The Real Deal: Cable Satire vs. Cable News

Aditya Tiwari

Show of hands; how many of you have watched The Daily Show, The Nightly Show, The Colbert Report, or Last Week Tonight at some point? Are the names Jon Stewart, Trevor Noah, or Larry Wilmore at all familiar? Were you both cackling and unsettled by an SNL skit, or an article from The Onion? Have you found yourself agreeing with a comedian than a pundit when it comes to political discussion? Chances are, you’re like other Americans who now deem satirical ‘fake news’ programs like the Daily Show among their most trusted news sources, which in my most honest opinion, is possibly the best our generation is going to get in terms of political discourse and news. 

To begin with, satirical TV shows like the Daily Show and the others listed above, are part of a long tradition of social commentary aging back from the days of ancient Greece. It’s been a tool for the populace to protest, to analyze and dissect, and to express themselves, on top of having some good fun. American satire has had a rich collection of authors and works, the most notable contributions being those of Mark Twain. While humor was his craft, Twain was able to use his works to also discuss issues in politics, race, and his ardent opposition to the growing fervor for American Imperialism. Humor in of itself, is more complex than we sometimes dismiss it to be. At times, it’s the lens by which we have to view harsh truths and realizations, or the only ways for us to realize vital flaws and crippling hypocrisies.

Political satire was what drew me to pay attention to politics, and for a lot of young people, satire is their resort to news and political discourse and opinions. Where cable news is often dominated by pundits, and figures from the revolving door that is the political establishment, and often times dismissive of youth issues and young voters and activists in general, satirists like Jon Stewart and his eventual successors, Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah, seem to hear them out. Where traditional cable news seems cold, calculated and dedicated to spinning narratives, satire embodies a genuine American, populist frustration with establishment politics and media. Partisan bickering and sensationalism tends to make up the majority of the news we have access to unfortunately, and even when the public wants answers and information in the wake of tragedies such as those in Brussels and Lahore, sensationalism and politicization take precedence.  

Satire, throughout, has been a clear indicator of the feelings and attitudes found in public thought and consciousness. For some, there is only the sad irony of satirists and comedians being more reliable than the sources we would instead expect more from. However, all change is centered around what the people want. If our media is supposed to represent fairness and accuracy, we’re going to have to demand it. If our government isn’t functioning the way we need it to, we’ll have to demand it. If our society isn’t reflective of human compassion, intellect, and fundamental good, and all we can identify is hate, greed and ignorance, then we’ll have to demand good from ourselves and our fellow man. But until we can organize those demands, and arouse thought in everyone, satire will be both a soapbox for the public voice and the chamber for these voices to be heard.