National Review columnist Jim Geraghty expressed his chagrin last week with liberals’ misunderstanding of political humorwrites Benny Huang.
In a piece titled Liberals Can’t Tell the Difference Between Satire and News, and GOP Presidential Campaigns Are Paying the Price, Geraghty noted examples of fake quotes, attributed to Republicans, that were nonetheless perceived as genuine by people already inclined to hate their supposed speakers. The author apportioned special blame to a Facebook community called “Stop the World, the Teabaggers Want Off,” which lampoons Republicans, usually by laughing at things they never actually said. I don’t know what’s funny about that but apparently that’s their shtick. Their page has a disclaimer warning that the site is “for entertainment purposes only,” though it’s clear that some of its readers didn’t get the memo.
In the internet age, it doesn’t take long for a satirical quote to enter broad circulation on blogs and social media. Divorced from its comedic context, an even larger portion of the population will take it for truth and further perpetuate it.
I must confess that even I have been duped by a satirical quote. I once believed that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin actually claimed that she could see Russia from her house, which she didn’t. A Palin-impersonator named Tina Fey said that on Saturday Night Live and from there it spread like wildfire. How surprised I was to learn that Palin’s actual quote was “…[A]nd you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska…”
… This problem of people not knowing satire from reality is likely a phenomenon of the Daily Show Generation. I consider myself part of that generation, though not a fan myself. Regardless of whether I actually watch the program, many people my age (I’m thirty-four) and many members of the generational cohort fifteen years my junior, consider the Daily Show to be a real source of news, along with The Colbert Report, The Onion, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, and Saturday Night Live. For some, it’s the only news they get.
And they brag about this. No, seriously. They snicker at the Left’s latest object of scorn while clapping like trained seals at all of Jon Stewart’s jokes, even the unfunny ones, which happens to be most of them. They love to tell you how savvy they are about current affairs. When I was in college, students actually wrote columns in the campus paper arguing that people who got their news from the Daily Show were actually smarter than the average bear.
… These people remind me of grown adults who still think that professional wrestling is real, except WWE fans aren’t nearly as smug. Also, their misplaced love for moronic entertainment is innocuous because it doesn’t affect elections. But other than that, they’re pretty similar.
I don’t want to be misunderstood. Satire has value, both comedic and political. Can its purveyors be blamed if stupid people don’t get the joke?