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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Ha Ha Ha

The San Jose Mercury News had an interesting story Monday about political humor and this year's presidential race.

The journalist, Mark de la ViƱa, found some academics to play up the importance of comedy:
Comedians, unlike many mainstream media outlets, can -- and increasingly do -- express what the average citizen is thinking, says Frederick Turner, assistant professor of communications at Stanford University.

``Sometimes, information is too hard to take in all at once, and that's one thing that comedians do in a culture -- they serve as early warning systems. They're the clowns who can tell the truth, the clowns who can say the emperor has no clothes,'' notes Turner, who specializes in media and American cultural history.
One scholar even thinks comedians constitute a "fifth estate" and help make the press (the "fourth estate") accountable:
Those jokes and more like them are playing an important role in the run up to the election, [Robert J.] Thompson [professor of popular culture at Syracuse University] maintains. Though journalism was long ago dubbed the ``fourth estate,'' helping keep the three branches of government in check, humor is now doing something that far transcends escapism, he argues.

``I'd go so far to say that comedy is the fifth estate,'' Thompson adds. ``It's able to report certain ideas in keeping up with what the government is doing. In some ways, the fifth estate of comedy is able to keep the fourth estate of journalism in line.''
This may be overstated, but it is interesting...

A good portion of the article talks about the importance of Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" (which is perhaps most important to relatively younger audiences):
Leading the charge is Comedy Central's ``The Daily Show'' the news-program satire hosted by Jon Stewart. It has a ``huge influence on what other comedians are doing,'' according to Robert J. Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, ``and political leaders, the establishment and the intellectual minority are paying attention.''

``The Daily Show'' has been broadcasting hard-hitting pieces that, though laced with humor, take leaders to task at the same time. On June 21, the program ran a June 2004 clip of Dick Cheney saying he had ``absolutely not'' linked 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta with Saddam Hussein's government, and then followed it with a December 2001 clip where Cheney says a meeting between Hussein and Atta was ``pretty well confirmed.''

``Mr. Vice President,'' Stewart said, staring into the camera, ``I have to inform you: Your pants are on fire.''
Of course, the old guys are getting into the act as well:
Perhaps no mainstream entertainer reflects the postwar shift in tone more vividly than Letterman. Last September, in one of his most pointed jokes, the ``Late Show'' host said, ``President Bush is asking Congress for $80 billion to rebuild Iraq. And when you make out that check, remember there are two L's in Halliburton.''
Great stuff.

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