tv Political Satire on Cable TV Social Media CSPAN May 29, 2018 9:59pm-10:30pm EDT
eastern. apple ceo tim cook, governor john kasich, governor kate brown, and congressman luis gutierrez. on friday at 8:00 p.m. eastern, jimmy carter, betty devos, representative mark meadows, and atlanta mayor kesha lance bottoms. this week on prime time, c-span and cspan.org and on the free c- span radio app. next on american history tv, penn state university professor sophia mclindon talks about public satire. and its influence on public opinion. this 30-minute event was part of the symposium on satires held at university of minnesota. >> one of the great adventures of helping pull the symposium together with jane was to identify the scholarships in the last 30 years that has
advanced our understanding of satire. from central casting comes our next speaker. sophia is a professor of international affairs from comparative literature at penn state university, and founding director of the center for global studies. he's a recognized expert on satire and politics with two books on the politics. and satire and democracy with a column where she regularly covers politics and culture. one of the threads we're pulling, just how they influence public opinion and why and how sometimes it is more powerful than traditional news. so we'll turn you over now to professor mclendon.
>> i appreciate you taking a moment and sharing your time with me. i am thrilled to be here. it is pretty much what i do. i'll throw a lot of things out. some of what's here is on the books that ross mentioned, but some is a part of a new book i'm working on called trump is a joke. why satire makes sense when politics doesn't. and i had this idea that given the fact i had all this amazing political cartoonists in the room. while you're listening to me talk, see if you could like this pack cover for me, that would be cool. okay. so let's start with what is it that we need to have a healthy
democracy, right? and so start thinking if you get these. well, we need active citizens. we even inform citizens, so they cannot just be active and stupid, right? they need information. and we need engaged citizens, right? so how do we do that? voting, commune action. we need a healthy news media, an active place for people to debate and think through political issues. now these are things people would talk about when they are talking about a healthy democracy. what do we have now in our democracy today? we have is afire tire, my len -- satires, millennials, and social media. so that can't be good, right? i am here to tell you it's awesome and there are a lot of reasons why. so a lot of my resource focuses
on what happened to our democracy after 9/11. so it takes place well after the fallout case. what we had after 9/11 was a crisis in citizenship, in the public fear, news media, and it was satire that played a real major role in keeping our democracy from completely falling apart. now why is that? it was already a mess well before the attacks of 9/11. don't forget the drama. right? and we then had after 9/11, the kind of with us or against us mentality, right? this culture of fear, self- censorship. journalists are getting fired. professors are getting fired. they often don't know how crazy it was. it was really tough. bill mahr got fired. when you're in an adeems fear
of surveillance, fear -- when you're in an atmosphere of surveillance and fear. people also didn't think what happened at night, you know, that we would ever be attacked. that was a big part of it. so the other piece of it, i missed this one. that we had a crisis in the news immediate california folks forget. but after 9/11, it was pretty much like yeah, whatever the president says. but there are other things that were sort of setting us up for that level of failure. the first was 1976, which is when basic cable comes in. now why is basic cable bad? because now i can watch "baywatch" or the news. so what happens is the news radically changes, television news in those days, to try to be more sexy. now it turns out they can't really compete with women running on the beach in bathing suits, but they try. so the news starts to become a
lot more visually creative, right? the next thing that happens, cnn, because it's the first 24/7 news channel. there isn't that much news. so you know what they did? they started having ten minutes of information and 20 minutes of pungence. you talked about cronkite. i was a little kid, i watched cronkite. we would eat our dinner and talk about what he said. that's good for democracy because you're debating, having dialogue about the information that you got when you catched the news. that all dies with cnn because they suddenly give the feelings, opinions to you. someone is from the left, someone is from the right,
someone is from the middle. and then they all yell at each other. and so the information that you get really goes to them. the next thing here, fox news in 1996, the first openly partisan channel. people forget, but ann coulter used to have a show on nbc. we just live in this land where we have the sense of a nature to the news, but that really ramps up. that's the beginning of the ticker. that never goes away, right? all right, so satire fixed it because it helps remind us of the actual story. i'm just going to let you think about that. and so what we know, it is such a privilege for me to speak to a room of people who basically get what satire is. a lot of the times i give talks
