Political Humor and Its Reverberations

People are divided on whether political humor benefits the public, noting either that comedy helps us to see the truth, or that it makes us cynical. Culture specialist Iain Ellis observes that while politicians fabricate positive self-images, comedy unveils politicians’ flaws, thus encouraging the public to engage in political issues. But Ph.D. student Ramon Lopez points out that political satire, such as Jon Stewart’s the Daily Show, uses the straw man method to simplify politicians’ views. Columnist Stephen Marche furthers that, besides using the straw man approach, satire “delights in tearing down institutions” (Marche 165). Through highlighting politicians’ bad qualities, comedy escalates people’s distrust toward the government. However, while most satire manifests this adverse effect by attacking politicians, some political comedy creatively makes fun of people’s hilarious reaction to politicians’ flaws. This type of humor, identified by philosopher Simon Critchley, “liberates the will and the desire” (Cricthley 126) of audiences, showing them their own mistakes. Through challenging audiences’ perceptions about political satire, such humor, despite calling attention to politicians’ flaws, also encourages the public to reflect on their own behaviors. For instance, Aziz Ansari’s SNL routine counters discrimination by joking about people who are too excited about Trump’s racism, and Samantha Bee’s Full-Frontal ridicules women who march only because they like the knitted hats, inspiring women to reflect on their marching. Even if these routines use straw men to make their points, true political humor not only unmasks politicians’ flaws, but also unveils the public’s flaws, thereby fortifying the public to pursue political change.

Political humor, as its name suggests, delves into civic affairs. It seeks to investigate and reveal the concealed truth of politicians through joking about them. While the realm of politics always entails complicated relationships, American culture specialist Iain Ellis discerns a network among politicians, media, and the public. He recognizes that politicians connive with mainstream media to make themselves appear likeable (Ellis 154). By showcasing their appealing qualities, politicians achieve a comical profile that the public can endorse. On the other hand, Ellis claims that political comedy seeks to discover the hidden flaws behind politicians’ endeavors to craft perfect self-images. As comedy “unmasks, parades, and ridicules those efforts,” (Ellis 154) a different, and often ugly face of politicians is revealed. Through this revelation, political comedy offers the public information that politicians and mainstream media sometimes overlook. “In representing the interests of the common man, in speaking truth to power, these comic vigilantes provide us with an important – and otherwise absent and/or neglected – political service” (Ellis 155). Political humor, targeting politicians, bravely discloses their flaws. By serving audiences with a mix of laughter and truth, political comedy attracts the public, arming them with information to powerfully respond to politicians’ flaws.

However, despite its role in empowering the public with respect to politicians, political satire often uses the straw man method, which weakens and attacks opponents’ points to shape its arguments. Indeed, political humor gives the public fascinating jokes to illustrate politicians’ stupidity, and the straw man method is an inevitable part of its joking. But Ph.D. student of political theory Ramon Lopez notes that “Comedic straw men … degrade the opposition not only by twisting and misrepresenting their arguments, but also by ridiculing them” (Lopez 159). By using the straw man, political humor can oversimplify politicians’ refined ideas. Even one of America’s most popular comedians Jon Stewart possesses this problem. In his Daily Show “Chaos in Bulls**t Mountain,” Stewart argues that Mitt Romney, a 2012 presidential candidate, does not care for the economic realities of poor people. In a segment of his show, Stewart ridicules a tape in which Romney complains the poor’s distrust toward his policies (Stewart 03:17-03:44). However, Stewart only plays a tiny slice of the tape (Stewart 03:45-03:48) showing nothing of Romney’s complete thoughts but his complaint. While Romney’s rant is questionable, he should have reasoning for his complaint, and that arbitrary cut of the tape blocks the audiences’ access to that reasoning. As a result, comedy such as the Daily Show fails to give the public the comprehensive thought system behind politicians’ flaws.

Furthermore, most political satire like Jon Stewart’s leads the public to distrust government by simply denying politicians. Columnist Stephen Marche claims that “Satire was a mirror in which viewers discovered everybody’s face but their own; its pleasure is the pleasure of othering” (Marche 165). Such satire creates narcissism among audiences, and those listeners, while delighted to see the awful sides of others, cannot reflect on themselves. Accompanied with the straw man method, political satire will pose dramatic damage to the public. “Chaos in Bulls**t Mountain” proves this idea further. Besides his unethical representation of Romney’s flaws, Jon Stewart also criticizes entitlement policy for being ineffective. However, this criticism does not encourage the public to contemplate how that policy can be improved. While in Crossfire interview, Stewart claims that he “holds [his idea] to be much more important … as a citizen” (Crossfire 06:56-07:00), he deeply affects the public by the disparaging words he imposes on political acts. Through claiming its absurdity, Stewart drains people’s belief toward government.

While most satire, such as the Daily Show, damages politics by simply deriding politicians, some political comedy benefits the public by also pointing out the public’s mistakes. This comedy, or true comedy, does more than just revealing politicians’ flaws. As philosopher Simon Critchley notes, “a true joke … has to do more than release tension … it has to change the situation” (Critchley 125), true political comedy changes the situation by broadcasting the public’s irrational reactions toward politicians’ flaws. This humor lets the public reexamine themselves, correcting their mistaken behaviors through its pungent comic bits. Aziz Ansari’s SNL stand-up is a prime example of true humor. In this show, Ansari speaks against president Trump’s racism, but he specifically pokes fun at people who only voted for Trump to enable their racism. His contemptuous parody of racists – who seem to feel that “we don’t have to pretend like we’re not racist anymore!” (Ansari 02:40-02:50) – subverts racists’ privilege. Accounted for by Critchley’s incongruity theory, humor, by surprising audiences, can not only change their thoughts, but also their actions. While audiences expect Ansari to explicitly mock Trump, Ansari’s sudden assault on public expectation provokes profound introspection. “The incongruities of humor both speak out of a massive congruence between joke structure and social structure, and speak against those structures by showing that they have no necessity” (Critchley 126). By mocking racists’ flaws, Ansari effectively attacks discrimination, motivating the public to contemplate their reactions to Trump’s presidency. Thus, in eviscerating the public’s inappropriate responses to politicians’ problems, true comedy can hold a mirror up to the public, thereby engaging them to adjust their behaviors.

