Satire And The Changing Face Of News

It happened slowly at first, then suddenly political satire was everywhere. I don't know when exactly the turning point was. It might have been 8 years of Bushisms that provided the kindle for the fire. Or maybe the absurdity of the 2008 election cycle was the turning point, when an SNL skit discredited a Vice Presidential candidate in the eyes of an entire generation.

New medium new format

But I think it was the internet that did it. Think about it, with the onset of the internet, it became harder to capture our attention and when we did give someone our attention we quickly moved on. So the "talking heads" and "pundits" designed for TV and for a previous generation just couldn't keep up with the cat gif that was just below them on our Facebook feed.

But humor, humor we could stop for. If we saw a clip of Stewart and a clip of Amanpour talking about the war in Iraq we would go for Stewart. For starters, it was probably going to be shorter. It was also going to be funny. Perhaps, we would tell ourselves we would go back to get the "real reporting" from Amanpour but, really, that rarely happened.

Political satire, which existed for as long as politics existed, had finally found the medium for which to shine. As "old media" withered away, so too did the serious commentary they spurred.

Satire becomes news

The shift reached an inflection point in 2012, during another presidential election year, when satire became more popular and more trusted than regular news among millennials (those below the age of 35). And the shift wasn't just in the U.S. Political satire exploded in the Middle East after the Arab Spring, most famously personified by Bassem Youssef.

Perhaps one measure of how popular satire has become is how dangerous it can be to be a satirist in certain countries...

'The John Oliver effect'

2015 (on some level also an election year as we get ready for 2016) saw satire break into public discourse via "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver." The show, which started off as a Jon Stewart spin-off, quickly emerged into something much more powerful. FIFA, civil forfeiture, net neutrality etc. He was having a real, tangible effect on the world. TIME magazine found it so powerful it dubbed it the "John Oliver effect."

For years, Jon Stewart could hide behind the fact that he was a comedian, which gave him certain leeway in what he covered and how he covered.

Perhaps it is a sign of the maturity of political satire that we do not afford John Oliver that same luxury.

If you enjoyed this analysis you may enjoy a satirical daily newsletter I co-write called the Daily Pnut that sums up the news of the day. Sign up!

By Tewfik Cassis