and they are like well, what's that? no, it is comedy. but we know that they emerge in force and moments of crisis. every human culture has satire. every community will produce it. one is being told it is not allowed to thinwhen it is being told it is to get in line, follow whoever is in power. but in the united states without any hesitation, vietnam would be another moment, right, but it was 9/11 that was the real crush for satire, right? and we had everyone here. we had the onion, michael moore. but really the center of this was john stewart and stephen colbert and the energy of their two shows. we had a lot of satire interventions. one of the big things that
changes and is really interesting to study, the way they had a measurable impact. not just in public opinion, but things that would actually happen in politics. tina fey does sarah palin and ruins her career. i mean there's a lot of data on this that you can just track, tina fey, sarah palin, people don't support her, they cannot longer see her anything else, but a joke. and the beauty of this, tina fey just repeats the same words. and why is that brilliant? because you guys get it. impersonation is extremely funny when it requires no art, right? the irony is even bigger. but then you have colbert at the white house correspondents' dinner and he didn't say you're
a lunatic, but he said i love you. this guy is the best guy. and because he was embodying a huge supporter of bush, he was able to say things that, you know, nobody could say. and he gets a pleased look on his face. but then you have moments like john stewart looking to pass legislation, right? changing the law, right? because he decided that there hadn't been enough support for the first responders after 9/11. he got behind it and people, they will say without any question that it was his first initiative that changed it. and so this speaking truth to power that happens when colbert gives his speech is, again, sort of one of the things that always drove a satire, right?
because especially true after 9/11 when the news media itself is not giving you the truth. becoming more sensationalized, more entertaining, more ridiculous, and the satires are getting more serious. and so his speech was sort of one of those extraordinary moments for what happens in the land of social media because the speech was canned, right? nobody wanted to cover it and it was the fans that did. there is a site that says ilovestephencolbert.com and it took off because people would get behind it and they refused to let the news media control it. then we had him doing things like, you know, sometimes it's because it will give you a
shared way of saying everybody feels, but they didn't know how to do it, right? and so that is why that one cartoon sticks in your head because it gives you the vocabulary whether it is a visual one or a texture one. so now we're on few news. these shows were called fake news. we would call it fake news. we had no idea what was coming. but one of those things that has been very tricky, that after 9/11, they weren't just talking about the problems with politicians or public figures, but they were consistently attacking the flaws in the news media. this becomes one of the targets of satires. of course, stewart gets a lot of credit for that. and one of the things that
became super weird, all of the political science friends don't like to think about this, but public knowledge of issues was at its highest for viewers of stewart and colbert. meanwhile if you watch fox news, you actually knew, you scored lower on a test of public issues. you scored lower than people who watch no news at all. so we're in this moment when a lot of the information that people are getting, that they are using to make decisions is deceptive, uninformed, misinformed, cnn calling ebola the isis, i mean you have to
kidding me, right? and so what we found was that the people who consumes satires are more educated. but they were right about things. they were understanding things, having more detailed aptitude. and so that is a unique thing because again, you remember when we were talking earlier during vietnam, that it could be cronkite and the cartoons. we don't have a cronkite today, just a satire. that's a big shift. so we have all these polls. i could give you a bunch of data. you have to believe me, i'm right. so what happens, someone like me, works on this. i'm like right, they're helping to save our nation and they're like no because they produce
apathy, activists. and that is sort of sad that i can't use him the foil he used to be, but referred to viewers as stoned slackers, right? even though his viewers, they scored higher than bill o'reillys. because you're having fun. there's pleasure in satires, so that can't be good. all of this is bad, but it turns out it is really good. call of the research we have is extremely positive. one, people who produce satire and consume it, they are just smarter because they get nuance, irony, layers of meaning, they get their problems have multiple ways to solve them. s and other super cool things that will happen with the brain. it lets you speak truth to
power in a fun way. when people are having fun, they are connected. so we have interesting data that will correlate satire and political engagement. if you listen to crazy radio, it could be cynicism and apathy. but the satire viewer consumer, tends to be more active in politics. and then there's other cool things. and that it happens. but one of the other things that will happen in satires, you guys constantly get this. it's about exposing stinking. like you were told you could do this or this, but that is a dumb binary. so my jokes will exopod that, right? and we have an administration right now that is makingirrational arguments.