Taking everything into consideration, true political humor’s ability to change how the public understands themselves circumvents the straw man fallacy. Indeed, Ansari’s SNL show portrays racists as brainless people, ridiculing them without looking for why they developed such racism. But since Ansari encourages the public to reflect on themselves by challenging their views about racism, the straw man here is quite benign. Samantha Bee, in her show Full-Frontal, has a worse straw man problem than Ansari, as she shows multiple shortened clips to support her arguments. Bee points out that Trump is frustrated by the women’s march after his inauguration. Then, as she plays cut version of Kellyanne Conway’s comment on the march, Bee oversimplifies Conway’s discourse. By ridiculing her remark that Trump is “uplifting and unifying” (Bee 02:03-02:09), Bee depicts Trump as “uplifting” a woman’s skirt. While this joke has obvious straw man fallacy, she also deals with white women’s flaws during the march, joking that, “All you have to do to get white women to show up to a protest is to give them a craft” (Bee 01:35-01:40). By poking fun at these women, Bee engages the public in legitimately fighting for their rights rather than treating the march as a trendy event. As a result, though the straw man poses a pitfall for true political comedy such as Full Frontal, it can be neutralized by the humor’s power to inspire public reflection.

The above arguments about political humor apply to American culture, but we may consider whether they can also be addressed throughout the world. Serbia’s “laughtivism” (McGraw & Warner 148) seems to disagree with the point that exclusively deriding politicians harms the public. This movement thoroughly aimed at the long-disliked president, terminating Serbia’s autocracy followed by his resignation. On the other hand, during the Egyptian uprising, Bassem Youssef’s show proves that mocking politicians can be effective in the short term. But he did not promote the public to reflect on themselves, only inciting their distrust toward the president. As people were satisfied with their new leader, the show was shut down. What if Youssef sparked public introspection? This is the question worth thinking about when we try to answer if political comedy benefits the public from other parts of the world by mirroring their behaviors.

Works Cited

“Aziz Ansari Stand-Up Monologue – SNL.” YouTube, uploaded by Saturday Night Live, 22 Jan. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Whde50AacZs.
“Chaos on Bulls**t Mountain – The Entitlement Society.” Comedy Central, uploaded by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, 19 Sept. 2012, http://www.cc.com/video-playlists/vwstqp/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-bullshit-mountain/ymemxt.
Critchley, Simon. “Did You Hear the One About the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humour?” Think, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 2002, pp. 103-112, doi.org/10.1017/S147717560000035X. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 122-131.
Ellis, Iain. “Political Humor and Its Diss Contents.” Pop Matters, 14 Oct. 2012, www. popmatters.com/column/163983-political-humor-and-its-diss-contents/P1/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 150-155.
Lopez, Ramon. “Why Jon Stewart is Bad for America.” The Federalist, 5 Dec. 2014, www. thefederalist.com/2014/12/05/why-jon-stewart-is-bad-for-america/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 156-162.
Marche, Stephen. “The Left Has a Post-Truth Problem, Too. It’s Called Comedy.” LA Times, 6 Jan. 2017, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-marche-left-fake-news-problem-comedy-20170106-story.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 164-165.
McGraw, Peter and Joel Warner. “Humor Code Entry 6: Can Comedy Bring About Real Political Change?” Slate, 30 Mar. 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/features/2014/the_humor_code/daily_show_colbert_report_can_political_comedy_affect_real_political_change.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 146-148.
“Who March the World? Girls.” YouTube, uploaded by Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, 25 Jan. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pEcvteQo9g.

 

Acknowledgement

Most courtesy of AWP program director and my instructor Dr. Karen Gocsik, who gave me wholesome feedback to guide me through revising the drafts, preventing me from pitfalls of making arguments. I appreciate curriculum coordinator Sarah Baker for correcting minor citation errors and affirming the final draft during community office hour. I am grateful for my mentor Sarah Ardell for checking the weakest paragraph in meeting sessions. I also thank my groupmates Oscar and Shuli for enriching me through common reader response and group conference. These peers facilitate me a lot in organizing the argument points.
Advertisements

How Does Humor Fight Against Stereotypes?

MainImage_Comedy_KateCopeland_SRLR_0

© Kate Copeland

Humor is able to make people laugh. But when used strategically, it can also eliminate stereotypes. Journalist Mary O’Hara, supported by experts from different fields, notices humor’s immense power to actively counterbalance bigotry (O’Hara 106). She postulates that humor can bring new ideas to society and correct mistaken stereotypes. However, psychologist Gil Greengross disagrees with O’Hara, proposing that whether comedy can eliminate stereotypes depends largely on the context of audiences (Greengross 144). While philosopher Simon Critchley admits that shared context is important, he concurs with O’Hara by applying incongruity theory, which states that humor changes people’s view through surprising them. He uses this theory to explain how humor reverses the audiences’ perception of stereotypes. Finally, while comedian Negin Farsad employs Critchley’s positions to shift people’s views about Muslims, she adds a more interesting interpretation of her pursuit. “What makes comedy so effective is that if you’re making them laugh along the way, they’re going to listen to the deeper cut stuff” (Farsad 13). Denying Greengross, she confirms O’Hara that humor can earn people’s trust, and eventually defeat stereotypes.

