligent comedians pandering to the lowest common denominator, even more though, I hate the idea of those comedians providing ammunition to extremists.

    Also. 
    I’m very liberal but I never identify as democrat. I call myself moderate or independent because no matter how strongly I feel about any given issue, the biggest issue to me is how utterly divided we are.
     

    • Andrew

      > And all people can twist almost anything into something that reinforces their beliefs.

      Which is why being more serious won’t change things much.

  • mallory

    I always knew Dave Chappelle was smart, but his actions reveal an even greater intelligence. If one of the satirists himself has found that misinterpretations of his work are harmful (‘socially irresponsible’ as he said) than you should admit the author has a valid point. This article is thoughtful and well written and referenced.
    Trashing people who don’t understand this satire and being dismissive is irresponsible too. They may be dumb, but they’re a part of society and their actions and votes affect us. Satire is funny and should make you think, but it shouldn’t be anyone’s source for their political opinions. And all people can twist almost anything into something that reinforces their beliefs. I hate the idea of our intelligent comedians pandering to the lowest common denominator, even more though, I hate the idea of those comedians providing ammunition to extremists.

    Also. 
    I’m very liberal but I never identify as democrat. I call myself moderate or independent because no matter how strongly I feel about any given issue, the biggest issue to me is how utterly divided we are.
     

  • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

    Except he is blaming Colbert, and those like him, in that he is telling Colbert et al that they are the ones who should change what they do. It’s not just analysis–it’s also recommendation. The analysis I agree with, the recommendation I do not. Why? Because it has nothing to do with comedy. Comedy is intended to be funny, not socially beneficial (although it should not be socially harmful, of course). Colbert’s comedy is funny *because* it’s deadpan all the way through. I really don’t watch comedy for its social value; I watch it because it makes me laugh.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6LWLE77G2CZSNJNTD3V3YRZSCI Aaron

    In an interview Colbert stated that he doesn’t let his children watch his show because he would have to tell them he was only joking/lying and they wouldn’t believe him anymore. To really think the Colbert of the Report in serious means you must be seriously messed up.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6LWLE77G2CZSNJNTD3V3YRZSCI Aaron

    In an interview Colbert stated that he doesn’t let his children watch his show because he would have to tell them he was only joking/lying and they wouldn’t believe him anymore. To really think the Colbert of the Report in serious means you must be seriously messed up.

  • andyk4102

    You may not want your satire to pander to the stupid but there are plenty manipulative, power-hungry, greedy folks out there who do just that and they’re winning.

  • Andrew

    > And all people can twist almost anything into something that reinforces their beliefs.

    Which is why being more serious won’t change things much.

  • jigglyboobs

    WOW, what an obtuse essay!

  • jigglyboobs

    WOW, what an obtuse essay!

  • Anonymous

    Welcome to completely missing the point of the article. Those people who don’t get it… simply don’t get it. They then take their misunderstanding of people like Colbert as support for positions that people like Colbert are actually against. This means that by not including sufficient interpretive clues Colbert is giving support to those things he supposedly opposes. And if he wants to be a force for good, it is HIS problem to fix.

  • Anonymous

    It’s not blame to indicate who it is that has the power to change a situation and tell them how.

    IF Colbert wants to support progressive causes, THEN he needs to include more cues as to what his beliefs actually are, otherwise the conservatives will take him as support of them and he will be effectively aiding them.It’s not blame, it’s a question of what Colbert actually wants to do.

  • http://pdfcast.org/pdf/trial-error Anonymous Cyborg

    It’s worse than you think! How many people are freaked out by the idea of machines becoming self-aware and enslaving humanity? And for the most part this idea comes from nothing more than movies. So — if people can take an idea from blatant science fiction entertainment — and confuse it with reality. . . what chance do they have discerning the true thoughts and feelings of a deadpan satirist??? I don’t have a solution. The best I can do is make more interesting lies. JOIN MY CULT!!

  • http://pdfcast.org/pdf/trial-error Anonymous Cyborg

    It’s worse than you think! How many people are freaked out by the idea of machines becoming self-aware and enslaving humanity? And for the most part this idea comes from nothing more than movies. So — if people can take an idea from blatant science fiction entertainment — and confuse it with reality. . . what chance do they have discerning the true thoughts and feelings of a deadpan satirist??? I don’t have a solution. The best I can do is make more interesting lies. JOIN MY CULT!!

