Our View: O'Reilly, Stewart, and SNl ...

Thursday , October 11, 2012 - 10:28 AM

Editorial Board

Last weekend, commentator Bill O’Reilly and comedian/commentator Jon Stewart engaged in a debate that was advertised as a “Rumble.” Despite having to pay for it, the online event was so popular that the servers broke from overuse. It was arguably “conservative cool” versus “liberal cool,” and the exchanges were peppered with facts and wit.

On Monday morning, most political observers were talking about Saturday Night Live’s riff on last week’s presidential debate. Commentators from left-leaning cable news network MSNBC were lampooned for their despair over President Barack Obama’s debate performance, widely regarded as poor. The riff on excitable MSNBC commentator, Chris Matthews, was a hilarious, on-target spoof on Matthews’ real manic on-air despair-ridden tirade after the debate.

The bipartisan comedy and satire that hits politics and the tomfoolery of our pols has been around for a long time. However, with the advent of widespread high-speed Internet, these riffs have a far greater impact than in the past. What Bill Maher says on HBO is no longer exclusive for HBO. It can be accessed via sites such as RealClearPolitics.com. The same goes for The Daily Show or Colbert. Viewers don’t have to stay up past midnight.

Perhaps the genesis of this cultural impact on politics hit its stride four years ago with Tina Fey and her on-target spoofs of then-Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. As mentioned, political satire is old hat, but Fey’s impersonations — thanks to the Internet and aggregate websites — were seen far more online than on Saturday Night Live. NBC, no fool when it comes to seeking ratings, has put Saturday Night Live on Thursday nights this election season. The comedy show specializes, of course, on the presidential election.

The serious impact of the rise of cultural commentary and spoofs is that it cements an interpretation of the candidate within wide spreads of viewers’ minds. Palin is an idiot, for example; President Obama is comically disengaged; Mitt Romney is a plutocrat; Vice President Joe Biden is a gaffe-ridden pol. However, behind the satire lurks some truths. These spoofs are not media creations. They are exaggerated reactions to how candidates, and media celebrities, behave in the public eye.

In other words, media humor is both entertaining and fair game in today’s world. The onus is on those being spoofed to avoid ridiculous behavior.

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