As social affairs journalist Mary O’Hara observes, humor can counter malicious stereotypes by conveying new ideas (O’Hara 105). To certify this observation, she offers a collection of comedians and scholars. For example, social activist and comedian Josie Long believes “Satire is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted” (O’Hara 106). This belief signifies that through satire, humor can balance the feelings of all the individuals, including those who are labeled with stereotypes. O’Hara investigates further by visiting experienced comedian Stephen K Amos, who claims, “One of the singular properties of certain comedy ‘when done well’ is the freedom to explore ideas in an unconventional or counterintuitive way, to subvert society’s norms” (O’Hara 107). Based on Amos’ discourse, O’Hara asserts that comedy can provide new insights into social ailments – stereotypes – and cures them. She uses Amo’s action to validate John Fugelsang’s claim, “Humor can be a social corrective” (O’Hara 108). This sentence further proves O’Hara’s note that humor can bring different perspectives that help correct the mistaken stereotypes.

Though psychologist Gil Greengross agrees with O’Hara that comedy can bring unique information, he claims that humor does not change all the audiences’ biased views if they perceive these jokes differently. “The same joke can be funny or not, but can also be racist or not racist depending on who tells it and to whom” (Greengross 144). He implies that when people lack shared ideals with the comedians, the subsequent humor may fail to counter stereotypes. Drawing from experimental results, Greengross also concludes that comedy may not provoke audiences to hold against racists, who impose stereotypes on minority groups. “When we consider groups that most people discriminate against, and feel they are justified in doing so, disparaging humor towards that group does not foster discriminatory acts against them” (Greengross 143). He clarifies that humor can only show stereotypes rather than resisting them.

Philosopher Simon Critchley concurs with Greengross that shared context is essential for a joke to effect change. “There has to be a congruence between joke structure and social structure” (Critchley 123). However, he disagrees with the point that jokes do not effectively attack stereotypes. Based on the premise that a common identity is established, Critchley uses incongruity theory to explain how humor alter people’s perception about stereotypes. This theory states that the discrepancy between reality and the audience’s expectation generates laughter. Through making audiences laugh, Critchley asserts, “The incongruities of humor both speak out of a massive congruence between joke structure and social structure, and speak against those structures by showing that they have no necessity” (Critchley 126). He suggests that when a comedian jokes about stereotypes, the audience is informed and expects a joke that mirrors their stereotypical view. He then declares that as the comedian unveils the joke in an unconventional style, people’s expectation is popped, and they will break into laughter. “By laughing at power, we expose its contingency, we realize that what appeared to be fixed and oppressive is in fact the emperor’s new clothes” (Critchley 126). Critchley implies this moment as a shift in people’s view about stereotypes. When comedians lead audiences to this moment, these stereotypes, set up by the powerful, will seem to be ridiculous.

Comedian Negin Farsad’s jokes fit well with Critchley’s incongruity theory. She also refutes Greengross’ conception, demonstrating that joke tellers can accommodate people, dissolve the social barrier, and finally change people’s views toward stereotypes through surprising them. Viewing comedy as “a platform for advancing social justice” (O’Hara 106), Farsad bravely sets off on a grand mission to alleviate a stereotype regarding her own identity: Muslims do not denounce terrorism. To fight against this stereotype, Farsad, in her movie, The Muslims are Coming!, holds a comedy performance in Birmingham. At the beginning, she brings the audiences delicious foods. As people are attracted to the delicacies, Farsad identifies with these audiences, mockingly appreciating their tastes for foods (Farsad 17). When she brings people closer to her, she shifts the topic toward correcting the Muslim stereotype through the “name that religion” game. As she mentions a quotation that involves violence, people will expect it to come from the Quran. However, Farsad reveals that it comes from the Bible (Farsad 18). The audience, out of surprise, breaks into laughter. They come to realize that not all terrible things come from Islam. In this way, Farsad succeeds in reducing audiences’ stereotypes about Muslims.

aaee3b0bbc1a26cae4090c5a376ccd8

While Critchley and Farsad agree that humor can fight against stereotypes, Farsad has a more specific interpretation. “Comedy … makes you laugh. And when you’re laughing, you enter into a state of openness. And in that moment of openness … comedian can stick in a whole bunch of information” (Farsad 14). This explanation well serves as the philosophy for Farsad’s pursuit of justice: As she breaks audiences into laughter, they are more open to listen to the positive messages that Muslims are as good as anyone. Her method for eliminating stereotypes also verifies O’Hara’s quote from Sophie Quirk: “If you’re getting people together and talking about views that in the broader social context are quite marginal, and we’re all laughing together at those, then you’re kind of affirming them” (O’Hara 107). Therefore, Farsad ensures that when she identify with audiences, she can eventually disintegrate stereotypes.

To sum up, a meaningful humor is not just about making people laugh; it should have profound social effect. The conversation about humor’s ability to fight against stereotypes goes favorably. O’Hara, with her stakeholders’ support, concludes that humor can correct mistaken stereotypes by delivering ingenious thoughts. Greengross flips the conversation, noticing that common social identity is necessary for a joke teller to change people’s mind. Critchley mediates the controversy between O’Hara and Greengross, proposing incongruity theory to explain how humor alters people’s views about stereotypes based on shared context. While Farsad tells a joke that supports Critchley’s theory and counters Greengross’ points, she also confirms O’Hara’s belief in comedy’s social functions. Still, though we have understood that humor can fight against stereotypes, we should consider if humor can effect real political change in the same manner.

 

 

Works Cited

Critchley, Simon. “Did You Hear the One About the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humour?”

