With the presidential election quickly approaching, satirical news sources like Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” can be brushed aside in favor of more traditional, “serious” media.
Yet, Sophia McClennen, author of “Colbert’s America: Satire and Democracy”, said that Stephen Colbert’s comedy is more influential than most people realize.
McClennen, a professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at Penn State, said Colbert first grabbed her interest in 2006 when he roasted former President George W. Bush at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.
“I noticed his deep and complex sense of satire,” McClennen said. “At the heart of it is an urge to get people to think by pushing the status quo.”
She became a regular viewer and was intrigued by his way of calling out both politicians and the media when they blatantly avoid the truth and provide biased information, she said.
“The way he has crossed the line between comedian and newscaster is unprecedented,” McClennen said.
According to the website for “Colbert’s America”, the book argues that Colbert “does more than mock pundits and politicians.” Because of his entertaining and educational approach to covering democracy, McClennen says he has been more effective in inspiring “a new generation of actively involved citizens” than other political television programs.
McClennen is not alone in her claim. A 2007 study by the Pew Research Center suggested that regular viewers of “The Colbert Report” and Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” are more knowledgeable of current affairs than the audience of Fox News.
Last April, Remy Maisel started Penn Staters for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Penn State’s chapter of Colbert Super PAC.
Maisel (sophomore-broadcast journalism) wrote in an email that Colbert’s viewers need to be more informed in order to appreciate the humor.
“[Colbert and Stewart] do not cover all of the news,” Maisel wrote. “I’d argue that most people that watch the shows do not exclusively get their news from them.”
Eleanor Skrzat, Vice President of the Full Ammo Improv Troupe, thinks comedy in politics more often reinforces views than reshapes them.
“[Comedic insight] is persuasive in that it’s informative and entertaining,” Skrzat (junior-drawing and painting) wrote in an email, adding that, while comedy has a time and place, “it stirs interest in politics in a democracy where ‘apathetic’ is not an uncommon political affiliation.