Thursday, December 20, 2012

Last Popular Culture & Politics Class: I am a Pole and So Can You

Well the semester is FINALLY over and I'm happy to report that we had A LOT of fun in my new seminar, Popular Culture & Politics. While the 2012 election didn't provide quite as much entertainment as the 2008 Sarah Palin fest, we spent some quality time talking about SNL's new Barack Obama (Jay Pharoah), Mitt Romney style, and Stephen Colbert's Super PAC - Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.

We tried to keep up with the various viral videos and comedy appearances that popped up during the election cycle. Here are some highlights:

Lena Dunham's First Time:

This one's not political but it did help us talk about Saturday Night Live:

Barack Obama's appearance on The Daily Show:

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Barack Obama Pt. 1
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

And last but not least, here's some more Lena Dunham:

"You Don't Own Me" PSA from You Don't Own Me on Vimeo.

We concluded class with the reading of Stephen Colbert's I Am A Pole and So Can You, his childrens' book endorsed by the late, great Maurice Sendak.

As someone who follows political polls, I enjoyed the page about becoming a Gallup poll but I'll admit that my students found the option of a stripper poll a bit more amusing.

We also took a look at Stephen Colbert's interviews with Maurice Sendak that originally aired on the program back in January of 2012. Here's our favorite clip:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Grim Colberty Tales with Maurice Sendak Pt. 2
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

I'll be back in the classroom in late January after a much deserved break. Stay tuned for more from Popular Culture & Politics ....

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Historic Election Night for Same-Sex Marriage Supporters

Last night, in a historic move, voters in Maryland and Maine approved the extension of marriage benefits to same-sex couples via ballot initiatives. After 32 failed attempts, same-sex marriage was finally approved by voters at the ballot box. At present, it looks like Washington voters will be supporting same-sex marriage as well, and in Minnesota, voters said no to an effort to amend the state constitution to solely define marriage as the union between one man and one woman.

It was a great night for marriage equality supporters, with concrete evidence that public opinion has truly shifted in their direction -- at least in some states.

What's responsible for the shift? As my own research has suggested, increasing rates of social contact with gay and lesbian friends, family members, and even co-workers and acquaintances has had a profound effect on the opinions of voters -- both young and old. Endorsements by Barack Obama and the NAACP made a difference on Question 6 in Maryland and high turnout among younger voters certainly helps the equality cause.

At the same time, it's important to note that the issue is still particularly divisive -- the current vote count in Maryland suggests 51.2% supported the measure compared to 48.8% who were opposed. Looking at the vote at the county level, you see support for Question 6 in Montgomery, Howard, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, and Frederick counties, but strong opposition on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Voters in PG county still opposed the bill as did those in more rural and western parts of Maryland.

Watch for more analysis of these ballot initiatives to unfold in the coming days.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Teaching and Researching Political Comedy

I wrote a piece for the October 2012 Faculty Voice (The University System of Maryland's faculty newspaper) entitled, "No Laughing Matter: Researching and Teaching about Comedy, Popular Culture, and Politics"

Here's the intro: I watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report for “homework.” At least that’s what I tell my students. In truth, as an academic researcher who studies the impact of popular culture and entertainment on political behavior and attitudes, I do consume more than my fair share of comedy content — the thing is, I’m not the only one tuning in.

You can access the full piece here

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

TU in 2 Video on Political Comedy

Towson University has been posting "TU in 2 videos" for a couple of semesters now. In these short videos, Towson faculty give a mini-lecture on their area of research expertise.

In my video I talk about why academics study political comedy and the finding that not all comedy forms are created equal. Hostile humor, or traditional satire in which a comedian like Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart pokes fun of a politician, results in viewers exhibiting more negative attitudes toward the comic target. Viewing self-directed humor, on the other hand, encourages viewers evaluate the politician more favorably.

The lesson for politicians -- be able to both make and take a good joke.

The full video is here:

For more TU in 2 videos, check out some greats from Spring 2012 and Fall 2011

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Debates, Social Media, and #bindersfullofwomen

Ready for tonight's final presidential debate? Having trouble with the fact that Election Day is just two weeks away? Wondering whether this final debate will make a difference in the poll results?

