The Progress of Political Thought Influenced by… Satire?

Analyzing the texts of Rand and Kemmis gave perspective on what constitutes American civic republican and classic liberal political thought. But, how did this political thought come about? How is it able to define our modern perspective of democracy today? Of course, there are many reasons why political thought emerges throughout history, but what mechanisms allow such thought to be progressed? Before our contemporary idea of civic republicanism, civic republican political thought emerged from Machiavelli’s ideas about civic virtù, which he defines as the “ideal citizenship which requires people to put their country first” or “acting to promote the common good” (Civic Republicanism, Honohan). During the Age of Enlightenment, (which many may know was an important period during English history for political change) ideas that characterize modern democratic thought not only emerged, but began to grow in response to England’s corrupt, monarchical government. It was also during this time that satire was a mechanism influencing political thought.

After reading many satirical works during the time of the Age of Enlightenment, it is evident that many of the satirists wrote very politically, which sometimes led them to portray classic liberal and civic republican ideals in their writing. For example, Jonathan Swift represented his political ideals in Gulliver’s Travels. In portraying his political opinions of England’s government corruption, he progresses Machiavelli’s concept of civic virtù, and he begins to supportively represent characteristics of what is now modern civic republicanism. Satire was the mechanism used to urge and promote a more politically democratic thought, which eventually led to the characteristics of future modern, American political thought and democracy.

Because satire was a mechanism leading to the progression of political thought during the eighteenth century in England, I began to wonder if, perhaps, satirical works of today also have the same affect in influencing public opinion and the progress of political thought. I guess another question would be what defines a political satire today. It is obvious that television in general plays an important role in the influencing the daily decisions of many individuals during this time. What I constitute as a political satire of this time, and even go as far as saying influences the political thought and opinions of its viewers, is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Jon Stewart is not just a comedian, but he is a political satirist. Of course, I would assume that many of the show’s viewers watch the show mainly for entertainment purposes; however, the opinions and mockery given by Jon Stewart are not only entertaining, but also insightful in producing public opinion on the current state of American government decision-making and of the political world in general. Unfortunately, Youtube did not have a good selection of clips from the show, but, if accessible, here is a good clip from Hulu that I found from a recent episode of the show.

This Hulu clip from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is called “Superbad,” which focuses on Congress’s decisions in dealing with the budget deficit. Stewart ridicules Congress for their inefficiency and incompetence in dealing with this issue. Although Jon Stewart’s mockery is comedic, I would say that he, in the process of entertaining, does manage to influence some of his viewers to develop a political opinion on the issue. Would Jon Stewart’s influence ultimately lead people to change their votes and their association with political parties? Could this possibly lead to a change in political thought if people see an inefficient democratic government? It could even be argued that Jon Stewart’s comedic representations and opinions of the American government are wrong and do not aid in promoting political, democratic change. Here is a clip in which an individual questions if The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is actually good for democracy.

Do you believe shows such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart are good for democracy? Do you believe that political satires of today in the media have a role in influencing political thought, and even perhaps influence in changing perspectives of American democracy?

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