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TU Global: Entertainment, mixing comedy and politics

4 May 2014 By Jake Ulick, Columnist No Comments

It may just be my naiveté in the field of media history and the fact that I grew up in the worst possible time to be making typical adolescent analyses on the current thread of social commentary. But I’ve noticed — as have producers and comedy writers I’m sure — that social and political satire has become a common denominator or theme throughout our forms of entertainment, be they movies and TV shows or virally shared millennial-friendly listicles and Facebook memory.

I won’t be so blind to history as to say that this is a completely new phenomenon and ignore the lot of former champions of this art: Dickens, Huxley, Chaucer, Voltaire, Austen, Twain, Orwell, etc. Aside from the technology barrier, the major difference between these artists and writers and today’s commentators seems to be the extent to which they were accepted and appreciated. Before a certain point, these social critiques weren’t as accessible to the general public, as they came in the form of long books with strange plots that, to the average reader, seemed just plain weird, as opposed to insightful. Thus, only academics who were looking for these underlying themes could find and appreciate them.

Proof of this can be seen today though. I remember reading “Brave New World” as a summer assignment in and being so moved by it, emotionally and intellectually. Back in my AP English class, when it came time to discuss the book, a majority of my classmates shared the following sentiment: “That book was like, just like, so weird. There’s like a factory for babies and like the government is like so powerful and just like weird. I didn’t see the point of it.” So, if some of our highly educated youths today couldn’t see Huxley’s points, no wonder so many of the people of his time couldn’t figure them out.

But now this style has permeated all the digital and visual platforms of mass media. Among today’s lot we have The Onion, The Daily Currant, Reddit, College Humor, “The Colbert Report,” “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Real Time With Bill Maher,” “Family Guy,” “South Park,” the Scary Movie series, “House of Cards,” “Portlandia” and more– not to mention, the overwhelming focus of BuzzFeed-type “articles” that satirize the most mundane, first world matters. This critical viewpoint of the world is thus accessible to anyone with the slightest cynical leaning and Internet access, which is just about everyone.

Two nights ago, there was the annual White House Correspondents Association Dinner, which is arguably the apex of the intersection between comedy, journalism, celebrity culture and politics: a gathering that exemplifies a strange mutual but not so much beneficial relationship between the hottest and loudest voices. Comedian Joel McHale took the lead in roasting everyone from CNN and Rob Ford to President Obama.

Even among the highest levels of influence and authority, we as a country have shown a great capacity to make fun of each other expose irony and contradiction. The jokes and wisecracks from actor and comedian aimed at the so-called “leader of the free world” are what make our country unique. The event is a pretty eccentric manifestation of our freedom of speech and current political affairs.

Joel McHale said of Obama: “My favorite bit of yours was when you said you would close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay — that was hilarious.”

The satirical underpinning of the event just goes to show that the open form of intelligently and humorously criticizing our institutions and each other may have evolved and shifted away from only inaccessible circles of academia toward the commoner but is nonetheless here to stay.

“And here’s why America is the best country in the world: A guy like me can stand before the president, the press and Patrick Duffy, and tell jokes without severe repercussions. And instead of being shipped off to a gulag, I am going to the Vanity Fair after-party.”

You said it Joel McHale. The founders of this country would be so proud.


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