Last week I spoke with WBAL-TV about the second debate and the social media response to Mitt Romney's #bindersfullofwomen comment. The full video of the interview is available here.

In the interview, I discussed the democratizing potential of social media -- with sites like Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook anyone can get involved in the political discussion. You can share your thoughts in 140 characters, create your own picture and caption on Tumblr, or share your views on who won the debate with members of your Facebook social network. We also talked about one of America's favorite Sesame Street characters -- Big Bird.

While all eyes are on the third debate, new binders full of women photos still keep appearing on Tumblr.

Some old and new favorites are included below. Enjoy!

Monday, October 8, 2012

#Rumble2012: For those who couldn't stream the event in that air conditioned auditorium

There was another debate this week, "The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium" between Bill O'Reilly of FOX News and Jon Stewart of Comedy Central fame.

For those who had trouble streaming the event live after paying their $4.95, The Washington Post offers a synopsis and five key take-aways. They also made a pretty comprehensive list of the best one-liners from the rumble.

For those who watched the event the next day (like me), #rumble2012 was more deliberative than combative and serious than funny. Both O'Reilly and Stewart offered their perspectives on the current state of the economy, foreign policy, and their own personal views on the role of entitlements and government involvement in everyday life.

For those who weren't able to get that streaming working, Slate offers a good summary here.

And you can still purchase and now download a copy of the event on the now less-trafficked Rumble 2012 web site.

SNL, the 2012 Election, and Learning about Parody

There's a great article in today's New York Times about the influence of SNL during a competitive election season. As we've been learning in my TSEM class(Popular Culture and Politics: Comedy, Entertainment, Celebrity, and Democracy) this semester, journalists and the public alike look to the cast of SNL to offer their parody version of each general election debate.

Parody is a reinterpretation of an original text -- a mockery that is easier to understand if you're familiar with the original event or script.

According to the SNL writing team, this past Wednesday's debate failed to offer genuine comic inspiration. From the NYT article:

"But the debate itself turned out to be a challenge. There were no big gaffes or obvious springboards for comedy. Instead, the first debate of this election offered up a blizzard of policy details and a lackluster performance from President Obama.

At home Wednesday night, Seth Meyers, one of the show’s head writers, watched with increasing concern."

“It’s boring enough when they’re talking about all this and how it will affect Americans, but when you’re sitting there trying to pull comedy out of it, it’s really bad,” Mr. Meyers said. “There were people on Twitter saying: ‘You must be really happy, there’s so much in this debate. This is writing itself.’ I was like: what debate are you watching?”

Despite the lack of comic material, the SNL cast presented three debate related skits this past Saturday night.

First, there was the debate cold open featuring Jay Pharoah as Obama and Jason Sudekis as Romney.

Not the best debate skit ever, but certainly some funny lines.

Then there was the parody of MSNBC's reaction to Obama's debate performance:

and finally, Big Bird made an appearance on Weekend Update:

Is it bad to suggest that Big Bird (played by Caroll Spinney since 1969) as funnier than any other SNL cast member?

Election Day is only a few weeks away and there's the VP debate Thursday night. I wonder what SNL will open with next Saturday night?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Update from TSEM102:Popular Culture and Politics

It's hard to believe that the third week of classes is almost over at Towson University. We've been having a lot of fun in my Towson Seminar (Popular Culture and Politics: Comedy, Entertainment, Celebrity, and Democracy) and we've been reviewing some interesting video content

In fact, I'm struck by how much material the 2012 campaign has already provided. We spent some time talking about Clint Eastwood's Invisible Chair debacle at the Republican National Convention -- what a great example of celebrity politics gone wrong! If you don't believe me, see for yourself:

We've been giving equal treatment to the Democrats too -- a great gem from this past week was this New York Times article about Joe Biden's get together with a group of bikers in Ohio. The NYT journalist penning the piece, Sarah Wheaton, offers some spot on commentary regarding the picture featured in the article. Even she can't believe it's not ripped from the pages of The Onion:

While the 2012 election has offered some inspiration, we've actually spent the past few weeks taking a look back at the history of political comedy, talking about political cartoons, programs like Laugh In, In Living Colour, and Saturday Night Live, which if you can believe it, kicks off it's 38th season this Saturday with guest host Seth McFarlane (aka the guy behind Family Guy).

