From SNL sketches, to The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and John Oliver's Last Week Tonight, comedic and satirical media now have a substantial impact on how Americans receive and digest news and current events. What does this mean for our democracy? On one hand, this development has seemed to galvanize the political engagement of young people—our notoriously politically apathetic demographic. Humor also helps to cut through political hypocrisy, enabling us to effectively identify the dishonesty and incompetence of politicians and other public figures. On the other hand, these approaches to politics might cultivate a reflexive cynicism among those whose primary exposure to the political process shows it to be the exclusive arena of crooks and liars. Comedy can have the side effect of making its subject matter unserious. More importantly, questions arise about what ethical constraints, if any, ought to apply to our country's fake newsmen. Are they only entertainers, or does the trust the public has for them bring with it certain responsibilities? On Monday, Sept. 21st at 4:30, Duke will host Scott Dikkers, the Founding Editor of The Onion, the wildly successful fake news site. His talk is entitled "The Funny Story behind the Funny Stories" and will take place in Page Auditorium. Scott has been thinking deeply and carefully about the way to make people laugh and laugh intelligently. His edited volumes of The Onion, many books and recent podcast bring new light to the inner workings of political satire. Upon the recent retirement of Jon Stewart and with Trump's presidential campaign fueling Onion-esque headlines, it's worth reconsidering the place of humor in our politics.
Michael Hawley is Ph.D. student in Political Science.