so i have often said the biggest battle in the united states today is not between red and blue, but between smart and stupid. and it is just about pointing out the stupidity everywhere confined to it, right? on the left, on the right, and it doesn't matter. so the other piece of this is that we know when people are engaged in satire, they enjoy participating in politics in a different way, right? and so we see this in terms of the way youth culture is always engaging in politics now cruising satire. -- now by using satire. but you're a professional. now we have them everywhere, social media has facilitated that. and we also have the satire activist, what a friend of mine
has a better term for this. and so i have a friend who uses satire pranks to help bring them down. and this stuff is cool. it is happening all the time. these public interventions drere satires a part of how you out political abuse. i can give you impact. we just had this thing, what's the power of satire? so i get this question all the time because people like to be difficult. they're like you think this is good, but it can't be right. so i have a ton of different data points, whether it is saying colbert launched a term or a hashtag and how often that hashtag is used and in what way it is used, we had the john oliver, for example. john oliver is a really
brilliant case of someone who has public impact, right? there's so many examples of what he's doing that you can't limit to one. and so we do, in fact, have evidence. now the thing that was interesting is that when colbert and stewart stepped down, a lot of folks wondered what would happen to satire. what's happening, we have more on the menu than ever, right? and they are all over. and they all compliment each other, so this has been pretty good. and one of the reasons, again, that makes the trump era different, think about it. when people were doing jokes during the bush era, they were wondering if they could get in trouble for this. everyone makes fun of trump. if you don't make fun of trump, right, you can like lose your job or you are losing your
ratings. it's a part of what happened to jimmy fallon. and so jimmy kimmel jumps on the trump bandwagon and his ratings goes up. it's been interesting to watch. we've never seen a moment when it has been so easy to make fun of a president sort of when no consequence and a part of that is because everyone is doing it. it is impossible to figure out where it starts and stops. then the other piece of it, we've never had a president who could watch someone in person on tv and then tweet about it. like right there and then and complain. so this is a real interesting thing, right, that of course satire goes after presidents. most of the time what they tell you to do is to ignore it. we have a president that doesn't just ignore it, but threatens to cancel the show, all this kind of crazy stuff. but the other thing is that, of course, trump is a joke, but what he is doing isn't funny.
and so satire has really occupied the strange place where it is starting to feel like a pressure, right? and to help draw out the negative and long-term affects of what happens when you don't respect democracy or the kind of pillars of our system. and so that is a part of what my new book is about. i don't know if you have seen this, but they roasted trump at the white house correspondents' association dinner in 2017 and it was brilliant. so if you didn't see it, please do because much of his speech was about the first amendment. and what it means and why. you want to value a country that will let you say the things you do right next to the president who in this particular case refuses to go. but the fact the white house correspondents' dinner has always had a comedian, also
tells you there's an interesting relationship between the news media and comedy. so again i mentioned the citizens satire bringing us pack to social media. a couple of people in the room don't like social media. just gauging on the demographic here. and it turns out though social media has lots of negatives to it, but also from a mobilizing democracy standpoint that is super exciting. one of the things we are noticing, the way people engage on politics, it is often ironic and snarky and sassy, right? and so it's certainly of some comfort, right? i like this one. now there's a network devoted to that. but this particular tweet is a real excellent one. this came out during the
government shutdown, right. and it was -- a lot of people saw the tweet. you're suppose to compromise, but it is not a compromise. what's interesting, that actual tweet got read in congress. and so again, there is a direct through line that we hadn't seen before and a part of that is facilitated by social media. so that brings me to millennials. my guess, some of the people in the room that don't like social media, they are maybe not sure. but millennials are probably the most exciting generation this country has seen at least since the vietnam era of young people. maybe better. they understand the economy because we've never had a
generation of young people completely screwed economically. because of that they need to pay attention. and they do vote, but they may not have voted for president and because it turned out they didn't like their choices. they donate blood at a higher percentage of their demographic than any other generation. they are engaged in the community. and they could also have fun take selfies, right, get on twitter, and be doing politics. and so a lot of that is connected to how they use social media. again they would shut down the pickup lines. this was not a hashtag that started, but it was an excellent way of sort of laughing at the system and then, you know, thinking through ways to solve the problems.