We've re-discovered the rich history of political comedy and have been studying the fundamental changes in the media industry that have further blurred the boundaries between news and entertainment. And for a real history lesson (at least for these college freshmen who were little kiddies in the late 1990s), we looked back at the case of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky and the subsequent replacement of traditional old media news gatekeepers with new media newsmakers like Matt Drudge.

Just this past week, we studied the differences between the comedic forms of satire and parody, reading the work of Jonathan Gray and his colleagues as a guide. We learned about the four features of satire: aggression, judgment, play and laughter, and the value of understanding the original text when examining parody.

It's been a fun, educational, and eye-opening experience so far. Next week, we'll focus some more on political cartoons as Towson University hosts Kal Kallaugher, cartoonist for The Economist and The Baltimore Sun, how political comedy viewers perceive programmatic content, and how watching political comedy influences our evaluations of the mainstream media.

Stay tuned for more from TSEM 102: Popular Culture and Politics and feel free to watch along with us on our course blog.

We enjoyed this great clip just yesterday!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fall Semester Begins: Bring on the popular culture and politics

The fall semester begins tomorrow at Towson University and I'm very excited to begin teaching my new Towson Seminar -- Popular Culture and Politics: Comedy, Entertainment, Celebrity, and Democracy.

In anticipation of the semester, I spoke with The Towerlight, the Towson Campus newspaper about what we'll be doing in the course.

In getting ready for the course, it seems that new items are popping up daily. Just today, David Brooks offered his humorous version of the Romney narrative over at The New York Times. As the parent of a young one myself, I found the following portion most funny:

Romney was a precocious and gifted child. He uttered his first words (“I like to fire people”) at age 14 months, made his first gaffe at 15 months and purchased his first nursery school at 24 months. The school, highly leveraged, went under, but Romney made 24 million Jujubes on the deal.

Usually uber serious in his commentary, it seems that even Brooks has decided to jump on the comedy bandwagon.

In related news, it seems that Jimmy Kimmel's comedy is a surer bet for ABC than the old standby, Nightline.

In addition, respected colleagues have been featured in the press lately talking about the intersections between politics, comedy, and celebrity.

For example, do you know the story behind Clinton funny man Mark Katz? If not, check this CNN article with commentary by my colleague, Danna Young.

Been wondering about the connections between Romney, Obama, and Hollywood celebrities as we start convention season? There's some great commentary by Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution (and former Brown University professor), in this new CBS News article. We'll be reading West's book, Celebrity Politics, during the course of the semester.

During the course of the semester, I'll post all of the videos we'll be watching and discussing in class over at our course blog. Feel free to watch along with us. It seems like new videos keep popping up all the time.

Tomorrow we'll take a look back at 2008 but we'll also start with this new parody of that catchy Gotye song:

The video popped up in the beginning of August and already has over 1 million views.

As we'll learn when we study parody this September, it's important to connect the mock version with the original:

All of a sudden, the parody makes a lot more sense, right?

Stay tuned as the semester (and general election season) unfolds.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The value of studying and teaching about political comedy

Last week, I spoke with Washington Post journalist Paul Farhi about my research on the effects of political comedy programs and the freshman seminar on popular culture and politics that I'll be teaching at Towson University this fall.

Farhi's article published in The Washington Post and reprinted on the web sites of a variety of regional papers (Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Chicago Tribune, New Orleans Times Picayune to name just a few) quickly attracted attention. John Hudson offered his take on studying Colbert at the college and university level for The Atlantic Wire and Sophia McClennen offered a rebuttal over at the Huffington Post with student Remy M. Maisel. I too agree that John Hudson could use some help picking the right statistics to compare. He's welcome to enroll in my MCOM490 class: Mass Communication Research where we devote a few weeks to statistical principles. I'd also be happy to have Hudson visit my upcoming seminar.