  • Guest

    For all your pretense, and your careful word selection, you ain’t much more than a glorified Pat Robertson, trying to tell people what’s bad for America.

    The most disturbing thing you wrote is this little crypto-fascist gem:

    “free speech” only matters if we’re using it in a way that improves our democracy and the quality of all life.”
    LOLOLOLOLOL!  Oh, thou who art noble and good!  Would that thou could bestow upon us thine holy guidelines for what types of free speech will improve our democracy in the way that thy superior sense of righteousness has deemed appropriate!  

    It’s almost hilariously absurd enough to make me think that you were being satirical yourself, but I’m afraid that’s unlikely.  Let me avoid any future sarcasm and be ultra clear so as to avoid any misinterpretation.

    Free speech INHERENTLY promotes democracy.  It ALWAYS matters, regardless of whether it’s used to communicate democratic ideals or not.  Democracy does not need self-appointed guardians like yourself ‘protecting’ us from its ‘enemies’ and determining the ‘appropriate’ ways for us to exercise free speech.  

    Furthermore, the purpose of comedy is not, as you seem to believe, to clearly articulate ideas in order to inform and educate the audience in order to secure a more viable democracy.  It’s supposed to make you laugh.  

    You know, laughter?   That thing that’s supposed to prevent us from taking ourselves too seriously?  The thing that comforts us when we are in the depths of despair and prevents us from giving up on life? The that glorious thing that even the most severe fascism is unable to fully stamp out?  I think you could use some more of it.  

  • Guest

    For all your pretense, and your careful word selection, you ain’t much more than a glorified Pat Robertson, trying to tell people what’s bad for America.

    The most disturbing thing you wrote is this little crypto-fascist gem:

    “free speech” only matters if we’re using it in a way that improves our democracy and the quality of all life.”
    LOLOLOLOLOL!  Oh, thou who art noble and good!  Would that thou could bestow upon us thine holy guidelines for what types of free speech will improve our democracy in the way that thy superior sense of righteousness has deemed appropriate!  

    It’s almost hilariously absurd enough to make me think that you were being satirical yourself, but I’m afraid that’s unlikely.  Let me avoid any future sarcasm and be ultra clear so as to avoid any misinterpretation.

    Free speech INHERENTLY promotes democracy.  It ALWAYS matters, regardless of whether it’s used to communicate democratic ideals or not.  Democracy does not need self-appointed guardians like yourself ‘protecting’ us from its ‘enemies’ and determining the ‘appropriate’ ways for us to exercise free speech.  

    Furthermore, the purpose of comedy is not, as you seem to believe, to clearly articulate ideas in order to inform and educate the audience in order to secure a more viable democracy.  It’s supposed to make you laugh.  

    You know, laughter?   That thing that’s supposed to prevent us from taking ourselves too seriously?  The thing that comforts us when we are in the depths of despair and prevents us from giving up on life? The that glorious thing that even the most severe fascism is unable to fully stamp out?  I think you could use some more of it.  

  • Anonymous

    First 60% of this article – really thoughtful, incisive commentary on the function of satire in the modern world.

    Last 40% of the article, sloppily thought-out attack on libertarianism and a call (effectively) for a kind of censorship. Michael Moore IS an ideaologue just as much as Donald Rumsfeld. The only difference is, Moore does not have the power Rumsfeld had. If you think Moore would have been better, you’re kidding yourself. Dogma is dogma, no matter what colour you paint it. 

  • ishmael2009

    First 60% of this article – really thoughtful, incisive commentary on the function of satire in the modern world.

    Last 40% of the article, sloppily thought-out attack on libertarianism and a call (effectively) for a kind of censorship. Michael Moore IS an ideaologue just as much as Donald Rumsfeld. The only difference is, Moore does not have the power Rumsfeld had. If you think Moore would have been better, you’re kidding yourself. Dogma is dogma, no matter what colour you paint it. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TSUHDGX3NNIMGQCCLSX76RKQOU Winston

