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Published 11/01/16

Presidential election 2016: A learning experience for all

Headshots of Prof. Day, left, and Prof. Freiner No matter where you stand on the race for president, this election season will make history. It is also providing a living teaching lab for many Bryant faculty members whose expertise is often featured in a variety of publications and media outlets.

Candidates’ rhetoric, campaign antics, and reporting are rich elements featured every week in the Political Satire class taught by Associate Professor of English and Cultural Studies Amber Day, Ph.D. (left)

Satire’s role in politics isn’t news to Day, whose research focuses broadly on the intersections of art and political speech, including ironic and satiric communication, political performance and activism, and public debate.

“This cycle, you have one candidate who is a larger-than-life character and who is making statements that are so far outside of the bounds of civil discourse that you have satirists and commentators reacting with a great deal of anger, which can make for some very biting, interesting material,” says Day.

“Satire,” she notes, “has the ability to push issues into the center of public conversation that might otherwise remain at the peripheries, to shift the terms that we use, or to reframe some of the issues.” 

Satire takes over

This election season, satire seems to have taken over as one of the main ways politics is being reported.

“Over the last 15 years, we have seen an explosion of really politically astute satire in this country,” says Day, the author of Satire and Dissent: Interventions in Contemporary Political Debate . “The reason why is that the mainstream news media has been largely falling down on the job. 

"It is political satire that is doing the job of pulling back the curtain and exposing the mechanics of the spectacle."

“Rather than finding a way of breaking through the public relations spin surrounding political and corporate communication, cable news, for instance, has opted to simply hire analysts from 'each side' to repeat the party talking points of the day without interrogation. The news media focuses on scandal, spectacle, and horse-race electoral reporting, and the public debate suffers."

Day says “political satirists have risen up to speak to that lack in public conversation.  It is political satire that is doing the job of pulling back the curtain and exposing the mechanics of the spectacle, meaning that much of the more interesting conversation is happening on the entertainment programs.”   

Among the most interesting shows, Day says she’s enjoying Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal . “She is creating edgy, engaging, and incisive critique, often from a feminist perspective that is not otherwise well represented in popular culture.”

Witnessing history

“We are witnessing history,” says Associate Professor of Political Science Nicole L. Freiner, Ph.D. (above right) “Every time an election occurs, especially a presidential election, we are witnessing the peaceful transfer of power, which is historic because it has taken revolutions to establish democratic rule and ensure that individual freedoms are preserved.”

Freiner, who teaches courses on comparative politics, global issues, and Asian politics, says: “The campaign has engaged students by allowing them to see how our political process in the United States works and the effect of the two-party system, which has both strengths and weaknesses that emerge clearly during an election."

"The number of people who no longer are party members does not represent a problem. It shows that people care and that the parties don't represent them."

The political scientist notes that “the biggest take away for me is that, while many voters may be unhappy with what is happening or with their choices, this is democracy working the way that it should. The number of people who no longer are party members does not represent a problem. It shows that people care and that the parties don't represent them. Some call these people dissaffected voters, but I feel that they are registering their displeasure, and perhaps we will see big changes in the future because of this unhappiness.”

Exercise your right

“In my course on Comparative Politics, we look at the political systems of six countries, some of which vary greatly from the way the system works here in the United States,” says Freiner, author of Re-Telling Fukushima, Re-Shaping Citizenship: Women Netizans in Japan and Gender, Politics and the State: East Asia.

“Elections are not to be taken lightly, nor are they to be taken for granted,” she stresses. "One only need look at what is happening in Syria, Brazil, Egypt, or any country where democracy is fragile to see the violent unrest that occurs when democracy doesn't work.

“The most important thing is that people make time in their day to exercise their democratic right and vote!” Freiner says.

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