and you can see the direct link of social media, social action, and enjoying the public. satire is now constantly a part of it. i had someone tell me they have been in a march and they said, you know, you're right. how many signs did i see that was trying to be more witty, more ironic? this was different, but it wasn't like that in the 60s, but it's cool. i think it is real exciting. and especially here too because it will give me reason to keep working on this. i don't know how much of my time i used, oh, i have five minutes. ly also be here all of the day, i will be here in the evening, so you can ask me questions about this any time you want and thank you. [ applause ]
>> can you talk about why there's so many fewer conservatives that are satirist? >> me. that's not really true. there are conservatives, but not too many. the argument we always used to make was that conservatives believe in the status quo, and others don't. as a veryfundamental thing, they want to keep authority and they don't. but the news, the breaking news, a friend of mine, dana young, who is at the university of delaware has a new book that's going to come out and she has done a bunch of research on this. she's suggesting one of the reasons is because
conservatives don't like irony. i didn't say it, she said it. so it is a dangerous argument to make. i have not read the whole study, i only read one of the short articles of it. but the basic concept here and it has to be historical. because conservatives overtime, they have loved irony and then they could be superior towards the people that they destained. it is hostile to irony and that is interesting. there is another book if you want to look at it called the republican brain that, again, suggests that's a part of it. this idea that you have a problem, there is more than one way to solve it. it is something that will be taken out on the conservative way of thinking.
there's been no discussion of the satire part of parody. but if you listen, it is almost a self parody. >> yes, yes. i mean i tried, it is alms hard to get all the -- it is always hard to get all the things you want to, but you're right. it's not just that the news media isn't doing its job, but that people are now sort of becoming consumers of personalities and not news. and so a part of that story, the pivot point is the end of the fairness, which will allow them to just lather on forever and have no foil to his madness. the rise of the conservative radio is really, really dangerous. i just wrote a piece in milan that says the next piece of this story is the rise of
sinclair media owning local tv. so yes that is all a part of it. what happens, you are being told that i'm looking out for you, i'm not a crazy bombastic lunatic, but i'm reasonable. so it starts to shift what people think is reasonable. >> or if they are defenders of the status quo and that as much as donald trump is pretty much totally trashing the status quo. >> yeah, that's an interesting question. it depends on how we would define the status quo. if it's something like one of the things in my work was talking about how the satters had to clean up for the mess of post-modern theory, which i could talk to you more about if
you want. oh come on, are you kidding me? when they said, i don't know, and they are really vague. at which point everyone was like oh, yeah. there is a line and you crossed it. so you're right. the satires found themselves advocating for truth and advocating for a functioning judicial system. so that is a very good point. and i think it is calling them out and it will be true. so i will close it there just to keep us all on time and like i said, i'll be around and i would love to keep talking. [ applause ] with congress in recess
this week, we're bringing you american history tv prime time on c-span 3. wednesday it's our series, 1968, america in turmoil. we'll look back at media coverage from 1968 with pulitzer prize winning photographer david hume- kinnerly and nbc news reporter, melvin kell. that starts here on c-span 3. published from 1876 to 1918, huck magazine was one of the most influential satire magazines of the period with full-paged colored cartoons. next on american artifacts, michael alexander-kahn joins us in our studio to discuss the selection of cartoons on the u.s. congress. the book is what they will be, the story of huck. >> you're watching american artifacts on am