Is Satire Saving Our Nation?
Mockery and American Politics
Do you watch satire TV? Have you re-posted a hilarious, yet biting graphic on facebook or tweeted round the clock jabs at inane politicians? Does it sometimes seem to you that Jon Stewart is a better journalist than most of CNN, Fox, and MSNBC? And were you a bit disappointed when Stephen Colbert did not actually run for president? If you or someone you know has done any of the above, then you’ll want to read this book. Is Satire Saving Our Nation? surveys the broad landscape of satire today and situates it within our nation’s history.
We are witnessing an unprecedented growth and importance of satire in the public sphere, but is that fact good or bad for the health of our nation? Co-written by a millennial and a scholar, Is Satire Saving Our Nation? shows how satire has become a central part of today’s youth culture and it explains why it might just save our democracy after all.
“Is Satire Saving Our Nation? The authors of this important book make a compelling case. Far from turning politics into a joke, satire demands intellectual engagement, critical imagination, and a community of understanding — the very ingredients necessary for a healthy democracy. With their seemingly paradoxical, but accurate, observation that satirists may be the only ones speaking sanely in our increasingly absurd public sphere, McClennen and Maisel have challenged and enriched our thinking about what constitutes ‘serious’ politics.”
— Stephen Duncombe, New York University, USA, co-founder of the Center for Creative Activism, and Yes Men collaborator
“McClennen and Maisel move us well beyond the assumption that satire is something ‘done’ to us, recognizing instead that satire is a tool through which citizens—professional and amateur provocateurs alike—engage the political world in playful, critical, and positive ways. This most helpful book lets us see that satire is, ultimately, a language through which citizen engagement is being redefined through media activism.”
— Jeffrey P. Jones, Old Dominion University, USA, Director of the George Foster Peabody Awards, and author of Entertaining Politics
“A thrill ride from beginning to end! As incredibly thorough studies of the effects of political satire go, of course. This book is loaded with truthiness and it confirms my long-held suspicion that McClennen and Maisel have been secretly following me around for the past 18 years.”
—J.R. Havlan, Writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (1996-2014) and winner of 8 Emmys
The Generation of ’72
Latin America's Forced Global Citizens
Caught between the well-worn grooves the Boom and the Gen-X have left on the Latin American literary canon, the writing intellectuals that comprise what the Generation of ‘72 have not enjoyed the same editorial acclaim or philological framing as the literary cohorts that bookend them. In sociopolitical terms, they neither fed into the Cold War-inflected literary prizes that sustained the Boom nor the surge in cultural capital in Latin American cities from which the writers associated with the Crack and McOndo have tended to write. This book seeks to approach the Generation of ‘72 from the perspective of cosmopolitanism and global citizenship, a theoretical framework that lends a fresh and critical architecture to the unique experiences and formal responses of a group of intellectuals that wrote alongside globalization’s first wave.
Satire and Democracy
In 2005, comedian Stephen Colbert left the cast of The Daily Show for his own show, The Colbert Report, which has since become famous for satirizing personality-driven political shows like The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity. Since the show’s first episode, Colbert’s program has entertained its audience, encouraged political discourse, and stirred some of the most complacent members of society.
In her new book Colbert’s America: Satire and Democracy, Penn State professor, Sophia A. McClennen, examines how the comedy of Stephen Colbert packs enough political punch to change the way a nation thinks. The first book to cover the various themes and features of Colbert’s satire, Colbert’s America gives readers insight into the powerful ways that Colbert’s comedy challenges the cult of ignorance that has been threatening meaningful public debate since 9/11.
McClennen suggests that Colbert does more than mock pundits and politicians: he actually has helped influence a new generation of actively involved citizens. As Colbert’s America explains, satire offers the public a medium through which to express resistance to reigning political policies and social attitudes. But Colbert’s satire goes even further, offering viewers myriad ways to engage with society.
Colbert’s America also claims that the ability to speak truth to power through parody or mockery is at the heart of political satire. McClennen suggests, for instance, that Colbert’s performance at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, when he mocked the President to his face, was a watershed moment—for Colbert’s career, for the Bush presidency, and for highlighting a new era in media. Some of these same innovations can be seen in his recent engagement with the 2012 elections.
