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berkeleynewscomedy Donating Member (17 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Mar-08-08 04:19 PM
Original message
Berkeley Study on Daily Show, Colbert, Olbermann - Participate!
Dear Democratic Underground,

UC Berkeley is conducting a study about how news-comedies are acting as a counter-control to propagandism in the mainstream news media. The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Countdown with Keith Olbermann are, we think, central to this new humorous approach to news. But, we want to hear what you have to say. Whats happening in the world of news as comedy, comedy as news? We invite anyone interested to send an email to for an interview by email or phone. Thanks so much.

Berkeley News-Comedy Study
Department of Anthropology
University of California, Berkeley

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Patsy Stone Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Mar-08-08 04:35 PM
Response to Original message
1. I was just coming to post this here.
Damn, you're good. :)
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berkeleynewscomedy Donating Member (17 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-10-08 01:03 AM
Response to Original message
2. More
Hey there, thanks for the letter.

I think what we may do is ask a few folks to do detailed interviews on the phone (sometime in the next week) and then otherwise post short sets of questions to the forum and have threads of answers to each. That's easier and will get more peoples' opinions in.
Your insights are really helpful. On the "effectiveness" or impact of DS/CR, the fact that they are 'preaching to the choir' may prove useful as an indicator. There are historical cases where critical humor cultures grow preceding a major change in what they are attacking, and that raises the question of if these shows' popularity reflects one of those trajectories.
Part of the story here, too, is that because these shows are so often in conversation with "News" propaganda, they certainly reflect a state of control in the mainstream media. But even more interestingly, criticism apparently can only come through the controlled system via humor. And, not uninterestingly, most animated-comedies and comedies on TV tend to be "liberal," imaginative and playful. Whereas on the other side you see very little effective 'conservative' comedy (maybe because of, as Colbert said in an interview, "comedy is all about change, and the conservative by definition doesn't want change." The Half Hour News Hour by Fox News is a case in point. Humor theorists have done wonderful things lately with cognitive science and linguistics to uncover the "frame-shifting" power of humor (a unique power in force, actually) and that makes us wonder also if news-comedies might be especially well suited to deprogram, shift-frames, and play with imaginative alternatives to the status quo. But then again, there is always the looming question of what the shows really do! They are owned by corporations and parody corporations--the whole experiences is mediated and not face-to-face--and one wonders how you can really compare 'organic' humor growths to profitable product-humor in a consumer society.
We have lately come to think maybe they are indicators of a suppressed sentiment, but in the moment a functional part of a system which uses them as a benign rebel-oriented commodity.
We are trying to get a bearing on the significance of these shows, of what they tell us about where we are as a country, and commentary like you wrote below is invaluable. Let me know if we can interview you by phone, or if you wouldn't mind being pestered with some email questions over the next few weeks.
Your insights into more face-to-face comedy, the industry of comedy, as especially as a Cal grad would be really really helpful. I emailed the San Francisco Comedy College recently to ask for interviews with some of their teaching staff-useful maybe? What do you think?
We are also considering asking to interview Stewart and Colbert and Olbermann--though the Comedy Central headquarters aren't the friendliest about letting in muckrakers. If we did, one question I couldn't help but asking is "do you ever feel pressures to censor yourself, how, when? Who pays the writers? etc., But it maybe you can comment on this stuff yourself. If comedy works for the corporati, then this story might be less about counterhegemony as about hegemonic counterhegemony!

Some questions:

1. Would Olbermann have a show like today if The Daily Show hadn't successfully voiced critique earlier?
2. Is Olbermann funny?
3. Is television comedy predominantly liberal?
4. What about animated-comedies?


Berkeley News Comedy Study
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Berry Cool Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-10-08 06:42 AM
Response to Reply #2
3. Hi Chris,
I'll be happy to answer more extensive questions as well, and will give you an email for me.

In the meantime, I don't mean to throw water on you here, but it might be helpful if you can try to share your observations with the group using phrasing that's a little less academically oriented. References to "humor cultures," "the controlled system," "frame-shifting," "playing with imaginative alternatives," "mediated experiences," "product-humor," "benign rebel-oriented commodities," "counterhegemony" and "hegemonic counterhegemony" are the language in which academics speak to other academics, and it will probably be more helpful if you can deconstruct it a bit for us and talk about what it means.

As for your first basic questions, here's how I'd answer them:

1. Would Olbermann have a show like he does today if The Daily Show hadn't successfully voiced critique earlier? Yes, I think so. In many ways, Olbermann and his irreverent attitude toward sports news (and that of his co-anchor Dan Patrick), as expressed on ESPN's SportsCenter, paved the way for programs like The Daily Show to poke fun at news. And, of course, news programs have been parodied for years before TDS ever did it. What makes Olbermann's show radically different from TDS and previous pure "takeoffs on the news" like "That Was the Week that Was" or "Laugh-In Looks at the News" or "Weekend Update" on Saturday Night Live or "Not Necessarily the News" or that Canadian show "This Hour Has 22 Minutes" is that Olbermann was the first to dare to infuse "serious" and even cynical humor (instead of a light "joke" or "pun" between stories, or one based on a light "day-brightener" story) throughout a news program that was always intended to deliver SERIOUS news on a SERIOUS news network.

2. Is Olbermann funny? Obviously, we his fans find him so.

3. Is television comedy predominantly liberal? Yes, I believe so, for the reasons you outlined: Comedy is naturally the province of the irreverent. It shakes up the status quo and turns it on its head. It's not afraid of change. It dares us to see things differently and find the humor in even the serious. It empowers the weak and disarms the strong, and it delights in skewering hypocrisy. Conservatism, being all about reverence, maintaining the status quo and keeping things the way they are, is naturally disadvantaged when it attempts comedy. Usually, the best it can do is to ridicule that with which conservatives disagree (liberalism) by lampooning it in the extreme, and it often does a bad job of that by exaggerating liberal viewpoints to absurd, unrealistic extremes. The best liberal-critique comedy seeks out the hypocrisy that can sometimes be found in so-called liberalism (such as political correctness exercised to the point where it stifles free speech). But it isn't always conservatives who do the best job of creating this comedy. Their humor tends to just come out sounding bullying and cruel: the powerful making fun of the powerless. Liberals are usually better at picking out the hypocrisies of their fellow liberals and mocking them than conservatives are.

4. What about animated-comedies? Well, I think I can sum it up in that quote from The Family Guy: "Hey, Lois, look! The two symbols of the Republican Party! An elephant and a fat white guy who's afraid of change!" Animated comedy is naturally irreverent as well, because (I believe) most people who choose cartoons, comics, animation, etc., as their medium for comedy do so because they want the easy freedom of turning the visual status quo on its head that the medium naturally lends itself to. Anything can happen in a cartoon. It's a medium designed for liberal comedy because, if you're a conservative, why do you really need cartoons and visual exaggerations to make your point? You're basically about the status quo. There's little you have to say that needs cartoonish exaggeration to say it.
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SharonRB Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-10-08 01:02 PM
Response to Reply #3
5. As usual, Berry, you say it all so well
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SharonRB Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-10-08 01:01 PM
Response to Original message
4. I'd be happy to answer some questions, Chris
I'm sure you'd find a willing bunch of people in this particular group here on DemocraticUnderground as well as in other places on the site. You might want to stay away from General Discussion - Primaries for now, though. A few reads of some nasty threads about Olbermann over the last few days will quickly tell you why.

I can PM you my e-mail address if you want it.
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