“Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night Live!”
This phrase has been said so many times by so many different people. It’s undisputedly a trademarked saying of our culture, and it’s almost instantly recognizable.
“Saturday Night Live is more than a television show. Since its premiere in 1975, it has served as a trendsetter in American humor and had a remarkable effect on American mores, manners, music, politics and even fashion,” said James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales in their book “Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests,” published Oct 6, 2019.
The 45th season of “SNL” is underway and already pumping out great bits of political satire. Of course, “SNL” wasn’t the first to make it political.
Political satire has been around as long as politics, according to a Dec. 21, 2016 article by Deborah Block.
“The comic playwright Aristophanes was ridiculing Athenian leaders more than 2,000 years ago in Greece,” said Deborah Block.
In Aristophanes’ play “The Acharnians,” Lamachus is meant to mimic politicians of the time. This parallels modern satire’s criticisms of political leaders and their policies.
Satire is bipartisan in that both parties enjoy mocking or poking fun at the opposite party’s ideas. Political satire is bipartisan because politics is the same way.
“Politics itself has always been multi-sided,” professor of communications, Matthew Swan said. “There [is] never in any kind of political regime just one train of thought. There has always been some thoughts that have been contrary or some approaches that have been different.”
Swan said he believes one benefit of political satire is it makes politics more appealing to some. This is needed in a country like the U.S. in which news sources are so polarized and families can be split politically.
“I think as a whole, people enjoy seeing clever, well-phrased, or well-thought out satire because it, again, makes a subject that might seem complicated more approachable,” said Swan.
In a country in which free speech is allowed, Swan said political satire is essential because it acts as a forum for the masses to be heard.
“I think it crucial that we have some kind of forum to offer different viewpoints or to, again perhaps to reduce the pretentiousness of a political figure or a political movement,” Swan said.
Political satire has always been used to point out flaws or funny observations. It does more than poke fun however. Satire has a way of revealing to the masses observations they might not have noticed themselves. This is great because it provides not only entertainment, but good information in the form of jokes and observations.
“Good political satire knows how to cut to the chase of what’s behind political actions and political motives.” Andrea Radasanu, associate professor of political theory and director of the honors program said.
Satire by its very nature is still making fun of whatever the topic is. In the case of political satire, it’s making fun of politicians to make a statement or call them out.
“Satire is a kind of chastisement of political figures, either in terms of challenging the motives, or the veracity, or the efficacy of policies and a sort of challenge, just a general challenge to any one of those things,” Radasanu said.
Political satire, although humorous and light hearted on the outside, tackles serious issues and makes them not as aggressive and more appealing. It can “chastise” politicians into making good on their promises as well. As citizens of the U.S. entitled to free speech, it is imperative that we understand this form of expression since it affects the bedrock of our nation.