Think, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 2002, pp. 103-112, doi.org/10.1017/S147717560000035X.Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 122-131

Farsad, Negin. “Can Humor Fight Prejudice?” TED Radio Hour from NPR, 24 Mar. 2017,www.npr.org/2017/03/24/520942852/negin-farsad-can-humor-fight-prejudice.

Greengross, Gil. “Does Racist Humor Promote Racism?” Psychology Today, 18 July 2011, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/humor-sapiens/201107/does-racist-humor-promote-racism. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 142-144.

O’Hara, Mary. “A Serious Business: What Can Comedy Do?” Mosaic, 23 Aug. 2016,www.mosaicscience.com/story/comedy-humour-jokes-political-satire-taboo. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore,2017, pp. 104-111.

 

Acknowledgement

I greatly acknowledge the AWP program director and my instructor Dr. Karen Gocsik. She gave me comprehensive feedback in revising my first draft and second draft throughout the course, especially facilitating clear representation of the course readings. I am grateful for the curriculum coordinator Sarah Baker, who viewed my third draft, corrected citation errors and advised better synthetic strategy during the community office hour. I appreciate my mentor Sarah Ardell for raising suggestions about grammar and style in meeting sessions. I also thank my groupmates Flory and Shuli for enriching me through common reader response and group conference. The response helps me a lot when polishing the final paper.

Grand humor articles coming ahead

Dear readers,

Humor is everywhere in our life. While it makes us laugh, it also neutralizes our sadness, fear, or anger. But have you ever imagined that a seemingly inconspicuous joke can have a big impact in our community? In the article, A Serious Business: What Can Comedy do?, social affairs journalist Mary O’Hara answers with a simple sentence: “Comedy can change how we think, and even what we act” (O’Hara 104). So, how can humor even change our perception of something? Here in my portfolio, I hope to bring you on a journey where you can envision humor’s immense power by reading the following two papers.

My Summary & Synthesis paper, How Does Humor Fight Against Stereotypes?, will introduce you to a conversation that discusses how humor acts toward the commonly criticized stereotypes. Several writers are engaging in this topic. You have seen Mary O’Hara’s claim, and she will start the talk by pointing out humor’s power to fight against stereotypes. Then, psychologist Gil Greengross will raise objections, saying that humor may fail to counter stereotypes without shared context among comedians and audiences. When the controversy between O’Hara and Greengross grows intense, philosopher Simon Critchley will quench the controversy. While he supports the importance of common identity, he explains O’Hara’s view with his incongruity theory, which states that a joke is funny when it surprises audiences’ expectations, thereby flipping their stereotypical views. As you have heard the three writers talking about comedy’s power to reverse stereotypes, real comedian Negin Farsad will come in and respond to these writers, stating how she erases her Muslim stereotypes through telling jokes.

After demonstrating humor’s ability to upend stereotypes, I will take a stand in the Argument essay, Political Humor and Its Reverberations, exploring how humor, when used in politics, benefits the American public in general. Likely, you have often heard comedians poking fun at politicians. But you may also have noticed that such comedy has a serious logical fallacy – straw man, which oversimplifies and attacks the opponents’ argument points. When the straw man is done inappropriately, it may worsen American politics by damaging the public’s trust toward government. How do comedians avoid the problem? My answer is: by not always deriding politicians. A good political comedy does not simply attack its usual targets; it also targets some citizens. By comedians sometimes inserting such jokes that aim at the public, who should be criticized, the audiences will be aware of themselves, and try not to be the target, either. In doing so, political comedy can bring about profound reflection to the public.

Humor is more fascinating than we think, it can change our ways of thinking and doing things. When done aptly, it can even punch up our spirit. If you seldom touch comedy, you may be urged to watch some comedy shows right after reading my papers. Even so, I hope this journey will bring you some new insights into comedy’s power, and may the empowering humor be with you.

 

Work Cited

O’Hara, Mary. “A Serious Business: What Can Comedy Do?” Mosaic, 23 Aug. 2016,

http://www.mosaicscience.com/story/comedy-humour-jokes-political-satire-taboo. Rpt. in The

Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore,

2017, pp. 104-111.

 

Acknowledgements

I am thankful for AWP program director and my instructor Dr. Karen Gocsik for fixing grammatical errors as well as the representation of my two portfolio essays. I appreciate curriculum coordinator Sarah Baker for looking over the overview and advising me to address more about “so what” challenge. I also acknowledge mentor Sarah Ardell, and groupmates Oscar and Shuli for facilitating me to write the overview and give me common reader feedbacks.

Aside

Assessment of Group Work

To what degree does switching groupmates at the beginning of AWP 2B benefit the class in general? At this time, I can confidently answer this question. In this term, I participated in a freshly new group consisting of Oscar, Shuli, and me. While I, along with Shuli, was heartbroken for Flory’s departure, I found out that working in the new group still facilitated my growth as a writer, offering me more diverse perspectives about writing and the humor conversation.

Our group worked well in this quarter. As the last quarter’s tradition, we regularly met in Geisel Library to brainstorm our ideas. Because everyone strove for excellence in writing, no one was relaxed during the group meetings; we all shared our thoughts and disclosed each other’s mistakes. We also did our groupwork in a timely manner, providing feedback through discussion board before deadlines. Because we developed good relationships, we groupmates were also willing to help each other. As a result, the revised essays we produced were more outstanding than other groups.

However, some pitfalls were present in our group. Because of our lack of comprehension of English writing convention, we seldom discuss about grammar and style problem, which could have been resolved if we regularly consult reliable sources so that everyone in our group was able to give constructive feedback regarding grammar and style. Also, during group meeting, we were sometimes distracted by things outside of our class. If we focused only on AWP instead of extracurriculars, then our group meeting could be more efficient.

