It's No Laughing Matter
The recent discussions prompted by the Ferguson police shootings have renewed interest and awareness to the issues of racism and police brutality in the United States. Some argue that the issue is not racism and that those who disagree are simply “playing the race card.” Others argue that racism, racial profiling, racial prejudice, and the like are very much still occurring today and are a relevant issue and should be discussed. Political humor can be found in multiple forms of media, from TV shows like South Park or The Daily Show to online sites like The Onion to even literature. It is typically used to highlight controversial issues, provide a new way of looking at a subject, or simply to entertain, using a topic that is well known to the mass public. Satirical forms of media, such as The Daily Show, serve to bring issues to the forefront for discussion, while news programs, like FOX News, attempt at maintaining a moderate tone. Although The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is a satirical news program designed to both praise and criticize aspects of current events and politics, Jon Stewart’s Ferguson monologue openly addresses the issues of news program coverage and police brutality in order to highlight the extent to which racism is prevalent in current society. The shooting of Michael Brown served to escalate the social unrest felt both in Ferguson and nationally, as well as bring the problem of racial prejudice to attention.
The Daily Show uses satire as a tool to exaggerate, respond, and bring awareness to current events and issues in politics and around the world. It is a comedic television show, posing as a fake news program. If people perceive The Daily Show as simply a show meant for entertainment, it prompts the question: how seriously do people take political humor in a television setting? Episodes of The Daily Show are primarily built around skits, monologues, and clips cut together from various news programs to exhibit a point. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart acts to break down clips of current events and political arguments into understandable terms and provides anecdotes and critical commentary to go along with them, eliminating unnecessary political jargon. This method has successfully generated a wide audience; the majority of the views are from those between 18 to 49 years old. This show allows the younger generation to reconnect with the world and escape the self-interest bubble in society that many fall prey to. Despite its television show environment, The Daily Show manages to critique serious political matters and thrust them into the spotlight through satirical humor. Jon Stewart addresses the response of various FOX News personalities to the Ferguson issue through his commentary and reactions. For example, Stewart implies that the FOX News personalities are blinded by ignorance when they claim that there are no attempts to address this violence. Then, he brings it around to exemplify their ignorance in global warming, or “climate change,” saying, “When it snows where you live, doesn’t mean the world isn’t getting hotter.” Turning a blind eye to the events occurring or misrepresenting the truth of these events that are going in other parts of the country or other parts of the world does not stop the issue from occurring.
In his monologue on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart addresses how the media is reporting the shooting and how various news personalities are reacting to it in order to illuminate the underlying issues and feelings behind the Ferguson case. On August 9, 2014, a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri shot an unarmed black man named Michael Brown to death. This incident as well as the protests and questionable procedures to contain them following the shooting comprise the face of the “Ferguson issue.” Not only is this a matter at face value, there was also growing racial-tension that was occurring between the primarily white local government and the primarily black population. Jon Stewart pinpoints the heart of the issue when he says:
"Forget that in Ferguson, 94 percent of the police are white and 63 percent of the people are black. Forget that 92 percent of police searches and 86 percent of car stops are for black people. Forget that the white municipal government finances nearly a quarter of its annual budget through the fines and penalties disproportionally leveled against the black portion of the population…Here’s the problem with everything that’s going on in this conversation: This isn’t all about just one man who killed in one town. It’s about how people of color, no matter their socioeconomic standing, face obstacles in this country with surprising grace."
Stewart mocks the news personalities’ feeble attempts at ignoring the elephant in the room of racism and trying to be color-blind to the situation, while also stating that racial prejudice and the disparity in treatment between African-Americans and Caucasians are very much present problems in our society. At the same time, he also cleverly highlights the racial inequalities present in Ferguson by mentioning these facts that we should “forget.”
