Published 02/14/11

Political satire in America

Cover of Day's bookSMITHFIELD, R.I. (Feb. 14, 2011) — There is currently a renaissance taking place in the realm of satire, with satirists elevated to the level of legitimate pundits, and political activists behaving as comedians. But why has the power of satire entered the mainstream as a dominant means of political critique and engagement?

"Today's popularity of political satire reveals a growing desire to poke holes in the spectacle, challenge the truth-value of statements made by elites, and shift the way in which issues are framed." Amber Day

Amber Day, assistant professor of English and cultural studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, has studied how political satire has come to launch the nightly news analysis of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and their contemporaries into the mainstream. Her spirited analysis is the basis of her new book, Satire and Dissent: Interventions in Contemporary Political Debate, released Feb. 15 by Indiana University Press. In it, Day explores how and why satire in today's political theater has gained such prominence with Stewart ranking as one of the most trusted newscasters in the United States and where the films of Michael Moore are a dominant topic of political campaign discourse.

In her book, Day focuses on the parodist news show, the politically motivated satiric documentary, and ironic activism by groups like The Yes Men, who engineer large-scale public stunts, pretending to represent companies they actually oppose. She also explores how the power of the Internet has served to disseminate online political parody, both amateur and professional.

One reason for the growing popularity of "The Daily Show" and others of the genre, Day says, is that they represent a powerful backlash to phoniness of the political conversation. "In an era of stage-managed and choreographed political showmanship and debate, today's brand of political satire offers a refreshing alternative to the predictable script," Day says. "The political conversation in America has been carefully staged for many years by a small group of insiders. Today's popularity of political satire reveals a growing desire to poke holes in the spectacle, challenge the truth-value of statements made by elites, and shift the way in which issues are framed.

"In questioning the status quo and the standard political messages reverberating through the echo chamber," Day says, "new and provocative discussions are being raised, which actually help foster a more meaningful and honest debate in America."

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