Besides these pitfalls, I contributed to this group a lot. In terms of writing, I took a particularly good stand about critical reading, use of evidence, and ethical citation. Based on my relatively accurate capture of different writers’ ideas, I could correct my groupmates’ pitfalls in demonstrating the reading materials. In addition, I helped them with using these articles as evidence for their arguments. By accurately presenting and using these articles, their essays seemed to be more sounding, too. Although Oscar and Shuli did not have serious citation problems throughout, I still reminded them of ethical citation when reading their papers, suggesting some places where they could cite better, like italicizing TV show and adding parentheses to an episode. Despite writing, I also provided technical supports such as reserving study rooms and drawing the conversation map.

微信图片_20180321153944

Other groupmates’ contributions are also unneglectable, and they helped me a lot in writing. Shuli is self-aware, often looking for help when she is unsure about her writing. She did not have perfect first strike, but her revision and reflection were thoughtful. She was also observant, being able to raise interesting questions and advance clear and claims. I learned from her that patiently working in weak spots could really pay off, and being vigilant with the conversation could season my papers, further engaging the readers. Oscar might not be very good at writing, but he tried hard to revise his works. Though sometimes having difficulty with the course, he dared to speaks out his voice, bravely asking for our help. Besides his direct request to look at his formal control, I also regularly spotted grammatical issues in his papers. By scrutinizing these grammar and style problems, I could reflect myself to ensure I did not have these mistakes, either.

Additionally, thanks to former groupmate Flory, I further developed my mindset of thinking during this quarter. Indeed, besides working with the current group, I also communicated with her to exchange our ideas. From her paper I saw that she can transfer her complicated thought system into a concise essay that engages me. Other classmates who worked with me or not were also appreciated. They demonstrated their diverse thinking in the subject matter.

Status

Response to Instructor Comments about My Argument Paper

Dear Doctor Karen Gocsik,

Thank you very much for your sounding comments on my 3M. Through the rubric, I see that I am improving on some aspects: I have better grasp of the course readings than before, and despite understanding the basic ideas of these materials, I can also effectively synthesize them into my argument points. Besides, I can raise interesting motivating question. Using this intriguing question to guide my essay, I am confident to offer an interesting claim, thereby engaging my readers in the following body paragraphs.

Of course, my 3M demonstrates some weaknesses that I should work hard on. For instance, the third paragraph’s argument point is so aggressive that it falls short of being convincing. Besides, my use of evidence in that part does not integrate to a wholesome point. The most persistent problem in my writing is, still, the grammar and style. I understand that correcting my English expression requires practices, so I will keep struggling with that. At least, compared to the course readings, my 3M does seem childish.

To revise the essay later, I will fix the grammar and style problem. I will especially focus on emphasis and concision. After the language expression is refined to the greatest extent, I will look at the logic of my argument, and eliminate logical fallacies. I also want to make sure my evidences are really supporting my argument points, as the third paragraph is a weak spot. To ensure good use of evidence, I will go back to the course readings and further comprehend their contributing ideas.

Colbert’s humor – different outcomes

In his show Fallback Position, comedian Stephen Colbert interviews congresswoman Zoe Lofgren about “take our job, please” campaign. During the interview, Colbert employs great parody to argue for migrant farmers’ right. By imitating a conservative, he unveils people’s ridiculous flaws about these farmers, mirroring Lofgren’s authority. The jokes he applies fit incongruity theory: “The discrepancy between what people expect and what actually happen in the joke makes people laugh” (Critchley 122). By creating incongruence between Lofgren and himself, Colbert enables Lofgren to demonstrate that conservatives themselves cannot take the difficult jobs of migrant farmers. Though Colbert sensibly uses parody to defend migrant farmers in TV show, he fails to convince congressmen using the same strategy. Common ground theory, which states that people laugh if the joke teller shares mutual understanding with them, explains why Colbert flounders. He can easily persuade the public because they enjoy his entertaining satire. But in Capitol Hill congress, Colbert does not argue the same way other politicians do, confusing the congressmen about his real positions. His jokes also offend congressmen, who eventually reject his positions. Therefore, while political comedy is popular in TV because comedians share more common ground with the public, it fails to be powerful in political situations for their lack of mutual understanding with politicians.

Stephen Colbert effectively uses parody to encourage the public to support migrant farm workers’ right. He imitates a conservative to challenge migrant farm workers’ “take our job, please” campaign, which contends that immigrants are not stealing jobs from Americans. Suspicious about its motivation, Colbert investigates the campaign in an interview with “notorious Mexican hugger” Zoe Lofgren (The Colbert Report 01:28). In the interview, he frames a sharp contrast between Lofgren and his conservative self. While Lofgren disserts credible reasons to support migrant farm workers, Colbert’s parody reveals hilarious straw man fallacy. For example, as Colbert asks Lofgren why Americans do not want to be migrant farmers, Lofgren responds that this job is too tough. While Lofgren has robust reasoning, Colbert oversimplifies and attacks Lofgren’s point, questioning if she disparages Americans. Ph.D. student of political theory Ramon Lopez claims, “straw men … degrade the opposition not only by twisting and misrepresenting their arguments, but also by ridiculing them” (Lopez 159). Although Lofgren clarifies that “I’m never saying Americans are pussies” (The Colbert Report 02:16), Colbert escalates his straw man through cherry-picking Lofgren’s discourse: “Americans are pussies,” relentlessly attacking her argument. Hence, through presenting such conservative flaw, Colbert reflects Lofgren’s credibility, thereby convincing audiences to care about immigrant farm workers.

