With about a quarter of people aged 18 to 29 reporting that they receive their primary political news from satirical shows like The Colbert Report and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, it’s clear that Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are two of the most influential media figures for young adults (Gugie). But Stewart and Colbert do more than just parody political figures and the way the mainstream media covers the news. Stewart and Colbert are able to mobilize young adults to participate in politics because they encourage the audience to take part in the parody.
Steven Colbert and Jon Stewart’s use of satire is vastly different. As Lisa Colletta perfectly puts in “Political Satire and Postmodern Irony in the Age of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart,” the satire on The Daily Show is much broader than The Colbert Report, meaning that while Colbert parodies a type of media personality, such as Bill O’Reilly to the extreme, Stewart mocks the television news media in general (Colletta). And as the statistic regarding young adults’ viewership of the both programs shows, this satirical approach is clearly resonating with young adults.
Why are these two shows so successful in resonating with young adults? Because the satire makes them relatable, in that they create less alienation for viewers. For example, Lisa Rein, an online blogger, began watching The Daily Show after it became clear to her that Bush was going to invade Iraq and the rest of the mainstream media hadn’t picked up on this fact yet. Rein said, “It felt like me and the The Daily Show were the only ones recognizing this drumbeat to war,” and the show was the only, “voice of sanity in a world gone mad” (Burwell, Boler).
But what exactly does it mean to encourage the audience to take part in the parody? A perfect example is Stewart’s ‘Rally to Restore Sanity’ and Colbert’s ‘March to Keep Fear Alive,’ held on the national mall in Washington, D.C. Stewart first announced the rally during a segment on his show when he argued that, “loud folks dominate our public conversation,” referring to the “overwrought political rhetoric found on cable news. He also argued that the media had become like a fun-house mirror, distorting reality so that citizens no longer knew how to “have animus and not be enemies” (Jones, Baym, Day). He invited his viewers to attend, saying that the “Rally to Restore Sanity’ would encourage the mainstream media to take it down a notch. After Colbert heard about Stewart’s rally, he encouraged his viewers to participate in a counter-demonstration, the ‘March to Keep Fear Alive.’
The rallies gave over 250,000 people an opportunity to “demonstrate their support of the critique” and “see and experience each other and themselves as fellow citizens, outside the media’s fun-house mirror rendering” (Baym, Day, Jones). Musicians like Ozzy Osbourne performed, singing “Crazy Train” to fit in with the theme, and medals were given to celebrities, average citizens and news organization that had displayed sanity.
Clearly, both these rallies fit into the satirical model that Colbert and Stewart have created on their respective shows. Stewart is mocking the television news media, while Colbert is staying true to his ultra-conservative character. Theoretically, the rallies are part of the parody for these shows, but as a whole, the rallies had a serious message, protesting the norms of political news coverage, and by encouraging viewers to take part in the parody, Colbert and Stewart have encouraged political participation on a deeper level. In essence, the rallies were able to give meaning to the parody and gave viewers so much more than they would have gotten just by watching the show.
It’s also important to discuss how Colbert and Stewart have taken advantage of the Internet, a platform that is synonymous with young adults. Colbert, probably more so than Stewart, directly encourages his audience to take part in the parody online through his loyal fan base, Colbert Nation. Colbert does things like encourage Colbert Nation to vote online to name things after him, like Hungarian bridges or a NASA Space Station. Even though these activities aren’t traditionally politically related, studies show “that online political action can have a strong positive influence on a person’s willingness to play a role in more traditional forms of political action.” (Schulzke). Voting is in itself a democratic process and though on the surface, this voting looks like it’s part of the parody, it’s still encouraging political participation down the line.
In previous blog posts, I’ve talked about participatory politics and how young adults are engaging in issues of public concern in a more interactive and peer based way, whether that be starting a political group online, writing a political blog post or forwarding a political video to social networks (Kahne, Middaugh).Colbert and Stewart have provided their audiences with the tools to engage in participatory politics. Every segment of the show is stored on the shows’ websites for sharing with options to “email them, link to them and link to one’s blog, Facebook page, or other social-networking platforms” (Jones, Baym, Day). So just like Saturday Night Live, another satirical show, creates content that prompts audiences to share with their peers, Colbert and Stewart are essentially doing the same thing. And even though this isn’t physically taking part in the parody in the format the rallies provided, audiences’ are encouraged to share the parody with friends, which is still very much taking part in it.
Evidently, Colbert and Stewart’s use of parody is encouraging young adults to participate in politics, whether that be through participating in rallies, experiencing the voting process of a democracy or mobilizing in a newer form of participation, participatory politics. It would be interesting to explore any potential consequences of parody, such as how it affects biases in viewers and perhaps contradicts itself by not being an objective news source on it’s own. But ultimately, Colbert and Stewart and here to stay and will undoubtedly continue to have an impact on young adults for years to come.
Burwell, Catherine, and Megan Boler. “Calling on the Colbert Nation: Fandom, Politics and Parody in an Age of Media Convergence.” Electronic Journal of Communication. n. page. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. <http://www.cios.org/www/ejc/EJCPUBLIC/018/2/01845.html>.
Colletta, Lisa. “Political Satire and Postmodern Irony in the Age of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart.” n. page. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-5931.2009.00711.x/abstract?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false>.
Gugie , John. “Smack of Reality 2: Political Comedy Shows Influence Young Voters.” Yahoo!. n. page. Web. 8 Oct. 2013. <http://voices.yahoo.com/smack-reality-2-political-comedy-tv-shows-influence-550747.html?cat=40>.
Jones, Jeffrey, Geoffrey Baym, and Amber Day. “Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert Go to Washington: Television Satirists Outside the Box.” n. page. Web. 21 Nov. 2013 <http://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/30517399/791_Jones-Baym-Day_33-60.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJ56TQJRTWSMTNPEA&Expires=1385086319&Signature=imz7JeKXgnyNU1PQ67/5ieSKMr8=&response-content-disposition=inline>.
Kahn, Joseph, and Ellen Middaugh. “Digital Media Shapes Youth Participation in Politics.” Civic Survey. n. page. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. <http://www.civicsurvey.org/ PDK_Digital_Media_Shapes_Youth_Participation.pdf>.
Schulze, Marcus. “Fan action and political participation on The Colbert Report.” Praxis. n. page. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. <http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/316/283>.