Satire provokes conversation and brings about a reaction in order to prove a point. The Daily Show effectively uses political satire to mock both individual and higher levels of authority in order to showcase some truth to the audience or inform them in a relatable manner of the events going on around the world. In this monologue, Jon Stewart’s focus was on a group of FOX News company members. In focusing on a single news network, Stewart highlighted the common beliefs between the news personalities on the Ferguson issue. In his article, Political Humor and Authority: From Support to Subversion, David Paletz says, “Some foci are more damaging, more devastating, than others…but a new or unexpected focus can alert and challenge the audience, bringing to its members truths about authority they might rather not know or actively avoid.” The FOX News clips cut together in The Daily Show summarized the beliefs of the news personalities in a few phrases, such as “Is this a story about race? Do we know that?” or “You know who talks about race? Racists!” The Daily Show appeals to the younger age set by trading long and factual speeches spoken in monotone voices for a more down to earth and humorous form of communication. The Daily Show manages to capture and hold its younger audience’s attention, while maintaining its straight-to-the-point style of communication. In this monologue, The Daily Show’s satirical humor works to undermine weak arguments made by FOX news members who try to actively avoid bringing large issues such as racism into play. It has the capacity and the potential to affect change and incite feelings of genuine consideration and concern of the issues because of its relatable and entertaining-to-watch political commentary and of its ability to reach out to a wide audience base. Some may say that even though journalists and sites like the Huffington Post and Politica have written online articles about the Ferguson case itself and of Stewart’s reaction monologue, the Daily Show’s monologue has only served to raise awareness to the situation but not further change. However, raising awareness and informing the general public of an issue is arguably the first step towards finding a resolution for the greater problem at hand.
The Ferguson police shooting case opened up issues of racism and police brutality; these issues need to be discussed and given attention to. The police and media’s response to the situation certainly did not help to improve anything. Various FOX News personalities had conflicting views on whether racism was the true issue. In his “Talking Points” commentary segment on FOX’s The O’Rielly Show, Bill O’Rielly appears to agree with Jon Stewart when he says, “I am furious about how the shooting death of 18 year old Michael Brown is being reported and how some people are reacting to it.” However, he seemingly directs his fury at only how conservative outlets have reported the Ferguson case, not the underlying issues themselves. On the other hand, in an audio clip from Sean Hannity’s radio show, The Sean Hannity Show, Hannity shows his lack of knowledge of the Ferguson situation when he gives an anecdote of how he responds to getting pulled over by the police when he has a weapon in his possession, even taking measures to mention the weapon to the police and lift his shirt up for inspection, forgetting that Michael Brown was, in fact, unarmed in the shooting without any weapon in possession. While people know that FOX News has a reputation of conservative-leaning tendencies and biased news stories, there is no excuse for ignoring a present problem at hand and trying to alter the significance of the situation by asking shallow questions and providing insubstantial counterarguments. As much as some try to deny it, racism is still an on-going occurrence in our society. While we have improved as a whole, prejudices based on skin color, religion, sexual orientation, and ethnicity as well as acts of racial profiling are still happening. Prejudicial behavior is often due to ignorance. This behavior permeates every aspect of life, creates tensions, and can cause violent responses, such as the police and military response to the Ferguson protests. Ignoring that the problem exists is not going to change anything and only serves to hinder progress.
The Daily Show’s style of satirical humor is effective in undermining and exploiting the FOX News members’ weak arguments made about how the Ferguson shooting case was portrayed in the media and the underlying reasons behind it. Its colloquial and tongue-in-cheek tone during Stewart’s commentary, as well as the clips shown in a comedic setting rather than a formal political one, all play a role in spreading the message and communicating the issues to the public. Political satire in television shows is not taken as seriously as it should. While some may say that The Daily Show is just a television show pretending to be a news channel, others contend that it is a television show that addresses relevant issues with a surprising amount of honesty and truth to them. Political satire in this form deserves to be taken as a serious medium of communication because it does spread a message and find legitimate holes in arguments. The Daily Show, in particular, has made strides in creating a position for itself as a reputable and thought-provoking show. Stewart uses skits, monologues, anecdotes and commentary to poke holes in arguments made by FOX News personalities in order to educate his audience about who we receive our information from and about the injustices going on in our country.
Paletz, David L. “Political Humor and Authority: From Support to Subversion.” International Political Science Review. 11.4 (1990): 483-93.
"The Daily Show - Race/Off." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_98ojjIZDI>.