Colbert’s jokes during the interview can also be explained by philosopher Simon Critchley’s incongruity theory, which states that the difference between audiences’ expectation and the jokes’ reality creates laughter. Critchley claims that such jokes “bring about a change of situation, a transient but significant shift in the way we view reality” (Critchley 126). In the interview, Colbert posits that migrant workers should first make terror babies (The Colbert Report 03:30), showing that conservatives are too worried about immigrants’ control over the country. However, this conservative point is so susceptible that Lofgren can easily reject it by claiming its absurdity. As audiences, too, discern this casual argument, they break into laughter, realizing that immigrant farmers are not as threatening as Colbert thinks.

Though Colbert successfully uses parody to convince audiences in his TV show, he fails to manage his humor in Capitol Hill congress. Commonly, people who testify will directly state their points. Colbert holds that Americans should respect migrant workers, but he does not explicitly express his idea in the congress. “I don’t want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, then sliced by a Guatemalan, and served by a Venezuelan in a spa, where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian.” (C-SPAN 1:21). This sentence has so many nuances that it obfuscates Colbert’s true standing.

Common ground theory also speaks for Colbert’s failure in persuading politicians. This theory states that audiences can better get the jokes when they share more mutual understanding with the comedians. Indeed, Colbert manifests his common identity with the public; they enjoy his throw-in comic bits. But the congressmen address arguments more seriously, so they cannot easily understand Colbert’s jokes. Without mutual understanding, Colbert will not be supported. He will even be opposed because he targets politicians, “I trust that following my testimony, both sides will work together on this issue in the best interest of America, as you always do” (C-SPAN 5:06). Clearly, ending his testimony with this satire will not delight politicians to accept his points. As ABC News claims, “The hearing was on the use of illegal farmworkers to do work most Americans won’t do. He chided congress for not dealing with the issue” (ABC News 1:05). When congressmen are directly attacked, they will return the fire.

A good comedian ought to be flexible about his way of arguing. Colbert changes the public’s mind, but he does not change politicians’ thoughts about the illegal immigrants. How should a successful comedian testify in congress?

 

Works Cited

Colbert Humors, Annoys Congressmen.” YouTube, uploaded by ABC News, 24 Sept. 2010,www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTDCgOvVOx8.

Critchley, Simon. “Did You Hear the One About the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humour?”Think, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 2002, pp. 103-112, doi.org/10.1017/S147717560000035X.Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC SanDiego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 122-131.

“C-SPAN: Stephen Colbert Opening Statement.” YouTube, uploaded by C-SPAN, 24 Sept. 2010,www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1T75jBYeCs.

“Fallback Position – Migrant Worker Pt. 1.” Comedy Central, uploaded by The Colbert Report,22 Sept. 2010, http://www.cc.com/video-clips/xr7q4y/the-colbert-report-fallback-position—migrant-worker-pt–1.

Lopez, Ramon. “Why Jon Stewart is Bad for America.” The Federalist, 5 Dec. 2014, http://www.thefederalist.com/2014/12/05/why-jon-stewart-is-bad-for-america/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 156-162.

Discovery Draft: To what degree should we trust political humor?

In this essay I will raise a question and find a way through answering it. Many passages address political humor’s credibility issues: “Is comedy reliable?”. Some writers say “yes” because it “unveils the truth”, brings different perspectives, and some say “no” since it has “straw men”. So, I think “To what degree should we rely on political humor for information?” will be a good level-three question to consider about.

To begin with, I need someone to introduce the broad context. Ellis is a good choice. He uses a three-way dance metaphor to illustrate how politicians, media (mainstream and comedy), and the public interact with each other. While the public appreciate that mainstream media present politicians’ “spin” and “obfuscation”, comedy unveils the truth behind politicians and mainstream media’ “dance move”. In this point, I agree with Ellis in that he shows politicians and mainstream media are sometimes untrustworthy, and comedy is an authentic source of information. I can surround my main argument with this quote: “Whereas politicians wield humor in efforts to manipulate and spin, critical comedians, contrarily, seek to unmask, parade, and ridicule those efforts […] in speaking truth to power, these comic vigilantes provide us with an important – and otherwise absent and/or neglected – political service” (Ellis 154). This claim clearly distinguishes comedy from mainstream media, making it more truthful than news. But I would like to ask Ellis, does truth corresponds to reliability? [Comedy gives truth, but truth may not mean reliable.]

Marche notices that people are living in a post-truth generation in which they believe more in emotionally appealing information. He asserts political comedy and fake news are both emotionally appealing, so truth does not matter much to reliability. Still, this assertion agrees with O’Hara and Farsad that comedy, by making people laugh, can be trusted. What threatens comedy’s reliability, however, is that “it delights in tearing down institutions but is useless at constructing them” (Marche 165). This shows comedy creates bubbles, and discourages self-reflection. In other words, comedy only cherry-pick something worth laughing, so political humor may fail to be reliable if people do not get the information they need. But does it? Do we need all the uplifting good news? [Comedy gives truth and is emotionally appealing, but it may not give comprehensive information that we require.]

While thinking about the question, Lopez similarly claims that political humor has straw men and can “delegitimize the opposition” (Lopez 157). Lopez discerns comedy has such a logical fallacy that makes it more incredible. This fits with superiority theory, in which it addresses that comedians aim at things they oppose and make them appear laughable. Jon Stewart fall into this category; he derides things and take no responsibilities for them. However, I am skeptical about Lopez’s claim that political humor is always about delegitimizing. Mary O’Hara says, “it’s a relentelessly bleak and far from complete explanation of the purpose of humor” (O’Hara 105). Lopez and Marche both fail to address that Aziz Ansari uses his comedy to “build” racial equality. Besides, while some political comedies involve too much violation, the public themselves can assess political humor’s reliability: “If we find a joke offensive, we protest by not laughing at it” (O’Hara 107). Jon Stewart surely has a lot of audiences who enjoy laughing at his jokes, but he does require everyone to laugh; he just give the information that is critical of the times being. Olga Khazan also claims that “You can’t make a joke without inserting a wicked twist, and you can’t be a comedian without holding a small amount of power, for even a short period of time, over the audience” (Khazan 113). Comedy needs such a “dark element” to be reliable. Lopez also mistakenly cite Jon Stewart about his promotion of cynicism, so I encourage Lopez to understand more about Jon Stewart before writing about him. [Comedy gives truth, is emotionally appealing, and gives information worth thinking; it deals with critical issues; using straw men is OK, as long it does not offend too much.]