The full title of the class is "Popular Culture and Politics: Comedy, Entertainment, Celebrity, and Democracy," and we'll be talking about a lot more than Stephen Colbert. The course is a new TU Seminar for freshmen -- a writing intensive course that examines how a whole range of cultural phenomena -- political comedy, celebrity politics, entertainment television, popular music, and satirical print media -- influence our political life and civic culture. We'll evaluate programs like The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live, cartoons like South Park and The Simpsons, publications like The Onion, and study the impact of celebrity candidates, issue advocates, and the power of celebrity endorsements. Dinner with George Clooney and Obama anyone?

We'll consider issues of gender and whether female politicians have as easy a time being funny as their male counterparts and we'll also talk about what happens when politicians turn the table and act as comics. Sure, we'll consider a lot of contemporary examples from the 2008 and 2012 election cycles, but we'll also take a historical look back at comedy, celebrity politics, and political entertainment. Nixon's 1968 appearance on Laugh In anyone? Remember Hanoi Jane?

It is true that I'll be teaching a class that complements part of my current research agenda. As academics, we're encouraged to bring our research into the classroom. It's no secret that my dissertation broadened the scope of political entertainment research by linking political comedy with celebrity politics. It should be no surprise that I've published a variety of peer-reviewed journal articles on the subject area, offered media commentary, and even blogged about my favorite portions of the program. I'm proud to note that I'm one of many scholars currently taking interest in political comedy. It's been an honor to work with both tenured and pre-tenure scholars in the field and I'm happy to call so many others respected and treasured mentors and colleagues. 

Why do so many of us study shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report? As I told Paul Farhi, even academics like to laugh and that's certainly true. I enjoy watching and discussing the show with my friends and family for sure, but I also recognize the cultural importance of the programs, their growing audience, and the increasing view that folks like Jon Stewart provide trustworthy news content.

Here are a few key statistics that help prove my point:

In a March 2011 study by the Pew Research Center for the People & The Press, 8% of Americans indicated that they regularly watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, 19% watch the program sometimes. In June 2010, 7% of Americans said they watched regularly while 20% said they sometimes watch TDS.

In the same 2010 Pew study, 6% reported regularly watching The Colbert Report, while 18% said they sometimes watch the program. This is up from 5% viewing regularly and 14% viewing sometimes in 2008.

This past winter (January 2012), 9% of those surveyed said they regularly learn about the 2012 presidential candidates or campaigns from late night comedy shows, such as Jay Leno, Saturday Night Live or The Daily Show. A full 20% said they sometimes learn about the 2012 election from these comedy programs.

Importantly, the 2010 Pew Biennial Media Consumption Survey found that 80% of regular Colbert Report viewers are between the ages of 18-49 compared to 20% who are 50 and older; 74% of regular viewers of The Daily Show are between 18-49 compared to 26% who are 50 and older. And according to the Pew Biennial News Consumption Survey from 2008, "fully 43% of Colbert's regular views are younger than 30, as are 42% of Stewart's regular viewers. That is roughly double the proportion of people younger than 30 in the general public.”

So is there value in teaching and researching the impact of political comedy and political entertainment? Seems to me that the answer is pretty clear.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Preparing for TSEM102:Popular Culture and Politics

It's been a while since I've posted, but it's been a busy summer. I've spent a lot of time preparing for my upcoming Towson Seminar -- Popular Culture and Politics: Comedy, Entertainment, Celebrity, and Democracy. I'm excited to bring my research interests into the classroom. As I discuss in a recent article in The Washington Post, academic interest in studying political comedy and Stephen Colbert in particular is growing at a rapid pace.

In preparing for the seminar, I'm revisiting some political comedy "gems" from the 2008 election. Here's my favorite piece:

Tina Fey actually offers a great summary of the clip and its significance in Bossypants.

