Conservative Walks into a Bar The Politics of Political Humor

ISBN-10: 1137262842
ISBN-13: 9781137262844
Edition: 2012
Authors: Alison Dagnes
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Description: American politics, like the rest of society, is steeped in the media. This has been the case throughout history, but in modern life the media have become so big, fast, and available that they have fundamentally changed the way Americans get their  More...

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Book details

List price: $32.00
Copyright year: 2012
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Publication date: 9/6/2012
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 239
Size: 5.75" wide x 9.25" long x 0.75" tall
Weight: 0.770
Language: English

American politics, like the rest of society, is steeped in the media. This has been the case throughout history, but in modern life the media have become so big, fast, and available that they have fundamentally changed the way Americans get their news. The old news sources (such as newspapers and broadcast new programs) compete for relevance, but today citizens can absorb their political news from some unlikely sources, to include fake-news programming and late-night comedy shows. Political satire shows such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have moved beyond their entertaining function to something more substantial and politically influential. Satire and political humor expands beyond late night television and stretches across the media: In print in the form of political cartoons, humor columns, and satirical books; to the theater through satirical plays and sketch comedy; and to the Internet via viral videos and flash animation. Candidates for elected office use political comedy and satire as a means of reaching voters, using it to prove their own good humor and electability. Americans today – especially younger Americans - are turning to satirical news outlets such as The Onion not only to escape from the real world but also to learn about it. Political satire plays an increasingly important role in American politics today as our desire for entertainment continues to grow alongside the considerable availability of entertainment programming.Conservative critics argue that modern satire has a liberal bias, and this book examines this accusation. Interviews with three dozen satirists, writers and comedians provide evidence that while there are very few popular conservative satirists, this does not necessitate a pernicious bias in political humor itself. Furthermore, by reiterating the accusation of bias, these critics are negating the sharp social criticism that satirists and comedians provide.Chapter 1 defines the difference between satire, parody, and comedy. All are in play in modern political humor but their styles vary and each form delivers its punch lines differently. The purpose of satire is considered in detail to explain how it has become such a relevant form of political criticism. Also examined is bias: What it is and what it means for political satire. Chapter 2 explores political ideology, and then uses research on program guests and joke targets to explore possible areas where bias might occur and gauge whether preference exists. Chapter 3 examines satire throughout American history to illustrate how the art form matured and developed throughout time. Since the American Revolution, writers have used humor and satire to deliver sharp social commentary, and this chapter surveys this development.Chapters 4 and 5 uses more than 50 hours of interviews from satirists, writers, actors, comedians, and humorists to explore the possible reasons that there are so few conservative satirists. Chapter 4 explores the art and profession of satire. Comedy is an art form, one that takes training, practice, and skill, and those who are attracted to this type of profession view themselves as artists more than political activists. To lend credence to this claim, most satirists interviewed went to college but none were political science majors. They described themselves as dramatists, no matter how political their material was. Several satirists argued that conservatives were not drawn to this artistic calling, opting instead for more traditional, economically profitable careers. Allison Silverman, the former executive producer of The Colbert Report, referred to the 'anarchic spirit of comedy' which would repel many conservatives. Actor Keegan Michael Key spoke of differences in the way our brains work, and argued that while liberal brains seek out the unconventional, conservative brains find value in established norms. Satire certainly falls out of the bounds of convention, which may be one reason for the paucity of conservative political humorists. Chapter 4 also examines the entertainment industry. To back up their claims, these conservatives spoke of a secret group of right-wing actors in Hollywood called the 'Friends of Abe' who meet clandestinely in order to avoid the revelation of their political views. Certainly, the audience a comedian expects will drive the material selection, and stand-up comedian Evan Sayet told me that since he knew his audience would be conservative he kept his material clean and politically right-leaning. Another conservative satirist, Nick DiPaolo, argued that the current political climate may not be amenable to right-wing humor, claiming the 'politically correct' mood of the country denied many conservative jokes. Taken together, there are numerous reasons that the business of satire may drive the material.Another possible reason for the dearth of conservative satirists is explored in Chapter 5 in an examination of satire as an art form. Most of the satirists distinguished being funny with being right, and all emphasized the overwhelming funniness imperative in their work. Funny is crucial; being right is less important. There is a term within political humor called 'clapture' which is when an audience claps because they agree with a humorist, instead of laughing because the audience thinks something is funny, and it is to be avoided at all costs. Lewis Black said that if a comic wants to prove a point over entertaining, they should 'go on the lecture circuit' instead. This was a consistent theme among my interview subjects who argued that the entertainment function of their jobs was more important than any political point-making. Additionally, several writers for satire shows said that although they do not try to balance out jokes against one side or another evenly, they were conscious of the 'fair hit,' to make sure the joke was aimed honestly. One writer for Saturday Night Live explained this was in part to make sure the audience was on board with the joke – if it was not a fair hit, the joke would bomb. Another consistency among all of the satirists was their view of power as an unchanging target. Peter Sagal from NPR's Wait, Wait… Don't Tell Me! made the analogy of the jester speaking truth to the King, no matter who that King is.The book concludes with the judgment that liberals might trend towards satire as a profession, but the temperament of satire mandates that the comedic foils are evenly distributed and aimed uniquely at people in power. In the end, there is an inherent entertainment bias that outweighs any political agenda on the part of the comedians, because in order to be successful (and make money) a humorist must appeal to a significantly large audience. Yet as they try to appeal to their audience, the satirist points out the political wrongs and hypocrisies that constitute the American political system.Another possible reason for the dearth of conservative satirists is explored in Chapter 5 in an examination of satire as an art form. Most of the satirists distinguished being funny with being right, and all emphasized the overwhelming funniness imperative in their work. Funny is crucial; being right is less important. There is a term within political humor called 'clapture' which is when an audience claps because they agree with a humorist, instead of laughing because the audience thinks something is funny, and it is to be avoided at all costs. Lewis Black said that if a comic wants to prove a point over entertaining, they should 'go on the lecture circuit' instead. This was a consistent theme among my interview subjects who argued that the entertainment function of their jobs was more important than any political point-making. Additionally, several writers for satire shows said that although they do not try t

Acknowledgments
Prologue
Who Brings the Funny?
Data, Experiments, and Proof
Mirroring the Political Climate: Satire in History
Art and Profession
Being Funny and Being Right, Being Left and Being Right
Conclusions
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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