Friday, May 15, 2009

Another Update

Life often gets in the way of my plans. This has been very true recently. However, I still intend to wrap up my thoughts on The Daily Show. I've had a lot of time to think on that one, and after I return from some travel (into an internet dead-zone, I'm afraid) I will pick this up again.

My second update is this: I don't know what I'm going to tackle next. If there are any subjects, ideas, events, etc. you'd like to direct my attention to, please comment. I love input.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Daily Show: Update

Hey there folks.

So, I'm up to my eyeballs over here thanks to finals ('tis the season; everyone I know is trying hard not to freak out). So, the blog posts may be sparse (read: nonexistent) over the next week or so. Hopefully, though, I'll be picking things back up again after that.

In the meantime, I'd like to direct your attention to this:

It was passed on to me, and I thought it particularly relevant to some of the issues that have come up so far on this blog, just in looking at The Daily Show. If the state of news is declining, how to we take that into account when looking at The Daily Show? I think that the relationship between The Daily Show and the "real" news is something I need to explore some more. So, look for that at some point in the future.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Daily Show Part 3: Context, Context, Context

As I've been watching The Daily Show lately, I've become more convinced of something that I hinted at in my last post. That is, the show isn't about humor for humor's sake. The Daily Show purposefully engages some of our biggest and most problematic power struggles.

Think about the clips I've shown so far. Capitalism, racism, and political double-talk have all been covered. Not that these subjects aren't tackled in other arenas; they are. But The Daily Show makes very bold criticisms that would be difficult to make elsewhere, in different contexts. The Daily Show pokes at some of our most deeply rooted inequalities here in America. I think that the audience would be deeply uncomfortable if commentary of the show was not packaged in outrageous, overblown humor.

The Daily Show is a valuable part of our public discourse for just that reason. On the other hand, nothing should be taken without a gain of salt. I love The Daily Show but that doesn't mean that the show is unproblematic. Something jumped out at me when I was watching this episode from last week:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Faith the Nation
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

First thing, yes, lots more hot-button issues are brought up in this clip. The media obsession with President Obama's religion, for one. Religious intolerance, for another. The question of religious freedom in America. To top it all, even American relations with Saudi Arabia is pulled in. What caught my ear was Stewart's statement "Yes! Those statements, strung together, and taken out of context, can create the impression amongst those who would be predisposed to believe it that the President of the United States has repudiated Christianity and embraced Islam."

The comment is very true. How often has The Daily Show done just that? The show regularly slices up, strings together, and re-contextualizes clips from the news to serve its own purpose. If you watched the show during the Bush presidency, you saw this happen on a regular basis. But we don't have to look back that far to see it happening. The episode I used in my first post was a pretty blatant example. Is this a problem? Yes and no.

It's true that the news media has to select what to put into their stories. Why shouldn't The Daily Show do the same thing? The problem is that The Daily Show is not doing the same thing. It is widely understood that journalism has obligations to present accurate information, along with helpful and balanced context. These values and ethics are outlined on the Poynter Institute website and the Society of Professional Journalists website. While those standards are not always met, there press self-regulates in many ways.

The Daily Show is held to no such standard. What rules does it play by? Are there any? The Daily Show comments on serious stuff. While I do believe that is valuable, I also think it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Or two. Stewart and the writers of the show often weasel their way out of accusations by pointing out that they have created a "fake news" program. That is absolutely true. But the audience has to be careful to remember that as well. There is no guarantee that an accurate picture is being painted. The Daily Show (like everything else) has its own intense and deeply rooted biases. The Daily Show is also especially free to indulge them.

Have you seen clips on the show that made you wonder about the wider context? Has that ever made you uncomfortable, or do you think it's okay as long as the Daily Show doesn't pretend to be "real news"? Are there other problems with the show that you see?

P.S. A lot of you comment using the "anonymous" option. That's totally cool because I want people to be comfortable and able to respond on this blog (seriously, I love comments). But I'd really appreciate it (if it's not a problem) if readers would sign with a name, or even a pseudonym. I feel a little weird not having a name to address if I want to comment back. Thanks!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Daily Show Part 2: Fake News or Not?

The relationship between news and satire is a long one. Like all other media, The Daily Show doesn't operate in a vacuum. It draws on a long history of political satire, from the likes of Mark Twain, and editorial cartoons, to SNL's "Weekend Update," and The Onion.

