Sober Second Thoughts – The Value of Political Satire

I write this evening from the place where I assume most literary masterpieces are penned – hunkered down in bed. The scene in my room this evening is a familiar one – pyjama-clad, under the blankets, laptop propped up on my knees, decompressing after a long day. An important dimension of my evening ritual is a visit from two of my favourite gentlemen – Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Despite being an overworked university student, I try to make a point of watching these two programs nightly. Political aficionados might scoff at the argument that these shows offer a legitimate source of news but I beg to differ. Instead, I find that these programs are invaluable for offering a sobering reality check to the eccentricies (if not downright ridiculousness) that often characterize the modern political climate. This sensationalizing of contemporary politics is in many ways only exacerbated by the mainstream news media, especially in the United States.

In watching coverage of events as they unfold on CNN, I find myself getting caught up and worked up in the messages – a reaction for which I’m sure stories were carefully crafted and no doubt intended by the creators of the news. It is here that that I see the value of political satirists; as the voices of reason that cause us to take a step back and actually process and critique the material that we are being presented.

In the case of Canada, we have our own homegrown political satirist to be proud of. The Rick Mercer Report is a staple in the television habits of many Canadians on Tuesday evenings. Mercer has built a reputation for himself based largely on this idea of taking a step back and evaluating issues logically.

In November of last year, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives in the Senate defeated Bill C-311, a bill which had been passed in the House of Commons – ie the body of elected officials. Cutting through the rhetoric, Mercer delivered an impassioned rant that made its way around the internet, gaining quite a bit of notoriety. I would argue that this was a very powerful sober second thought which helped put into context the magnitude of the precedent set by this particular decision by the government.

To put things bluntly, political satirists serve an important function – they help to cut through the crap and really get to the core of certain issues. I might even suggest that they serve more of a public service function than many mainstream news programs. Nevertheless political satire is an important and perhaps under appreciated facet of the democracy we hold dear.

Thanks for reading!