How has the role of satire shifted over time?
With the recent New Yorker exposé of political satirist and comedian Hasan Minhaj, there has been increased discussion on the role political satire holds in American politics and news dissemination. Through the Trump Administration and during the transition into the Biden Administration, the role of such satire has shifted. We at the Technique wish to discuss the circumstances surrounding this shift, as well as what niche political satire has settled into of recent. Additionally, we would like to assess the standard to which we, as a society, hold satirists and comedians to, in terms of honesty and embellishment of the truth.
The purpose political satire holds has indubitably shifted. However, the reason for this shift is not due to changes within political satire. The genre, the nature of its comedy and its jokes have stayed stagnant over the years. The real change has been within the political climate itself. Modern politicians have come into the habit of utilizing extremes and ruthlessness in order to garner attention. Former President Donald Trump is a notable example of this phenomenon. He originally came into power through propagation of large and radical ideas. He continues to maximize attention, which works in his favor. On the Republican presidential ticket, he is still polling the highest of the candidates, despite being indicted multiple times and refusing to show up to debates.
Political satire fails to reflect and accommodate such extremes. They require creative ways to be funny because a lot of their work is being done for them. With politicians making more and more egregious comments, like Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene blaming a “Jewish Space Laser” for the 2018 California wildfires, it is difficult to satirize figures who bring shock and comedic factors.
In the past, embarrassment was an important component of political satire. Politicians were once held to a standard where they had to behave diplomatically. This is no longer the case. Embarrassment is no longer an effective means of criticism because politicians have become unembarrassable. Representative George Santos has lied to Congress, lied to his donors, lied about where he went to high school and college, lied about working on Wall Street, lied about founding a charity and lied about many of his other accolades that awarded him his position. However, rather than acknowledge his wrongdoings or feel embarrassed about his lies being exposed, he displays no remorse. He simply states that he was embellishing the truth.
Most lies are simply embellishments of the truth. However, at what point do we need to hold public figures accountable for their seemingly unharmful digressions from honesty? Hasan Minhaj has long capitalized on dramatics and using the shock value of his stories to make people connect. However, in lying about certain stories, such as those surrounding police brutality, he takes away from people for whom those are true, lived experiences. In doing this, he is no longer focusing on the larger social problem, but rather putting the focus on him. Black and brown communities have consistently faced such issues and it is inappropriate for him to capitalize on their struggles. As a figure who has worked on “The Daily Show” and hosted his own political satire show, “Patriot Act,” Minhaj must uphold his honesty levels, even in his comedy, in order to maintain his authority and efficacy at disseminating news. His admissions of dishonesty have taken away from that.
It is imperative to recognize the value of political satire. While it has an informative element, it also functions as a way to spread heavy and important news in a palatable manner.
In the future, satirists can include a call to action as part of their shows. A good example of this is “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver, who offers actionable options for contributing to alleviating social issues. However, viewers should not develop their views from comedy shows, because it is still someone’s opinion and commentary. This information has already been digested, and while it might introduce an idea, it should not be the end of one’s research on a topic.
Political satire has a dual purpose: to inform and to entertain. Just as we have been forced to take the word of politicians with a grain of salt, we must treat political satirists in the same way.
The Consensus Opinion reflects the majority opinion of the Editorial Board of the Technique, but not necessarily the opinions of individual editors.