The Alienation of Satire

While The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are quintessential examples of television satire, they are two shows on a medium that tends to shy away from the genre. TV doesn’t like to alienate viewers. A higher Nielsen rating = more money and advertising revenue. This keeps the executives happy, which keeps programming on the air. “TV is the least confident of media, most afraid of rejection in the form of the audience reaching for the remote,” write Jonathan Gray, Jeffrey P. Jones, and Ethan Thompson in their 2009 book Satire TV. Satire is an openly critical genre, and “critical” is almost a synonym for “alienating” in the world of television because satire publically displays anger, frustration, indignation, righteousness, and malevolence. These are not the most pleasant of human emotions, and viewers who watch TV to be relieved of their frustration tend to avoid programming that capitalizes on the world’s terribleness.

Therefore, an aggressive, resentful attack on the follies and vices of others doesn’t always bode well on network television. It usually doesn’t even get the chance to bode at all. But Comedy Central, a basic cable channel, doesn’t seem to mind taking the risk of alienating viewers (case in point: Tosh.O). So Colbert and Stewart are free to be as angry and frustrated as they please. They are part of the few, the proud, the lucky enough to belong to a channel that allows animated fourth graders to say the word “shit” — uncensored — 162 times in 22 minutes.

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by | April 23, 2012 · 6:22 pm

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