Thomas Nast and John Oliver: Power in the Past & Present (and Future)

Thomas Nast was the most influential artist of the 19th century. Many of his drawings exposed corruption within systems like law enforcement and the government, and even expressed his opposition of certain presidential policies. He had the ability to sway an audience with his brilliance and artistic depictions of his personal standing on political and societal issues in the form of caricature. Nast was a man of privilege who had success and access, but spoke for the people.In the current century and for similar purposes, John Oliver does the same with verbal satire on his show Last Week Tonight.

In the video, John Oliver calls out government sponsored lotteries for false advertising, in which their motives are portrayed to be for the greater good, but what they are really doing is exploiting low income earning citizens and encouraging them to gamble – which equals billions of dollars for them. The lotteries create ads that send false messages about where the player’s money goes and what it’s used for, like funding education. But this is hardly true. The ads also try to give the people a false sense of hope that winning mega millions is possible for them, which is very unlikely to happen. This, in a way, also enables people struggling with gambling addiction.

“Most satirists enhance those feelings [of protest] by careful choice of language. They employ not only accurate descriptive words, but also words which are apt to startle and dismay the average reader. Brutally direct phrases, taboo expressions, nauseating imagery, callous and crude slang – these are the part of the vocabulary of every satirist.” (Dunphy, pg. 17)

Both Nast and Oliver act as satirists, speaking for the people by using their own specific crafts, and in doing so, they establish trust with their audience. I think not only do they attempt to condemn people in powerful positions, challenge their thought process, actions, and right their wrongs, comedians like Thomas Nast and John Oliver also serve to inform us so that we are aware of what goes on within the systems and how it affects us.

“Effective satire elevates the discourse and brings those in power down to the commoners and allows us to laugh at them,” (Dunphy, pg. 50). Another reason I believe the use of satire is powerful is because satirists say what many people already think but don’t have the clout, access, or even the capability to articulate and voice their thoughts publicly.

It is interesting, the amount of power the media has. On the one hand, the lottery ads are powerful because it not only does it persuade people to gamble (regular lotto players in particular), but it even justifies why they should spend their money on tickets with claims that the money spent is beneficial to others. On the other side of power in media, there is John Oliver who has a very respectable following because he knows how to bring the truth forth. His “reports” aren’t merely for laughs (well some of them are), but they are thought provoking.


Week 3

As always, I enjoy Jon Stewart lighting a flame under Fox News’s rear – metaphorically speaking, of course, but the burn is still there nonetheless – and I absolutely agree with The Daily Show’s position on poverty and how Stewart calls out Fox News’s antagonism toward the impoverished. Fox’s blatant contempt for the poor is really unsettling, to say the least, and their glaring contradictions regarding their very own callous statements is beyond perplexing.

“Lazy”, “sponges”, and “leeches” are a few of the many labels Fox journalists and reporters stamp on the poverty-stricken. One reporter even claims that “Poverty is not a function of economic condition, but of character.” Classism is certainly alive and well. Fox propagates stereotypes about the poor by depicting them as government “moochers”, whereas The Daily Show opposes that argument by presenting facts which show how poverty is widely an economical issue, and for many it is also the byproduct of systemic racism.

Which brings us to the topic of Mike Brown and the Ferguson protests where Fox News’s “report” on the situation was a plain dismissal of the police brutality, which has been an endemic in the Black American community, and this country’s prevalent issue with racism.

The Daily Show exposes the paradox that is Fox News and their disclosing of half-truths. For example when police officer Darren Wilson was absolved in the death of Michael Brown due to the U.S. Justice Department’s lack of evidence, the U.S. Department of Justice still reported that the Ferguson Police Department showed “a pattern of Civil Rights violations”. Fox News only reported the former in an attempt to debunk the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” protesting. The twist of irony comes when Fox blasts the Obama administration and members of congress for misleading the country, and shoving “incendiary rhetoric” down our throats. Fox even demanded an apology, yet “incendiary rhetoric” and divisive commentary is Fox’s forte. For a network that tends to perpetuate racial conflict (among other issues regarding marginalized groups) and report misinformation, this almost hilarious.

