“The Smugglers: The Rationality of Political Satire in the 2014 Elections”

Jamie Warner

handing bars of gold up a ladderThe final episodes of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (2015) and The Colbert Report (2014) on Comedy Center marked the end of an important era in political satire. One aspect of Stewart’s and Colbert’s legacy – which can also be seen in their 2014 election coverage – is their withering judgment of what philosopher Jürgen Habermas has called “the refeudalization of the public sphere.” Specifically, Stewart and Colbert have singled out two aspects of this refeudalized public sphere for nonstop critique: (1) an increasingly fragmented, profit-driven, technologically sophisticated news media, which tends to frame politics as spectacle; and (2) the rise of professional consultants and the “manufactured publicity” of contemporary political campaigns. Stewart and Colbert didn’t find either of those funny. In fact, they were smuggling very cogent critiques of this refeudalized public sphere into their humor. To put this in Habermasian terms, they used humor and satire to point out the lack of rational-critical discourse in our public sphere and make sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit pleas for transparency, discussion, reason, and evidence.

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PS: Political Science & Politics / Volume 49 / Issue 01 / January 2016, pp 48-52

Copyright © American Political Science Association 2016