Who’s the first person that you think when you think of a journalist? It’s probably someone along the lines a Jake Tapper on CNN, Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, or Megyn Kelly, NBC News. These people may seem like great sources of information that are willing to ask the tough questions that the fourth estate should be asking.
However, hosts and journalists on popular news channels, both with right and left leanings, are becoming more sensationalized and no longer read the news. Instead, they present opinions. This is where satire comes into play.
Satire, described by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly.” This type of entertainment has been popular for centuries, with Shakespeare being among the most popular satirists of all-time.
Satire in the modern day is heavily based in political satire with shows like “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” leading the charge.
If the news media is the fourth estate, and websites, such as WikiLeaks, are the fifth estate, then satire is the sixth estate of government. Quality modern political satire calls out the absurdities, hypocrisies, and fallacies in nearly aspect of the political spectrum, from the politicians to policies to news organizations.
Arguably the most popular and critically-acclaimed satire currently on the air is “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” Due to the format of the show being weekly, the writers and host, John Oliver, are able to cover a multitude of topics much more in depth than almost any other actual news program on the air.
Oliver says that he’s “not a journalist,” but it’s hard to see the comparison when viewing the show. He’s relatively fair in his analysis of topics while also having his own viewpoint. He is immaculate in his research of each topic, always citing his sources on screen. He was sued by a coal magnate Robert Murray (which Oliver won) after doing a piece on Murray. This very much sounds like journalism to anyone familiar with the medium, the only difference being Oliver makes joke after joke ridiculing everything from the Queen of England to babies.
These jokes aren’t just throwaways, though. They speak to the larger picture of the topic that he is covering. In one of his early pieces covering net neutrality, on which he has more than one, Oliver was discussing then FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and called him a dingo saying that he would “[eat a] baby.” This was in reference to Wheeler being a former lobbyist for broadband companies and that having Wheeler in charge of the FCC was akin to have a dingo babysit a baby. While not the most subtle joke, jokes like these are imperative to point out absurdities in the systems that we live in.
Probably the largest versions of these jokes have been the shows “The Colbert Report” and, currently, “The Opposition with Jordan Klepper.” These entire shows are parodies of certain people, with “The Colbert Report” being based off “The O’Reilly Factor” and Bill O’Reilly (with Stephen Colbert even calling O’Reilly ‘Papa Bear’) and “The Opposition” being based off of InfoWars and alt-right personality Alex Jones.
Both shows are based around the idea of pointing out the absurdities in how these shows present stories, emulating the presentation styles, and pointing out the fallacies in the arguments being presented, all in the guise of jokes.
While some may view it as nothing more than mean jokes with no value other than to make fun of people, satire serves a much more important purpose when done correctly. It views society, organizations, and governments through a lens that provides ample opportunity to ridicule, but also to point out the things that are wrong with the structures that are in place so that they can be fixed. One must simply listen to notice the wrongs that are being pointed out.