Noone: Satire not a laughing matter

Kyle Noone

Kyle NooneSatire plays an important role in today’s media and popular culture. It can be found on your television, computer and pretty much anywhere else you get entertainment from. Satirists express a message through wit and humor, but for all the laughs it causes, satire’s no joke.

Some of you might be confused as to what exactly constitutes as satire.

“It’s a way of writing or communicating, and there is always an object of attack,” said English professor Amy Friedman.

Satire attacks through many methods, including ridicule, highlighting absurdity, exaggeration, lampoon, caricature and parody, Friedman said. The point of satire is to express an opinion or a critique.

Although much of today’s satire comes from comedies like “South Park,” “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” satire has been a method of expression for thousands of years.

“Through history, satire has been a really powerful tool of critique and commentary and analysis, and it has been taken seriously,” Friedman said.

It seems that audiences today are taking satire as serious as in the past. According to Rasmussen Reports, “Nearly one-third of Americans under the age of 40 say satirical news-oriented television programs like ‘The Colbert Report’ and ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’ are taking the place of traditional news outlets.”

Friedman calls this trend “both stunning and positive.”

Sometimes, however, satire can be taken too seriously.

On Sept. 17, former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist and current ESPN television personality Stephen A. Smith took to Twitter to defend himself against what he called “despicable lies.”

The only problem was that the article spreading these lies was put out by the Onion, a satirical organization that refers to itself as “America’s finest news source.”

Although available in print, the Onion mostly provides content through its website. The organization uses an outrageous brand of sharp wit and humor to satirize all branches of popular culture including entertainment, politics and even sports.

The funniest part of the Onion’s article about Smith may be his ignorance to the subject matter. Smith eventually realized he was simply the punch line of an elaborate joke, taking to Twitter once again to proclaim his understanding. Still, his reaction speaks volumes about satire itself, and particularly the Onion’s unique style of using a news format that can be mistaken for a hard news story if the reader isn’t careful.

“It highlights an aspect of satire which is about knowledge and insider knowledge and getting the joke,” Friedman said.

Some complain about the liberal slant that comes with most of today’s satirical programs, but to get the jokes on these shows you have to be aware of what’s going on in the world. That element of knowledgeable entertainment undoubtedly leads to a more informed public overall. Plus, at this point, finding a non-partisan news source is like finding a needle in 12 cable networks worth of haystacks.

Sometimes things like politics can be so ridiculous that they can only be understood through absurdity, and our era looks more like one of those times everyday. When satire is done right, the message lands and sticks with an audience.

Not everyone wants to sit down for an hour-long newscast or listen to a pundit fill another segment in the 24-hour news cycle, and I don’t blame them. I certainly don’t believe that those individuals deserve to be uninformed.

It’s sad, but for the most part, news organizations fill their time with content that is less valuable than satire, and a lot less entertaining. The ironic part is the talking heads of the world, arguing and carelessly spitting half truths to the public, being the very thing that keeps satirists going these days.

The public is smart enough to make its own decisions and appears to have put an increased deal of weight into the messages and critiques put forth through satire.

Even if satire is never taken as serious as traditional news, it will always have its place in our culture as an alternative to traditional, politically correct programming. That’s something that we need.

Kyle Noone can be reached at kyle.noone@temple.edu.

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