Stay tuned for more political comedy gems as course prep continues.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Celebrity Politics and Issue Engagement

I'm happy to report that I've published a new piece of research in the latest issue of the British Journal, Celebrity Studies. The article, originally a part of my dissertation, examines the influence of celebrity issue advocacy messages (both video and text) on political engagement at the issue level. This new research emphasis on celebrity politics represents a new direction for my research on the impact of political entertainment.

The case study for the research is Angelina Jolie's involvement with the global refugee crisis and the impact of exposure to her celebrity advocacy efforts vs. exposure to advocacy efforts of an expert on situational involvement, complacency, and apathy toward the refugee issue. The experiment discussed in the article presents some interesting findings about the relationships between receptivity toward celebrity politics and apathy and complacency, and the relationships between situational involvement on the issue and political disaffection. The key take-away: exposure to celebrity issue advocacy messages can impact issue engagement, but this impact often depends on the prior perceived importance of the issue and favourability toward the celebrity advocate.

If you'd like to take a look at the article, you can find it here.

The research is especially relevant as we look toward November 2012 and the involvement of celebrities (dinner with George Clooney, anyone) in the presidential election. Any Hollywood hotshots ready to open their homes to Romney?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

President Obama, Same-Sex Marriage, and Personal Politics

Last week, President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage in a highly watched interview with ABC News' Robin Roberts.

The news media and political pundits have spent the past week or so discussing the implications of President Obama's statement, focusing on consequences for public opinion and the likely outcome of the November 2012 election.

Some, myself included, have speculated about the political implications for states like Maryland that are currently embroiled in the debate. Others have spent considerable time reacting to North Carolina's vote to pass Amendment One banning same-sex unions -- here's just one example of how celebrity politics can coalesce around an issue debate.

Beyond the polls and the speculation, some journalists have chosen to focus on the personal nature of the issue, a theme that dominates my own recent research on public opinion toward same-sex marriage. As I show in a new article in The International Journal of Public Opinion Research, social contact is an important factor influencing attitudes across multiple generations. Moreover, the closer the degree of social or personal contact, the greater the impact on attitudes.

By next week, the focus will likely be on the economy again and the contrasts between Obama and Romney's approach. In the meantime, it's interesting to look at the same-sex marriage issue from a variety of different perspectives including how the characters we see on television help to cultivate our attitudes on the same-sex marriage issue.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Jimmy Kimmel jokes around at the 2012 White House Correspondents' Dinner

Jimmy Kimmel performed at the 2012 White House Correspondents' Dinner over the weekend.

The routine is actually quite funny, unless you're Chris Christie, Rupert Murdoch, or Sofia Vergara. How many more jokes can we take about Chris Christie's weight, Murdoch's ill-fated MySpace purchase, or Sofia Vergara's Colombian heritage?

Seriously though, Jimmy Kimmel did a pretty good job and the event was a big hit in Washington.

As is custom, the President also delivered his own comic routine. Following on the heels of his appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Obama scored some good laughs with the crowd and both Kimmel and Obama got some jabs in at Mitt Romney.

Here's the president's speech.


So who stole the show?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Barack Obama Slow Jams the News

Apologies for the lack of recent posts, but here's a really great political comedy clip.

Check out Barack Obama slow jamming the news on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (from Tuesday's broadcast).

The Barack Obama slow jam was followed by an interview with Jimmy Fallon. The interview focused a bit on politics but primarily allowed Obama to appear as the cooler candidate for President (at least when compared with Mitt Romney).

Jon Stewart rehashed the Obama slow jam on last night's episode of The Daily Show. In fact, Obama's appearance has drawn a considerable amount of attention from traditional and new media outlets -- it serves as the latest political comedy moment.

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Endless Suffrage 2012 - The End of the Beginning's Middle
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

The general consensus is that Obama did a pretty good job with the slow jam, although some feel he was a bit too "academic" when sharing the facts about the student loan issue. 

