Gain Political Knowledge through the Daily Show?

Honestly I’ve never heard of the Daily Show before, and we don’t have like political comedy this kind of formats in China, so watching the Daily Show is a brand new experience. I’ve never been into political news before,   and I think I’m one of the “less politically interested viewers”, according to Xenox and Becker.

The Daily Show I watched is Oct.5 –Bruce Willis. At first, Jon Stewart talked about  America’s apology to Guatemala for intentionally and secretly infecting people with STDs which happened more than 60 years ago. In “syph happens” segment, Jon said “by the way Guatemalan syphilis experi-mint—worst Ben and Jerry’s flavor ever.” Probably because of my lack of the background knowledge or my English comprehension, I didn’t “get the joke”.  I guess Jon thought  that the apology was pointless so he made  fun of it?  Afterwards, he talked about the Green the Army with Jason Jones.  I really thought Jason was a senior military analyst, but after I googled him it turned out that he is an actor. Then Lewis Black came up, I  thought it was serious. (Is it me or he really looks like Colin Powell? ) The second one I watched is Oct.06–Philip Dray. Jan began with the indecision 2010, I didn’t understand quite well either, but the north and south Delaware was really funny.  Afterwards, I went to Google to check whether Jason Mycoff is a real professor of University of Delaware or not.  I totally agree with Xenos and Becker that political comedy “to operate more as a news enhancer than a news supplement, especially for less engaged viewers who are most likely to come to political comedy without a particularly extensive existing stock of political knowledge.”  And I think “soft news” make the stories not that boring, particulaly for those who never watch ‘hard news’ like me.

When I was browsing Google News, I found myself was not very into political news. I looked the story like  “Beijingers should get back on their bikes” and “How bad is McDonald’s food”, other political news were hard for me to start to read.  The only political news I actively searched was what I heard from the Daily Show, then to find out what the real issues were, like the syphilis experiments, which is similar to the Xenos and Becker respondents.

I will continue to watch the Daily Show.  Although I’m probably one of “individuals who watch soft news shows do so primarily in serach of entertainment, not enlightenment” according to Baum. Based on the two epidodes I know those news are not totally made up, and it made me curious about the real issue to look up hard news then gain factual political knowledge .  I think Xenos and Becker is right that “comedy may serve to help less politically interested viewers gain information and understanding of political issues on the nation’s agenda. “


13 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Christina Locke on October 12, 2010 at 11:55 am

    Maybe this well help — I think the Ben and Jerry’s “experi-mint” joke was making fun of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream more than anything. They have really odd ice cream names like “Imagine Whirled Peace” and even a Stephen Colbert flavor called “Americone Dream” (, so it is poking fun at the company’s use of cultural references and making them into ice cream flavor names. And of course syphillis experi-mint would be, umm…gross! I like how you point out that it is not always clear who is “official” and how is an actor. I was confused the first time I watched the show, and I am sure it is even more troubelsome coming from a cultural and language difference.


    • Thank you so much for the link, I didn’t know that Ben&Jerrys have these interesting names, they’re so funny, and when I went to Pulix yesterday I did see “Imagine Whirled Peace”. ; ) I think it’s a brilliant show.


  2. I really am happy that I read your blog post because it made me realize more fully some of the function that soft news like the daily show plays. I watch it semi-regularly and am able to recognize a lot of the joke segments, like Jason Jones not being a real expert. I now realize, however, that if I was not aware of this fact, the daily show could severely mislead me. Luckily, you took initiative and looked up the things you were unsure of from the show. I hope that all viewers of the daily show who don’t regularly watch hard news go about it the way you do. If that were the case, then soft news programs such as this would indeed be the best way, I feel, to reach out to less politically oriented audiences and get them to be aware of the topics.


  3. I had very similar experiences with you, in terms of how political comedy can work as a news enhancer. I am not a regular audience of political news either, not that I see it as unimportant, it’s just that most of the stories seem to be irrelevant to my daily life. And hard political news provides nothing but political facts. So for people who have no interests in politics generally, The Daily Show and other comedies can really be a gateway since they do not only offer information but also entertainment.