But of course, certain networks appeal to certain demographics and accommodate them, therefore biased reporting is bound to happen. It serves to fuel the target audience’s presuppositions and reinforce their views.

I am a firm believer that media alone does not influence the grand majority, but when fused with various aspects of life, it can shape the perceptions of an individual or a collective group. It has divided opinions within our nation almost in two, with hardly any middle ground. The power of media proves correct in the Satire’s Brew lecture. “Cable’s gerrymandering within certain media networks led to problems we encounter in society today.”

Even though the issues are serious and should be brought to everyone’s awareness, Jon Stewart uses satirical commentary to get his, and the people he represents, point across. Satire’s Brew gives us the parallels between jesters from centuries ago ant the “jesters” of today:

“The jester’s court was the monarch’s palace. Stewart and Colbert’s court is cable TV and the Internet. Openly mocking but always in ‘jest,’ the jester worked for the monarchy but the subtext of what he was saying was for the people, the commoners or the third estate. Stewart and Colbert both work for Viacom, part of a huge conglomerate but still mock the institutions that supply the stage.”

The jester’s targets were authoritative figures, people in power, and at that time it was the clergy and nobility. Jon Stewart is indeed a comedian – a modern day jester – who also targets highly influential people and their handling of the nations issues. In Satire’s Brew, it is said that “…the best satire comes from frustration with society, politics, people, life…” Stewart calls out injustice, questions them, and challenges them. He stands as a surrogate for the “common folk” regardless of his own celebrity and affluence, and his frustration is clearly evident even when conveyed in a jokingly fashion.

I have learned that the medias purpose is to challenge those in the seat of power and represent the people by voicing their needs. It should act as a vessel. Media is also meant to be a form of surveillance or a window into our governments, but unfortunately that has not been the case for quite some time. I have also learned that there is a clever way to craft criticism – like an art form – which we witness from Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and other satirists. Jesters have been around for centuries, possibly millennia, and they will always be around to criticize and challenge those with the upper hand on today’s society.

The Atlantic Articles

Trigger warnings ant the like are a very familiar thing for me only because they are profusely used on my favorite social media hub. Perhaps I haven’t been observant enough, but I’ve yet to experience or witness such extreme cases the articles depict anywhere offline, including college campuses.

I’ve always considered myself on the cusp of generations (Generation X and Millennials), teetering between beliefs, ideas, and even understanding where each, or all sides are coming from with their viewpoints. I admire the Millennials noble push for equality and their sensitivity to the social issues that continue to plague our country and have contradicted our Constitution for centuries, but it’s true that once graduated, students won’t find such coddling of their feelings beyond the borders of their family and closest friends – even they won’t consistently pander to our feelings.

But this also begs the question: Is Freedom of Speech a pass to being offensive? It’s a shame that when the phrases “freedom of speech” and “it’s a free country” boldly project from our tongues, it’s usually because we have said something, or want to say something that we know will offend, so we use the aforementioned concepts as an excuse to do so. Is it fair that intentional social offenders have free reign and the offended to keep mum and deal? I’ve also observed that when an offensive remark or “joke” is made about social issues, it tends to come from the mouth of someone whose racial, religious, gender group, or sexual orientation isn’t affected by oppressive social constructs. Truth is that some social offenders are indeed contemptible.

On one hand, I agree with our Social Justice Warriors that we should be more mindful when we speak to, or about marginalized groups. Most are still fighting for basic human rights and to simply be regarded as human. On the other hand, there is and will always be something that will hurt out feelings or worse, but instead of building a fortress of rules, we should search for smart, healthy, and effective ways to respond, which may vary between individuals and even groups.

In response to massmediabrew