Speaking of academics, the slow jam appearance echoes my own recent research on the differential impact of self-directed vs. other-directed hostile humor. The bottom line: viewers interpret varied types of comedy differentially. Exposure to hostile humor (think SNL, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, and network comedians like Jimmy Fallon) can have a negative impact on viewer attitudes. While the jury is still out on the full impact of self-directed humor or politicians' attempts at performing as comic actors, appearances like Obama's slow jam can have a real impact -- particularly among those who don't pay close attention to politics.

It seems that Obama is keyed in to the importance of these late night comedy appearances. Will Mitt Romney jump on the comedy bandwagon?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Recent research on public opinion toward same-sex marriage

I published two research articles on public opinion toward same-sex marriage this week. The two solo-authored research articles extend my previous research on attitudes toward this controversial issue.

The first piece, What’s marriage (and family) got to do with it? Support for same-sex marriage, legal unions, and gay and lesbian couples raising children was published by Social Science Quarterly. The article examines the impact of marital and family status and views on the purpose of marriage on support for gay marriage, legal unions, and gay and lesbian couples raising children. The bottom line: while ideological and religious values still matter most when it comes to predicting opinions on gay civil rights issues, it's also important to look at the role that marriage, family, and views on the purpose of marriage have in shaping the debate.

The second piece, Determinants of public support for same-sex marriage: Generational cohorts, social contact, and shifting attitudes was published in The International Journal of Public Opinion Research. The article examines the influence of generational affiliation and rates of social contact on support for same-sex marriage. The bottom line:  Age, or generational affiliation, is inversely related to issue support in that Millennials have the highest rates of social contact with gays and lesbians, the most liberal attitudes toward same-sex parent families, and show the broadest support for same-sex marriage. At the same time, rates of social contact are an important predictor of support for same-sex marriage irrespective of generational cohort membership. More specifically, the regression model suggests that social contact is a positive predictor of support for same-sex marriage even after controlling for demographics and religious and ideological value predispositions.

The same-sex marriage debate has been an important focus in my home state of Maryland and in various other locations across the country. Check out these recent articles for more information on the shifting opinion climate toward gay civil rights issues.

Jon Stewart & Will Ferrell Wear a Helmet

Jon Stewart offered his own commentary on the latest Rush Limbaugh incident on Tuesday's broadcast.

In the clip, Stewart mentions that Limbaugh is criticizing a private citizen but doesn't capitalize on this distinction. Instead he focuses on how the Right responded to Limbaugh's comments. Their answer: criticize Bill Maher, a liberal comedian with his own show on HBO, for calling Sarah Palin the "c" and "t" word. Do note that Sarah Palin is a very, very public person but Sandra Fluke is simply a Georgetown University law student.

The clip continues by discussing Fox News' targeting of comedians. Did you know that comedians wear helmets according to Fox? By the end of the clip, Stewart tells the network to "Shut the F@#k Up!"

Regardless of the helmet fiasco (mocked nicely during the Will Ferrell interview later in the broadcast -- see below), it is interesting to watch Jon Stewart -- first and foremost a comedian -- talk about comedy and the consequences of being a public commentator. It seems like we should hold both Stewart and Limbaugh to the same standard -- the same goes for Comedy Central and Clear Channel.

Doesn't Will Ferrell look much better in the helmet than Stewart?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Words of Warcraft: The Daily Show and the Iran Debate

We've been hearing a lot more about Iran these days -- whether it's during the Republican presidential debates, in the wide range of reporting on the speeches of Barack Obama and the 2012 GOP hopefuls at this year's AIPAC conference, or the coverage of Benjamin Netanyahu's meeting with Barack Obama.

Even The Daily Show weighed in this past Tuesday with a carefully constructed, graphically pleasing, and incredibly poignant discussion of the current controversy and the influence that the 2012 election season has had on the rhetoric surrounding the debate over what to do about Iran.

I used to write a column for The Baltimore Sun pointing out the best political comedy clips each month. I can honestly say that this clip would have made my list for March and perhaps for the entire winter season. Check it out for yourself:

Stewart's cautionary tone and his message is intended to be both humorous and thought-provoking. In fact, Stewart echoes the sentiments expressed by Thomas Friedman in a widely shared column in this week's New York Times.

