The way current events are portrayed on entertainment television can shape public opinion in many different ways. Television shows like Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and South Park have shown reenactments , skits or have relayed world news through sarcasm and humor. So, why do some prefer to watch these entertaining shows to learn about current events around the world rather than tuning into 24/7 news channels or reading the newspaper? A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reveals that 21% of 18- to 29-year-olds regularly turn to satirical public affairs television to obtain information about presidential politics (Bauer, 2004). While it is easier to tune into late-night television to recap on the day’s news, are we at risk for a biased opinion while tuning into these shows? The comedy news, at times on purpose and at others not, became a news outlet for viewers, especially younger ones, and became influential on the political scene (Shales & Miller, 2002).
Pew Research Center poll conducted in late 2003 and early 2004 found that one fourth of all respondents—and half of the respondents between the ages of 18 and 29—said that they ‘‘regularly’’ or ‘‘sometimes’’ learned about presidential campaigns from comedy shows such as The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live (which includes its own regular mock news segment, ‘‘Weekend Update’’) (Brewer & Marquardt, 2007, p. 250).
Saturday Night Live
Weekend Update segment, featured on Saturday Night Live, provides television satire focusing on politics and current events. Rather than just relaying the news with the standard newscast format, a Weekend Update provides humor and sarcasm along with providing Americans with a newsroom setting. This format provides viewers to know what is happening in the world, while also making fun of it. The ultimate goal of “Saturday Night Live” is to make its viewers laugh a lot while learning and thinking at least a little. If it were not possible to do both, “my life would be meaningless, wouldn’t it?” Michaels said in 2003. (Reincheld, 2006).
Determining the audience’s knowledge level was important, Sargent said, because the basic information about a story needed to be known to be able to tell a joke about the subject. “You don’t want to have to explain your premise every time you do a story; so you try to pick things that you think most people know, are aware of the facts or the basis of the story at least,” he said (Reincheld, 2006). The stories that Weekend Update uses, the viewers have some idea of, that way the joke will be funny and receive laughs.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
The Daily Show provides viewers with satirical element of political news. Jon Stewart, the host of The Daily Show, refers to his show as a “fake news program” (Brewer & Marquardt, 2007, p. 249). While Stewart refers to his television program as fake, it is more of a mockery than anything. Stewart, like Weekend Update, relays the news to the viewers. He presents the material in a different manner so that people can enjoy the news while enjoying a laugh. Stewart famously titled the 2000 presidential election campaign as “Indecision 2000” and called the Iraq War situation “Mess-O-Potamia” (Brewer & Marquardt, 2007, p. 249).
This television news program may be considered biased because of Stewart’s political affiliation. He is making his own jokes and opinions, which can be swaying the viewer’s stance on the issues being discussed. Although, some viewers may tune into the program to receive a recap of the day’s news while providing some humor late-night.
I have always enjoyed animated satire, whether it would be Family Guy or American Dad. South Park has been around on television for years while making fun of celebrities and current scandals. While It has the same satirical humor as Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show, this show is in animation form which can give it a more elementary feel. In 1999, creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker released an animated musical called South Park- Bigger, Longer and Uncut. The premise of this film portrays Saddam Hussein as Satan’s lover while using him to dominate the world. While the film seems childish, it does lie with deeper issues of homosexuality and politics. Reviews of the movie brought interesting viewpoints from very different people. Barry Fagin claims that “South Park is loaded with moral content, teaching . . . that it is good to mock celebrities, ridiculous beliefs, and hypocrisy,” and Stephanie Zacharek approves this “movie about freedom of speech and of expression, about courage in the face of oppression”(Gardiner, 2005, p. 51). While some observed this show is for entertainment purposes and freedom of speech, some religious groups took offense by slamming the movie. Christianity Today says the film is “desperate to disgust and alienate viewers” and the Christian ChildCare Action Project Ministry reports it is “INCREDIBLY dangerous,” an “extraordinarily vulgar, vile, and repugnant movie” that has earned their most unacceptable rating for “potential for destructive influence” (Gardiner, 2005, p. 51).
Should we enjoy South Park’s content and take it as humor or are there any underlying issues that need to be addressed?
All in all, after reading about these three entertainment shows, there are similarities between them. All of them mock celebrities and current events, mostly political. Do we have to provide entertainment for viewers to care about the news? Or are there other ways in which we can have Americans become interested in the news without the use of entertaining television?
Bauer, D. (2004, March 1). And now the news: For many young viewers, it’s Jon Stewart. Associated Press.
Brewer, P. R., & Marquardt, E. (2007). Mock news and democracy: Analyzing The Daily Show. Atlantic Journal of Communication, 15(4), 249-267. doi:10.1080/15456870701465315
Holbert, R., Lambe, J. L., Dudo, A. D., & Carlton, K. A. (2007). Primacy effects of The Daily Show and national TV news wiewing: Young viewers, political gratifications, and internal political self-efficacy. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 51(1), 20-38. doi:10.1080/08838150701308002
Gardiner, J. (2005). Why Saddam is gay: Masculinity politics in South Park—Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. Quarterly Review of Film & Video, 22(1), 51-62. doi:10.1080/10509200590449958
Reincheld, A. (2006). “Saturday Night Live” and Weekend Update. Journalism History, 31(4), 190-197.
Shales, T. & Miller, A. (2002). Live from New York: An uncensored history of Saturday Night Live. Boston: Back Bay Books.