Political comedy not a good source of facts

A segment on Tuesday?s ?CNN Live at Daybreak? reported that more than 20 percent of young adults get their political news not from the news networks but from ?? you guessed it ?? comedy shows and satire, among them ?Saturday Night Live? and ?The Daily Show.? The report went on to state that those who rely on these outlets for their news are virtually clueless about the real political events going on in America (hardly a big surprise).

It goes without saying that such statistics are scary: this country is built on the concept that a well-informed electorate should be voting politicians into office, and it seems that a good portion of us are obviously betraying that trust. If Our Fellow Americans are basing their vote on the exaggerated antics of pundits like Colin Quinn and his ?Tough Crowd,? and taking televised satire for even the slightest margin of truth, there are going to be problems.

Think of it this way: voter turnout in this country is very low already, and if more and more voters are not only uniformed, but misinformed, the percentage of people who don?t know what they?re doing when it comes to poking holes in the ballot is going to go up.

This situation?s major dilemma is that comedy, by its very nature, is meant to get a laugh, not to inform. Sure, there are jokes and sketches that are written to make you think, and there are political comedians and cartoonists (Bill Watterson and Gary Trudeau come readily to mind) but their information, such as it is, ends at the punchline.

People who put their political understanding in the hands of comedians are at the mercy of a skewed lens of opinion, not hard facts.

There could, however, be a bright side to this problem, albeit an unrealistic one: instead of taking the words of the jokesters at face value, use them as a guide. If they make pseudo-political statements about some candidate?s beliefs or policies, don?t just take their word for it.

If something that they say intrigues you, then go and look up the candidate that they are talking about and see what the comedians meant, if they meant anything in the first place. Use the jokes not as an end of understanding, but the gate that lets you move into in-depth informational waters.

Think about it this way: Seinfeld once said that he learned about classical music from Warner Bros. Cartoons. What I?m proposing is the next step: after watching ?The Rabbit of Seville? go on out and listen to some opera and see what it?s all about.

I do understand, however, that those comedians who are doing political material are, in general, doing so to entertain and not to inform ?? they?re not out there (at least in my opinion) to change minds, only to make the news of the day entertaining.

People have always tried to make light of current events: Tom Lehrer, Will Rogers, Michael Feldman, Bob Hope and Bill Maher are just a few modern examples. It?s a reaction to help people make sense of it all. The problem comes when people mistake the motive for the message.

E-mail Peter with yourcomments and questions at:[email protected].