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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Variations on a Theme

On Oct. 2, the Palin-Biden vice presidential debate drew in 69.9 million viewersthe most viewed debate since 1992, when Bill Clinton, Ross Perot and George Bush went head to head (to head).

Two days later, NBC’sSaturday Night Liveran their own version of the VP debate with comedian Tina Fey as Sarah Palin and SNL cast member Jason Sudeikis as Joe Biden. It helped earn NBC its highest overnight rating in seven years, according to a press release from the network. As of Tuesday night, the video of the skit posted on NBC’s website received over 3.6 million hits.

Fake newscast programs like Comedy Central’sThe Daily Show with Jon StewartandThe Colbert Reporthave become many young people’s main source of current events. According to the New York Star,The Daily Showaveraged nearly 2 million viewers a night during its first week of original shows in Septembernumbers that compare to real (and significantly more somber) cable news programs such as Fox News Channel’sThe O’Reilly Factorand CNN’sAnderson Cooper 360.

Baltimore Sun critic David Zurawik summed it up best in his commentary about the debate:SNL and [Tina] Fey beat the press on Palin, Biden and Ifill,read Zurawik’s headline in his column.

His column went on to say,But the point of this post is how socially relevant comedians of today are doing what the press isn’t…. Is the level of socially conscious comedy that great today, or is the press that bad in recognizing and acknowledging its own sins?”

Satires work to highlight and exaggerate any weaknessesand in the aftermath of the VP debate, there were many that were poked upon.

Obvious flaws in the actual debate were only put in an even harsher light, as well as the more superficial ones. Of course, there were the easy targets: Fey’s eerily accurate take on Palin’s accent (who knew raised diphthongal vowels could be so funnyhooray for linguistics!), her evasive nature toward certain questions and the references tomaverickwere all present don’t even get me started on the winking.

Thevictimsof the spoof weren’t limited to the Grand Old Party: Queen Latifah, portraying debate moderator Gwen Ifill, brought attention to Ifill’s compromised position as neutral moderator as she plugged her book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama. The writers capitalized on Biden’s personal friendship with John McCain.

It’s not difficult to see why shows like “The Daily ShowandThe Colbert Report are popular. Actors in skits as well as simulated news hosts like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert do what they’re supposed to do: entertain and engage their audience. Especially in a political and economic climate as confusing and action-packed as this one, it’s understandable why people would turn to Stewart and Colbert. They present the main issues in one easy-to-process, knee-slappingly funny package.

Our generation is one that likes to be entertainedand, on some level, even expects to be entertained. I’ll admit it: I could probably sit through hours ofThe Daily Show,but my threshold of complete, undivided attention for most shows on CNN probably stands at 15 minutes maximum.

Though programs likeThe Daily Showget credible intervieweesObama has been the subject of Jon Stewart’s inquiries three times, most recently this past April, and wife Michelle Obama appeared as a guest yesterdaywe should remember that these programs typically only skim the surface of the issues. They shouldn’t serve as our main source of information in terms of current affairs. Rather, they should act as a supplement of sorts, something to encourage viewers to find out the facts behind the humor. Otherwise, it’s just another empty joke.

 

RACHEL FILIPINAS read somewhere that Heidi Montag from MTV’sThe Hillsis a supporter of John McCain. Send your thoughts about this to rmfilipinas@ucdavis.edu. 

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