Politics and Humor

I'm going to write an article on the trends towards mixing politics with humor and entertainment and want some feedback from y'all.

So, here's what we know. 20% of young people say that the Daily Show is their primary source of information about politics. Politicians know this and show up for any and all abuse on that show and Colbert. Young people who watch the Daily Show think that they are informed about politics, but they aren't. Jon Stewart doesn't think that people should be watching his show for political information. The audience for these Comedy Central shows increases as the audience for daily newspapers shrinks.

This trend towards entertainment politics also applies to Internet content. I just did a study of the political videos on YouTube in October 2008. Although bloggers attempted to keep things serious with lots of links to serious political content on YouTube and other video sources, the videos that were most popular with the viewers were clips of the Daily Show, interviews with celebrities about their views of politics, and mean montage videos that highlighted verbal and facial tics along with a soundtrack.

Some say that these videos brings in the border-line politically interested. Others say that this is one step closer to an Idiocracy.

What do you think?


12 thoughts on “Politics and Humor

  1. Could be worse. I once did a survey of undergraduates at a large midwestern university and, when asked open-ended for their main source of news, not only did I get the Daily Show, I also got Fark.com.


  2. How new is this trend? Wasn’t hilarious stuff written by the likes of Jonathan Swift or Voltaire or Twain? And isn’t it still considered relevant enough (and funny enough) to be taught in courses about political science or political history??


  3. Yeah. I was thinking about that, too, learner. All those Thomas Nast cartoons. I think that the difference is that you would have to buy a serious newspaper to find the Nast cartoon. Even if you bought the newspaper specifically for the political cartoon, you would probably at least glance at the rest of the paper. Today, you can totally eliminate all serious news from your diet.


  4. “Young people who watch the Daily Show think that they are informed about politics, but they aren’t. Jon Stewart doesn’t think that people should be watching his show for political information.”
    So I’m a quantitative person, and not in any a political scientist, but, if someone said “they think that they are informed about politics, but they aren’t”, I’d want data to back it up. The fact that it is comedy, or that Stewart doesn’t think people should rely on him for information doesn’t show that watching the daily show does not make you informed about politics.
    (Also, I don’t understand what politics is and why one should be informed about it.)


  5. There have been quantitative studies of this. People who say that they get their news from the daily show report that they are highly knowledgeable about current affairs, but when they are tested with a battery of questions about current events, they score poorly.


  6. As to your serious question about what this means for democracy, only a sliver of the population has ever known anything about politics.
    In the debate between the “people are idiots and we’re screwed” school and the “people are idiots with an ability to get by with various heuristics” school, I usually go with the later. For sentimental reasons.


  7. Laura, do you have a link to the data that backs this assertion up?
    The research I had heard said that thos who watched the Daily Show were actually more likely to be well informed about current affairs than their (adjusted for age etc) counterparts who watched cable news and the like.
    At the time I assumed it was a correlation/causation problem. Maybe people who watched the Daily Show were already better informed / involved.
    If you have data that says otherwise I’d love to see it.


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