McClennen’s book makes a number of key arguments:
- Colbert’s show has blurred the lines between parodying the news and creating the news, between mocking politics and participating in it, between having fun and making a difference.
- By combining comedy with biting social critique Colbert’s satire has redefined what it means to be a public intellectual.
- Colbert’s show both entertains and educates at the same time.
- Colbert’s in-character persona offers an especially complex version of satire—one which depends on the critical thinking abilities of his audience.
- Colbert is part of a long legacy of US satirists that used parody to advocate for democracy.
- Interactive media, including blogs, podcasts, and videos have emerged as powerful tools that help spread Colbert’s message.
- Colbert ushered in a new age in media, attracting youth culture to politics, economy, and social issues in unprecedented droves.
But all is not glory for Colbert’s satire. McClennen also shows that there are risks to his approach. His parody of a cult of personality likewise advances a cult of personality—that of the Colbert Nation. Some worry that some of his stunts have “crossed the line” and disrespected the democratic process. Also, his in-character performances are occasionally so funny that they risk reinforcing ideas he means to critique. And, most importantly, some viewers don’t even realize that he is actually performing a character.
Despite these potential pitfalls to his form of satire, McClennen argues that ultimately Colbert’s show offers his audience a way to “amuse itself to activism.” Against claims that suggest that satire encourages cynicism, apathy, or disrespect for democracy, Colbert’s America argues that Colbert’s satire is a powerful tool for fostering civic engagement.
McClennen writes, “Watch Colbert. Night after night, he does a show where he has a bunch of fun and raises viewer awareness of a range of major social issues. Even more, he lets his viewers in on the fun. What they do after they turn off their televisions is up to them.”
Neoliberalism, Education, Terrorism
Neoliberalism, Education, Terrorism: Contemporary Dialogues is a collaborative effort among four established public intellectuals who deeply care about the future of education in America and who are concerned about the dangerous effects of neoliberalism on American society and culture. It aims to provide a clear, concise, and thought-provoking account of the problems facing education in America under the dual shadows of neoliberalism and terrorism. Through collaborative and individual essays, the authors provide a provocative account that will be of interest to anyone who concerning with the opportunities and dangers facing the future of education at this critical moment in history.
“In times like these, Neoliberalism, Education, and Terrorism is essential reading for any concerned American.”
— Teachers College Record
The contributors to Neoliberalism, Education, and Terrorism call for academics to recognize and resist neoliberal economic policies and the state’s conduct of the war on terror as forces eroding what they call “progressive education” in post–September 11 America. By concretely analyzing how these forces are working to appropriate education at all levels, studies like this not only provide useful sociopolitical insight into the challenges educators face but also remind us of the need to do something about them.
America According to Colbert
Satire as Public Pedagogy
Is the comedy of Stephen Colbert simply fun or is it powerful political satire? Does it entertain viewers or does it empower them? Or does it teach us that in today’s media-saturated world those binaries make no sense? America According to Colbert: Satire as Public Pedagogy claims that Colbert’s satire fosters critical thinking about social issues, encourages active citizenship, and entertains the viewer—all at the same time. The first book to cover the various themes and features of The Colbert Report, America According to Colbert offers readers insight into the powerful ways that Colbert’s comedy challenges the cult of ignorance that has threatened meaningful public debate and social dialogue since 9/11.