  4. Your experience with The Daily Show is such a rich one for discussion, and you’ve definitely given it thought here. The confusion you experienced over some of the news itself highlights the Daily Show as US-centric even as it engages a story about Guatemala, with cultural references and points of views strongly embedded in this culture. The uncertainty over what news is “real” and which speakers are actors or not really brings to light Stewart’s claim that he does “fake news,” because even as the show addresses “real” news, it’s very much a stage on which to act it out. Do you think that if you had watched this show before this assignment and experienced the same confusion that you would have been compelled to look up information as you did here? Certainly the nature of our assignment puts The Daily Show into a light that not all viewers would automatically approach it with, so I wonder how many viewers and which kinds of viewers would seek out information that they either didn’t recognize in the show or wanted to know more about. Would they be inspired or would they change the channel? If they are compelled to do research, even if just to get the joke, this would be a great example of getting less politically inclined/informed people more involved in political knowledge. I think our ease of internet access might help with this – it’d be so easy for a viewer to Google somethign while they were watching, making use of the resources available to them.


  5. I didn’t really understand the segment with Jason Jones either. I knew he was an actor but I think from an international perspective it was difficult to follow their criticisms of the army unless you know about US politics etc. Kayley makes a good point about the show being US-centric.

    I didn’t look up political stories afterwards either but I think the fact that you were looking up something about the show means that you were engaged by it. So maybe it somewhat agrees with Xenos and Becker’s findings.


  6. The fact that you didn’t always understand the jokes and that the show is, as mentioned in other comments, US-centric are both pieces of information that reminded me of the fact that the show has an “International Edition”. I don’t know much about it, myself, but I think it’s a compilation of certain segments from throughout the week into one show. I know that Stewart films an introduction to that edition of the show on a weekly basis. But how well does the show translate to other countries? Would viewers from other countries actually be able to follow it? I think that could be worth looking into, especially after reading your experience of watching the show.


  7. I am curious if most audience who are low engaged with political issues and do have to do homework like us really do research after watching political talk show. just like you quoting, most people watch soft news in order to be entertained instead of be enlightened. Do they really care about the issue after having fun?

    We have political parody show in Taiwan and I would watch it sometimes. However, I had never searched for other source to get more information after watching it. That is true I gained some knowledge from the show. But I still stay in low engagement with politics ultimately. I think soft news does can help people who have lower interest in politics gain someinformation. Nevertheless, I do not think it can motivate deeper engagement.


  8. Last year when I just come to U.S. for one month, I watched a political show for five minutes and I decide that I will just change to other channels because I really don’t have any background of United States politics. I can’t even remember the name of the show and who had talked in the show. This year, I am gaining more knowledge in U.S. politics; I find some of it quite interesting, which surprised me. However, I still can’t understand the political joke people were talking about (even though I sometimes know the background of the issue), I am wondering whether it is the problem of my English listening or it is the problem of my political knowledge. If I want to know more about a political incident, I will not watch a “soft news” or “humor talk show,” for I might not be able to know what they are talking about. I find the political jokes are even harder to understand compare to hard news in United States.


  9. I often don’t the point in the shows like “Daily Show”. I think to understand these shows we need to be familiar with United States’ political cultures and environment. I agree with point that you mentioned in the last paragraph. Just like the author said we might are the “individuals who watch soft news shows do so primarily in serach of entertainment, not enlightenment”. It’s hard to gain serious political knowledge from comedy shows but we can at least to know news and others opinions from them.


  10. Posted by Wendy Brunner on October 15, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    I’m so glad I read your post! I’ve given lots of thought to how valuable entertainment news/satire might be for a democracy for many research projects in the past, and in all the literature I’ve read and all the discussions I’ve had with my colleagues it never once occurred to me that there are American citizens (who vote!) whose native language is not English that may not understand the satire. I think that could be a research project in and of itself! As we discussed in class, if the humor gets you interested in the political process then I think it’s a wonderful thing. BUT if there are some viewers who don’t recognize that some of Stewart’s “correspondents” are actors poking fun at the issues… that could be incredibly misleading and detrimental to the democratic process. Great post! =)


  11. I think you discovered one of the great benefits of “soft news” — or political comedy. That is, when we have no clue what they are talking about, we might go and search for some information. The result: We are better informed than we were before we saw the comedy show.


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