After dealing with counterarguments, I would like to strengthen my claims: Despite giving reliable information and making people laugh, comedy can also change the situation by integrating, unpacking, and bringing people with different perspectives. Samantha Bee is a prime example for this. She uses a lot of authentic sources to show the truth behind and people’s comments about the women’s march. By carefully selecting and interpreting the relevant sources, Samantha Bee engages the audiences to think: Why women’s march will happen? To what degree should we credit women’s rights for march, etc. She unites women and make them reconsider about their purpose of marching: They should march for women’s right, not for treats. In this sense Samantha Bee is not only reliable in terms of information; she is also reliable for being a sensible speaker for women’s right. [Political comedy is true, emotionally appealing, gives critical information, and can encourage the public to change the society.]

So here I come up with a tentative claim: While telling jokes that may fail to be logical, political humor is reliable because it unveils the truth, and encourages people to change the society by playing with [the most critical aspect of] social issues.

I think this claim is so far clear, address the main arguments, and shortly summarizes the conversation that I want to enter. On the class day I will discuss with my instructor, mentor, and groupmates to see if there’s anything that can be improved.

Works Cited

Ellis, Iain. “Political Humor and Its Diss Contents.” Pop Matters, 14 Oct. 2012.www.popmatters.com/column/163983-political-humor-and-its-diss-contents/P1/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 150-155.Lopez, Ramon. “Why Jon Stewart is Bad for America.” The Federalist, 5 Dec. 2014, http://www.thefederalist.com/2014/12/05/why-jon-stewart-is-bad-for-america/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings, pp. 150-155.

Khazan, Olga. “The Dark Psychology of Being a Good Comedian.” Atlantic, 27 Feb. 2014,www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/02/the-dark-psychology-of-being-a-good-comedian/284104/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 112-115.

Lopez, Ramon. “Why Jon Stewart is Bad for America.” The Federalist, 5 Dec. 2014, http://www.thefederalist.com/2014/12/05/why-jon-stewart-is-bad-for-america/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 156-162.

Marche, Stephen. “The Left Has a Post-Truth Problem, Too. It’s Called Comedy.” LA Times, 6 Jan. 2017, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-marche-left-fake-news-problem-comedy-20170106-story.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 164-165.

O’Hara, Mary. “A Serious Business: What Can Comedy Do?” Mosaic, 23 Aug. 2016,www.mosaicscience.com/story/comedy-humour-jokes-political-satire-taboo. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore,2017, pp. 104-111.

Summary of the conversation again

To what degree does political humor change the society? This question sparks an interesting conversation among the course readings. McGraw and Warner stand for the optimistic side. They refute Christie Davies’ claim that jokes only indicate political discontent and may possibly relieve the rebellion. By exemplifying “laughtivism” in which people overturned their leader through mocking at him,  McGraw and Warner asserts that comedy can bring about positive political change. This change is furthered by Anna Louie Sussman, who presents Egyptian uprising to show humor’s immense ability to improve the situation.  She thinks humor “build community, strengthen solidarity, and provide a safe, thug-free outlet for Egyptians to defy the regime” (Sussman 166). In this sense, Sussman argues that comedy breaks people’s fear, and provide them with different perspectives to view the reality . Bassem Youssef  verifies this argument with his career as a comedian . In his comedy show, he turned down Mubarak and Morsi, both presidents disliked by the public. By making people laugh at their hidden flaws, Youssef engaged people in changing the society. When Sisi became the president, Youssef continued making jokes. But since Sisi had people’s support, Youssef’s show was canceled. Still, as Youssef says, “pulling the show off the air is a victory” (Bager 172), he brings beloved leader to his country, and proves that humor can greatly impact the political world.

However, Iain Ellis observes that, though political humor plays a vital role in politics, people should not be too optimistic. He uses a three-way dance to illustrate how politicians, media, and the public interact. Ellis posits that the dance involves comedians spreading the truth to the audiences, thus engages the public in political issues.  But he claims  that politicians, on the other hand, also use “spin” and “obfuscation” to make up their self-images. Indeed, Ellis agrees with McGraw & Warner that humor is important, yet he thinks that it decides the presidential election is not a good sign.

Ramon Lopez flips the argument, discussing Jon Stewart’s negative effect to the society. Although Lopez acknowledges Stewart’s broad influence, he criticizes Stewart for promoting cynicism and using straw men. “Comedic straw men degrade the opposition not only by twisting and misrepresenting their arguments, but also by ridiculing them” (Lopez 159). He illustrates that Stewart always misrepresents opposing ideas, and completely deny them. This absolute denial, as Lopez construes, will make people become cynical about the government without considering its benefit. Still, Lopez encourages Stewart to rethink his presentation by offering John Oliver who is doing political humor correctly.