The Dialectics of Exile
Nation, Time and Language in Hispanic Literatures
The history of exile literature is as old as the history of writing itself. Despite this vast and varied literary tradition, criticism of exile writing has tended to analyze these works according to a binary logic, where exile either produces creative freedom or it traps the writer in restrictive nostalgia. The Dialectics of Exile: Nation, Time, Language, and Space in Hispanic Literatures offers a theory of exile writing that accounts for the persistence of these dual impulses and for the ways that they often co-exist within the same literary works. Focusing on writers working in the latter part of the 20th century who were exiled during a historical moment of increasing globalization, transnational economics, and the theoretical shifts of postmodernism, Sophia A. McClennen proposes that exile literature is best understood as a series of dialectic tensions about cultural identity. Through comparative analysis of Juan Goytisolo (Spain), Ariel Dorfman (Chile) and Cristina Peri Rossi (Uruguay), this book explores how these writers represent exile identity. Each chapter addresses dilemmas central to debates over cultural identity such as nationalism versus globalization, time as historical or cyclical, language as representationally accurate or disconnected from reality, and social space as utopic or dystopic. McClennen demonstrates how the complex writing of these three authors functions as an alternative discourse of cultural identity that not only challenges official versions imposed by authoritarian regimes, but also tests the limits of much cultural criticism.
Representing Humanity in an Age of Terror
Comparative Cultural Studies
Written in the context of critical dialogues about the war on terror and the global crisis in human rights violations, authors of the collected volume Representing Humanity in an Age of Terror, edited by Sophia A. McClennen and Henry James Morello, ask a series of questions: What definitions of humanity account for the persistence of human rights violations? How do we define terror and how do we understand the ways that terror affects the representation of those that both suffer and profit from it? Why is it that the representation of terror often depends on a distorted (for example, racist, fascist, xenophobic, essentialist, eliminationist) representation of human beings? And, most importantly, can representation, especially forms of art, rescue humanity from the forces of terror or does it run the risk of making it possible? The authors of the volume’s articles discuss aspects of terror with regard to human rights events across the globe, but especially in the United States, Latin America, and Europe. Their discussion and reflection demonstrate that the need to question continuously and to engage in permanent critique does not contradict the need to seek answers, to advocate social change, and to intervene critically. With contributions by scholars, activists, and artists, the articles collected here offer strategies for intervening critically in debates about the connections between terror and human rights as they are taking place across contemporary society. The work presented in the volume is intended for scholars, as well as undergraduate and graduate students in fields of the humanities and social sciences including political science, sociology, history, literary study, cultural studies, and cultural anthropology.
An Aesthetics of Hope
Ariel Dorfman: An Aesthetics of Hope is a critical introduction to the life and work of the internationally renowned writer, activist, and intellectual Ariel Dorfman. It is the first book about the author in English and the first in any language to address the full range of his writing to date. Consistently challenging assumptions and refusing preconceived categories, Dorfman has published in every major literary genre (novel, short story, poetry, drama); adopted literary forms including the picaresque, epic, noir, and theater of the absurd; and produced a vast amount of cultural criticism. His works are read as part of the Latin American literary canon, as examples of human rights literature, as meditations on exile and displacement, and within the tradition of bilingual, cross-cultural, and ethnic writing. Yet, as Sophia A. McClennen shows, when Dorfman’s extensive writings are considered as an integrated whole, a cohesive aesthetic emerges, an “aesthetics of hope” that foregrounds the arts as vital to our understanding of the world and our struggles to change it.
To illuminate Dorfman’s thematic concerns, McClennen chronicles the writer’s life, including his experiences working with Salvador Allende and his exile from Chile during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, and she provides a careful account of his literary and cultural influences. Tracing his literary career chronologically, McClennen interprets Dorfman’s less-known texts alongside his most well-known works, which include How to Read Donald Duck, the pioneering critique of Western ideology and media culture co-authored with Armand Mattelart, and the award-winning play Death and the Maiden. In addition, McClennen provides two valuable appendices: a chronology documenting important dates and events in Dorfman’s life, and a full bibliography of his work in English and in Spanish.
This volume’s genesis stems from the contributors’ conviction that, given its vitality and excellence, Latin American literature deserves a more prominent place in comparative literature publications, curricula, and disciplinary discussions. The editors introduce the volume arguing, first, that there still exists, in some quarters, a lingering bias against literature written in Spanish and Portuguese and, second, that by embracing Latin American literature and culture more enthusiastically, comparative literature would find itself reinvigorated, placed into productive discourse with a host of issues, languages, literatures, and cultures that have too long been paid scant academic attention.