The Daily Show also makes its own innovations. While it draws on the format of the late-night talk show, The Daily Show goes a step further and does something unique. It blends the entertainment genre of the late-night talk show with its own appropriations of journalistic forms. I was thinking about how The Daily Show has "news analysts," "investigative reporters," and even "foreign correspondents." I looked back through some Daily Show clips to find some examples, and this one jumped out at me (once again, the financial crisis becomes a theme):

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
The Money Honey Bee
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

Samantha Bee uses a format we recognize. She plays at being a reporter: conducting interviews, reporting back, summarizing the issue at hand. The head shots and the voice over also meant to make us think "news." But the entire story is undercut by ironic twists. Think of the bee costume, and the awkward, blatantly biased questions, the ironic commentary. It's not really news, is it? I mean, Samantha Bee mocks one of her interviewees outright. I wouldn't count on that segment as my sole source of information on short selling. If I already know a little bit about the financial crisis, and a little bit about short selling... well, then it takes on a very different function.

The Daily Show isn't obligated to be fair and balanced, which means that the writers and comedians can highlight things journalists can't. The Daily Show is free to make it's own commentary on current events. A pattern I'm starting to see is that The Daily Show taps into the power relations and the popular neuroses of America. This clip with Larry Wilmore is a good example. As with most good comedy, you sit there and laugh because the joke is uncomfortably true.

Ultimately, I really don't think The Daily Show is some alternative form of journalism. It doesn't pretend to be news, and it doesn't meet the standards the journalism is subject to (e.g. fair, balanced, informative coverage). What I do think is that The Daily Show offers up some pretty significant social and political commentary. Commentary which is informative in its own way.

Do you find instances of social and political commentary in The Daily Show? Do you think that The Daily Show is a kind of journalism in its own right? Or do you think that the show nothing more than just people poking fun at politics because they can?

How The Daily Show relates to the current state of our news media seems to be a big deal. I'm still mulling that one over, but look for another post along those lines sometime soon.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Daily Show: More Than Just Entertainment?

The other night, I was catching up on recent Daily Show episodes online (I am forced to do this because for reasons unknown to me my television doesn’t seem to pick up many channels outside of the Food Network). At any rate, The Daily Show has been a comedy staple of mine since high school. I've always happy to engage in a little humor at the expense of our political system.

On the other hand, I can’t say that I ever viewed The Daily Show as much more than just entertainment. I’d heard enough of the worried, condescending reports that young people (aka me) were using The Daily Show as a primary source of news. (Oh my!) I liked to think that was discerning enough to know the difference between legitimate news sources and a comedy show. But... something made me pause when I was watching the other night . I was watching the episode from the 19th. This clip in particular caught my eye:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
The Notorious AIG - Scorn in the USA
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

The AIG bailout is heavy stuff; in many ways it represents the deep sense of public frustration over the state of the economy. What really caught my attention, though, was that way The Daily Show treated the bailout was indeed a kind of coverage. It was funny, of course. I laughed out loud at the angry mob running across the screen (freedom!). But I was fascinated by how the big players in the story were represented: the House Financial Services Committee, Edward Liddy, Chris Dodd. They all appeared to be engaged in the dance of wishing to cast blame and avoid responsibility at the same time. I was struck at how the show also invoked the sense of public rage over the bonuses (think back to the angry mob).

It occurred to me that the writers of The Daily Show, along with Jon Stewart, were using humor to frame these events in a new way, one that highlights aspects of the story that traditional news can’t (at least, certainly not in that fashion). Take, for example, this New York Times story on the same topic. The story reports "the facts," and strives for balanced, informative writing. No less than one would expect from our "newspaper of record." The story covers the same information, yet we get a very different picture.

Obviously, The Times as an official news source is obligated to meet certain standards that The Daily Show is not. The Times is also out to serve a very different purpose than that of The Daily Show. However, I still can't help but think that the writers of The Daily Show are making a point about the financial crisis that goes beyond mere entertainment. I'm not sure that I would go so far as to call The Daily Show another form of journalism, but something is up here and I want to give it a closer look.

Thoughts anyone? If you watch the show, are there any segments that have made you think that The Daily Show was crossing the line from entertainment over into another realm? Or do you think I'm taking this too far?

More to come. Stay tuned.