    It isn’t your democracy, it is their democracy, ran by our misleaders. Democracy is majority rule whether the majority is good or evil with a lynch mob being a classic example. God forbirds it with “thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil,” exodis 23:2 and the Constitution precludes democtacy, Article 4  Section 4. Some of you may have heard of the minister, Roussas John Rushdoony. He wrote: http://www.morpix.biz/god. In communist countries, the people are controlled with legal tender, credit, fear, lies, illusions, disease and amusements that inhibit serious thinking. In democracies, the people are controlled with legal tender, credit, fear, lies, illusions, disease and amusements that inhibit serious thinking. Democracy is not mentioned in the Constitution, it is precluded or shut out with the words: Each state shall be guaranteed a republican form of government” Art.4, Sec.4. Democracy is a matter of convincing the majority that evil is good and that those who oppose it shall be ridiculed and punished.
    I have had both. For clarity, when 2 wolves and a sheep vote on what they will have for lunch, democracy prevails,  We had a limited republic that has fallen into unlimited democracy where our misleaders can do anything they want with us, for us, to us or to others without paying anyone for anything, Debts and taxes cannot be paid with credit. The Fed said their system “works (us) only with credit”–Keeping Our Money (their credit) Healthy pub. Federal Reserve bank of New York.”My people perish for lack of knowledge.” Hosea 4:6

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TSUHDGX3NNIMGQCCLSX76RKQOU Winston

    It isn’t your democracy, it is their democracy, ran by our misleaders. Democracy is majority rule whether the majority is good or evil with a lynch mob being a classic example. God forbirds it with “thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil,” exodis 23:2 and the Constitution precludes democtacy, Article 4  Section 4. Some of you may have heard of the minister, Roussas John Rushdoony. He wrote: http://www.morpix.biz/god. In communist countries, the people are controlled with legal tender, credit, fear, lies, illusions, disease and amusements that inhibit serious thinking. In democracies, the people are controlled with legal tender, credit, fear, lies, illusions, disease and amusements that inhibit serious thinking. Democracy is not mentioned in the Constitution, it is precluded or shut out with the words: Each state shall be guaranteed a republican form of government” Art.4, Sec.4. Democracy is a matter of convincing the majority that evil is good and that those who oppose it shall be ridiculed and punished.
    I have had both. For clarity, when 2 wolves and a sheep vote on what they will have for lunch, democracy prevails,  We had a limited republic that has fallen into unlimited democracy where our misleaders can do anything they want with us, for us, to us or to others without paying anyone for anything, Debts and taxes cannot be paid with credit. The Fed said their system “works (us) only with credit”–Keeping Our Money (their credit) Healthy pub. Federal Reserve bank of New York.”My people perish for lack of knowledge.” Hosea 4:6

  • snizz

    i really don’t know if it is the satirist’s fault that members of the audience might lean one direction or another. it should be up to individuals whether they decide to put things in context or not. if people are too stupid to realize that colbert is joking, then they deserve to not get the joke. then people who know better can speak up and say “hey, you’re an idiot. do some research.” haven’t you realized that the joke loses some of the humor when you have to explain the punch line…?

  • http://mattpacey.com Matthew Arnold Pacey

    Oh, wait, you better explain that you were making a reference to A Modest Proposal (which is usually thought to be a satire) or someone might think you’re seriously promoting eating babies and go eat some babies because they read this post and it reinforced their existing views on baby-eating!
    Unless you *were* seriously advocating eating delicious, delicious Irish babies, then I apologize for my assumptions.

  • Anonymous

    I was pulled into this article understandably intrigued by the title. I think you made some very interesting points in the beginning (particularly that satire’s interpretation is influenced by one’s own political beliefs). The article really began to derail after that. I think its biggest problem is best summarized by, well, your summary. You end up trying to cram so much of your own ideology into it that it looses its cohesiveness.

    Also, your statement that deadpan satire is okay “with an explaination” is laughable (and an oxymoron). As much as I don’t want to label you, it seems awfully elitist to think that not only do a majority of people vote based on the opinions of characters from blatantly comedic TV shows, but that because these uninformed saps are so susceptible to manipulation we should censor anything that might confuse them.

    I was originally attracted to this website because a good friend of mine owned a copy of “Everything You Know is Wrong.” I used to read through it whenever I got the chance and found it all very fascinating. Now that I’ve visited the site I am sorely disappointed by its content. There are some articles posted here that I have a hard time believing weren’t written as a joke.

  • Anonymous6734

    P.S. As a fan of My Little Pony I was both exceptionally surprised and entertained that someone posts to a conspiracy-theory website under the name “Anarchy Pony.” If you’re reading this, Anarchy, rock on!