Sunday, November 12, 2006

Can humor affect voters? Certainly more than anger can...

Not long ago, we talked how faux news (namely The Daily Show) can be just as reliable as regular news. Well, there is a lot of talk on the blogsphere these days about the influence of the Comedy Central shows on the mid-term elections.

The victory Republicans in 1994 was partly blamed on the rise of conservative talk radio across the nation (mostly stations owned by Clear Channel) and just like Rush Limbaugh was called the "Majority Kingmaker" by Newt Gingrich, it seems that this year a number of bloggers (conservative and liberal alike) and media think that Jon Stewart is today’s "Democratic kingmaker". Even the more liberal Los Angeles Times had a piece on the influence of The Colbert Report (a spin-off of The Daily Show) on the elections, calling Colbert the “biggest winner” in these elections:

As the comedian was only too happy to point out during the channel's election coverage, every incumbent candidate he interviewed in his notorious "Better Know a District" segment was reelected. This was the same segment that had scared off several invited congress people for fear of being made to look foolish in the campaigns' final weeks. How foolish do they look now?

Colbert has indeed been labeled as one of 100 Most Influential People by Time Magazine. His made-up wordthruthiness” has even entered the American lexicon. It is also undeniable that both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have greater influence on the American young electors than, say Hannity, Limbaugh and O'Reilly.

However, the jury is still out as to whether the youth vote was an overwhelming factor in the 2006 election (see Kevin Drum’s post). It seems reasonable to think that Iraq, Foley and a number of bad Bush policies laid heavier on the results.

But it seems to me there is a point to make here anyway. No matter what, humor is a greaterweapon than anger, and anger is all that the Conservative talk-show hosts seem to have to offer. The great success of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert is not (just) that they deconstruct the political machine of the GOP and the lies of the Bush administration; it is that they are extremely funny. I would watch Stewart or Colbert anytime over Hannity, Limbaugh and O'Reilly simply because I’ll have a good laugh, while learning things.

I am not sure Steve Young is right when he suggests that it was not Iraq but the jokes about Iraq that changed the elections, but it’s an attractive idea.

This, be the way, reminds me of the claim that Jacques Chirac’s victory in 1995 was helped by the popular French satirical puppet show, Les Guignols de L'info which portrayed him as a loveable rogue.

What is undeniable is that humor is a powerful weapon and the Conservatives have a long way to go. Thank God for the good times I have spent watching Comedy Central, if nothing else.

NOTE: read this extensive "competitive" piece on Colbert and Stewart in Rolling Stone. It's a bit long... but fun!

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