Stephen Marche consents with Lopez that political humor affects the society negatively, but he adds more nuances into this idea. Marche says that Americans are living in a post-truth generation in which people believe in emotionally appealing information . While the post-truth has become a widespread ailment, Marche points out that humor “turns the news itself into a joke” (Marche 165), making people trust comedians blindly. Marche furthers the blind trust by asserting that humor makes people pleased with ridiculing at others. He posits that,  through “the pleasure of otherings” (Marche 165) , people can only  break things apart, but never build things up.

 

Works Cited

Bager, Jasmine. “Egypt’s Jon Stewart is Not Done Laughing.” New Republic, 3 Apr. 2017,www.newrepublic.com/article/141572/egypts-jon-stewart-not-done-laughing. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore,2017, pp. 170-172.

Lopez, Ramon. “Why Jon Stewart is Bad for America.” The Federalist, 5 Dec. 2014, http://www.thefederalist.com/2014/12/05/why-jon-stewart-is-bad-for-america/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 156-162.

Marche, Stephen. “The Left Has a Post-Truth Problem, Too. It’s Called Comedy.” LA Times, 6 Jan. 2017, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-marche-left-fake-news-problem-comedy-20170106-story.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 164-165.

Sussman, Anna Louie. “Laugh, O Revolution: Humor in the Egyptian Uprising.” Atlantic, 23 Feb. 2011, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/02/laugh-o-revolution-humor-in-the-egyptian-uprising/71530/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 166-169.

Can humor make a difference?

Political humor can prompt people to change the society by engaging them through different perspectives. Unlike most media, political comedy takes humor into account, and it opens people to the comedians’ thoughts, “What makes comedy so effective is that if you’re making them laugh along the way, they’re going to listen to the deeper cut stuff” (Farsad 13). As joke tellers gain the audiences’ trust, they can convey a lot of information, and let people be aware of the reality. “Arguably they offer a more open-minded and informed alternative, one which takes pride in digging for truths and in providing additional perspectives and points-of-view” (Ellis 151). Besides being a delivery system of truth, comedies can innovate the public’s thoughts and encourage them to participate in the social changes. While a lot of changes occur with blood and fire, political humor peacefully resolves the conflicts. As Jon Steward observes, “a joke has never ridden a motorcycle into a crow with a baton. A joke has never shot teargas to a group of people in a park. It’s just talk” (Taksler 42:30-43:00). In other words, a joke uses wit to overcome gruesome threats. Therefore, political humor benefits people with its open-mindedness, and deals with social problems in a subtler way.

Although comedians use humor to engage the audiences, some scholars point out the straw men of comedies that fail to consider the credibility of counterarguments, “Comedic straw men degrade the opposition not only by twisting and misrepresenting their arguments, but also by ridiculing them” (Lopez 159). It seems comedies always use these cheat tactics to win people’s heart. However, the straw men here are benign, because they are used for good purposes.

Works cited

Ellis, Iain. “Political Humor and Its Diss Contents.” Pop Matters, 14 Oct. 2012, http://www.popmatters.com/column/163983-political-humor-and-its-diss-contents/P1/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 150-155.

Lopez, Ramon. “Why Jon Stewart is Bad for America.” The Federalist, 5 Dec. 2014, http://www.thefederalist.com/2014/12/05/why-jon-stewart-is-bad-for-america/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 156-162.

“Negin Farsad: Can Humor Fight Prejudice?” TED Radio Hour from NPR, 24 Mar. 2017, http://www.npr.org/2017/03/24/520942852/negin-farsad-can-humor-fight-prejudice.

Tickling Giants. Directed by Sara Taksler, 2016.

Hodgepodge of humor conversation: Lopez, Marche, Ellis and McGraw & Warner

Overall Graphic designer

Lopez argues against Jon Steward to illustrate that political humor creates cynicism and apathy toward government, and comedians such as Steward do not clearly address political issues, but simply making fun of it. Marche, on the other hand, claims that political satire, though popular among social media, is not powerful enough to create desired changes, because it simply entertains the public.

The conversation is about to what extent does political satire change the society. Ellis, the guest of honor, generalizes from the various perspectives about political humor and points out that humor has become an inseparable part of our political life, and whether it has positive and negative effect on the population is worth debating. McGraw & Warner, the defenders for political comedy, posits that comedy is able to deliver the truth and engage people with additional insights. Lopez, in contrast, disagrees with McGraw & Warner by saying that political humor cherry-picks argument to make politicians and news systems appear silly without considering their positive sides. Marche flips the argument, positing that satire can only amuse people, but cannot change their thoughts.

I think comedy can bring positive change toward the politics, because it can address problems that others avoid talking about, and offer the audience different perspectives to view the reality. Besides, the audience are bored of news reports, and they need stimulating political satire to access information. “In representing the interests of the common man, in speaking truth to power, these comic vigilantes provide us with an important – and otherwise absent and/or neglected – political service” (Ellis 155). Comedians, in this way, can engage the audience into contemplating about political issues, and change their perceptions by joking.

 

Works Cited

Ellis, Iain. “Political Humor and Its Diss Contents.” Pop Matters, 14 Oct. 2012,www.popmatters.com/column/163983-political-humor-and-its-diss-contents/P1/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 150-155.

Lopez, Ramon. “Why Jon Stewart is Bad for America.” The Federalist, 5 Dec. 2014, http://www.thefederalist.com/2014/12/05/why-jon-stewart-is-bad-for-america/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 156-162.

Marche, Stephen. “The Left Has a Post-Truth Problem, Too. It’s Called Comedy.” LA Times, 6 Jan. 2017, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-marche-left-fake-news-problem-comedy-20170106-story.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 164-165.

McGraw, Peter and Joel Warner. “Entry 6: Can Comedy Bring About Real Political Change?”Slate, 30 Mar. 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/features/2014/the_humor_code/daily_show_colbert_report_can_political_comedy_affect_real_political_change.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 146-148.