By Ida Kao.
The rise of Trump has meant the rise of news– fake or not. From intentionally false leaks from the White House to mixed messages sent by staff, it seems that mainstream journalism is taking a hit.
That’s not to say the administration has benefited The New York Times or The Washington Post— the former took out television ads during the Oscars and the Superbowl, while the latter has reported a drastic increase in subscriptions and is expanding its team of journalists. But among the proclamations of a ‘mainstream media narrative’ and attempts to divert attention away from the chaos of an imploding administration– rife with internal conflict (often fueled by the President himself), sorely understaffed, and horrendously mismanaged, an unexpected winner has emerged.
Late night shows aren’t always political. The two Jimmy’s, Jimmy Fallon of The Tonight Show and Jimmy Kimmel of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, have done well despite pushing partisanship aside for celebrity gossip. Undoubtedly, it will crop up, as Kimmel’s This Week in Unnecessary Censorship features plenty of political figures and news shows, and than, there’s the debacle over Fallon ruffling the hair of then-candidate Trump last year. However, these by themselves offer no clear liberal or conservative slant.
Disbelievers of their nonpartisanship are quick to point out Kimmel’s discussion of his sons’ heart problems early this month. Trying not to tear up, he explains how his son was quickly diagnosed with heart murmur just a few hours after his birth. This eventually led into political territory, as he commended Congress for increasing funds by $2 billion despite President Donald Trump’s proposition of $6 billion worth of cuts for the National Institutes of Health, some of which “would have adversely affected children.”
Kimmel also noted that prior to Obamacare, those born with heart conditions, like his son, could be deemed as having a pre-existing condition and denied health insurance.
He was quick to point out that healthcare shouldn’t be a partisanship issue, saying “If your baby is going to die and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make. I think that’s something that whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or something else, we all agree on that, right?”
In his effort to prevent bias, Kimmel has, intentionally or not, painted himself as someone unwilling to step outside his role as a late-night talk show host, a stark contrast to some of his other fellow hosts.
Probably the most notable example of late night political satire is Stephen Colbert of The Late Show. Quickly overtaking Fallon, in terms of viewership, soon after the inauguration of Trump in late January and steadily widening the gap, Colbert was, in an ironic twist, also boosted by the #FireColbert controversy after he called Trump “Vladimir Putin’s c*ck holster.” A reunion, with his Daily Show colleagues, the same day Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, only to fan the flames further as it drew in viewers of Jon Stewart, Samantha Bee, Ed Helms, John Oliver, and Rob Corddry.
The attention on this coalition of politically focused comedians illustrates a trend– politics as a part of mass culture. Now, it’s not just a topic that comes up every 4 years. It’s not the recent trend of women wearing ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun-damental Rights’ shirts or sipping from drink cups emblazoned with ‘Riots not Diets’. It’s at the center stage. Everyone was watching the ‘meme election’ as the right went toe to toe with the left. This included the face of Pepe the Frog alongside Trump, Pence, Bannon, and others on a poster for The Deplorables (imitating a poster for The Expendables), a character proffered from the dark depths of 4chan. It’s the rival factions of r/SandersforPresident and r/The_Donald on Reddit. Celebrity endorsements of politicians (look at Caitlyn Jenner and Katy Perry) have influenced politics, have melded with internet culture, have come together with television shows, and have also influenced companies from 84 Lumber to Amazon.com. And soon, that abomination of a run on sentence may elongate further to include other aspects of American culture.
As a product of reality television shows, the President is just as much the result of this crossover. Seemingly convinced that he can lie (he and his associates have said that he “can’t be sued”) or at the very least lawyer his way out of numerous lawsuits (check out his involvement in a whopping 4,000+ lawsuits), his attempts at destroying the credibility of the media works to convince his loyal supporters, making whoever is behind the leaks (presumably his staff) appear more threatening than the content of the leaks themselves, instead of the possibility that Michael Flynn was susceptible to Russian influence. Lashing out at perceived slights by the press, while not unprecedented (the term muckraker was coined by the 26th President Theodore Roosevelt to disparage journalists), it has never reached up to the levels seen in the past few months.
And that is the strength of satire. Since the purpose of satire is to use the absurdity of a subject against itself, attempts at attacking a caricature of itself comes off as absurd. Trying to attack anything– an institution, an article, a painting, or even some of the most respected newspapers in the country– that maintains credibility by claiming sophistication (or anything that can be considered ‘serious’) can be torn down in a way that satire is invulnerable. Not to mention, that the appeal is radically different– humor is a much more palatable medium than sobering headlines. Satire is meant to be preached at the choir. A segment featuring cartoon Vladimir Putin hypnotizing Donald Trump by jiggling his pectoral muscles is not likely to win over many conservatives. It will attract newcomers to the political scene who are interested in keeping up with the news, but not willing to invest $35 a month for a subscription to The New York Times. They can instead get more for their money by watching television or hopping onto YouTube the morning after a segment airs. And this is shown by the explosive growth of their fanbase, which makes the expansion of newspapers after years of falling revenue seem paltry.
As Mr. Colbert put it in a segment on a ‘Twitter Intervention’ by White House staff, his “tweeting has affected me in the following ways: My ratings are up.”
Featured image: This image was originally posted to Flickr by Gage Skidmore. The image has been licensed for fair use by the creator under the Creative Commons license – Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0). No changes were made.