[STAFF EDITORIAL] Laugh, yes. But look for truth, too.


Noa Ní Aoláin Gross

The Vice Presidential debate Oct. 7 addressed complicated issues: health care, racial injustice, economic security, gender equality, Roe v. Wade, and more. But all most people remember is the fly that landed on Mike Pence’s head.

Who hasn’t seen a meme of Mike Pence or a Trumpkin? Who doesn’t love Maya Rudolph’s portrayals of Kamala Harris on Saturday Night Live or seen the Mr. Rogers illustrations of Biden?
Closely tied to understanding politics, political satire has been around as long as politics have existed. While humor can be used to provide insight, to critique a politician’s actions, or to question a political system, its intent must be to provoke a more meaningful understanding of politics.
With near unlimited access to satire in the form of memes and other informal political commentary on social media, for better or for worse, many users’ feeds are inundated with these messages.
Satire has historically been used to use irony and hyperbole to critique systems and leaders.
There are many forms of satire that do this but a common form mimics other political views but takes an extreme stance and describes the view in detail until readers see the ridiculousness in the argument being critiqued. One of the most famous pieces of political satire in American history is Join or Die, a political cartoon of a snake cut into pieces with each piece labeled as one American colony. The piece is communicating the importance of colonial unity by saying that if the colonies are not united there will be dire consequences. Good pieces of satire will open readers’ eyes to a new perspective and make them think more critically about candidates, political arguments, and especially their own political beliefs.
Today political satire is everywhere. It is in art, memes, skits, late night talk shows, and every other form imaginable. While there is an abundance of satire pieces that force reflection and contemplation, much of the comedy is more surface level.
Rather than critiquing a politician or political view, it is just for momentary entertainment as one scrolls through social media. There is nothing inherently wrong with surface level comedy but it is important to remember that this comedy can be harmful. In some cases this type of comedy can draw focus away from a politician’s views and policies.
Politicians should be critiqued for their views, their policies, and their actions, not for a word they mispronounced or a fly that landed on their head. If these comedic moments are the only thing being talked about understanding the impacts of that politician’s actions on real people is not prioritized. This harms any attempts at thoughtful discussion or political discourse. Though surface level humor is funny in the moment, it can have negative effects when it obscures important, pressing messages. On the other hand, satire that provokes contemplation and actively critiques a political view or action can be deeply insightful.
The important part is that as a student body, we take deliberate steps towards more meaningful political conversation. Look for the deeper message, not just the laugh.

This story was originally published in the October 2020 print issue.