While Friedman gets to the heart of the matter, it may be that we need Jon Stewart and The Daily Show's version of the Iran story to convince us that this is a global matter, not just a concern for Israel and in turn the United States. To date, almost a quarter of a million viewers have watched the segment from Tuesday's broadcast of The Daily Show on the Comedy Central web site. While it's not nearly as popular as the the Kony 2012 video currently circulating on YouTube, Stewart is bringing added attention to the issue, especially for a younger demographic. Watch for The Daily Show to continue placing emphasis on Iran and Israel as the rhetoric escalates ...

Monday, February 20, 2012

New Study Shows Importance of Comedy and Humor for Young Men

Stuck in an elevator? Sixty-three percent of young men surveyed said they would choose to be there with Jon Stewart (or some other favorite comic), and only 15 percent said they would prefer that time with Eli Manning (or some other idolized athlete).

At least that's what The New York Times is reporting today with a review of a new Comedy Central study about young men and humor. 

Turns out that comedy and absurdity (not irony) is more important to young men, specifically Millennials, than previously thought. 

While Millennials are watching less television that older counterparts -- preferring YouTube and brief Internet content to traditional television -- they're a ripe market for Comedy Central and their marketing partners.

Ever wonder about those ads you're seeing during The Colbert Report and The Daily Show

Thursday, February 16, 2012

More on Marriage!

The lead story in the National section of today's New York Times focuses on the debate over same-sex marriage in Maryland. The controversy is starting to heat up this week as legislators in Annapolis consider possible legislation. The story focuses on the concerns of African-American churchgoers in particular, highlighting a cultural dynamic that is particularly relevant given Maryland's demographic make-up. According to the article:

Maryland’s Democrats are sharply divided by race on the issue. A Washington Post poll published on Jan. 30 found that 71 percent of white respondents supported it, while 24 percent did not. Among blacks, 41 percent were supportive, while 53 percent were opposed. African-Americans are an important constituency here: their share of the population — 29 percent — is greater than in many Southern states, including Alabama and South Carolina, according to the Brookings Institution.

Those backing the bill hope the religious accommodations proposed in the legislation will help ease passage in the state legislature. 

Also of note is an interesting article in today's NYT on the changing demographics of marriage and family. According to the article and a 2010 Pew Report, Americans are starting to express more tolerant attitudes toward interracial marriages:

The more positive attitude toward intermarriage represents a sharp break from the recent past and parallels behavioral change: about 15 percent of new marriages across the country in 2010 were between spouses of different races or ethnicities, more than double the share in 1980. The researchers presented the acceptance of interracial marriage as “the fading of a taboo.”

Definitely some interesting public opinion data regarding marriage. Look for greater media coverage on both issues as debates over marriage and family heat up in Maryland, New Jersey, etc.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Doesn't this Just Make Science Look Fun?

Here's a great "picture of the day."

It was featured in the print edition of today's New York Times in the National section.

Look at Obama's excitement over the marshmallow launcher. What a cool science fair project! If only I could have made a marshmallow launcher back in my day.

And for more on the Obama administration's plan to promote STEM education, check out this post on the NYT's blog, The Caucus.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Obama's Team Has Their Eyes on Romney

My last post was about Mitt Romney's "oops" moment -- his statement on CNN that he does not care about the very poor.

As it turns out, both comedians and the Democrats really did seize on the opportunity to chastise Romney over the remarks.

Here's The Daily Show's take on the incident:

The Obama team had a strong response -- particularly online with emails, advertising, and through the use of Twitter posts.

As it turns out and according to an article in today's NY Times, they're on the lookout for Romney's gaffes, collecting more juicy content each time the candidate slips up.

So, who will Mitt Romney choose not to care about next?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mitt Romney's latest Oops moment

With his victory in Florida, Mitt Romney seems to be the presumptive GOP nominee.

Luckily for us, but not for Mitt Romney, he's the type of candidate who keeps entertaining with his many gaffes. Does he think he's running against Joe Biden, not Barack Obama?

In any event, Mitt Romney's latest oops moment is that he doesn't care about the very poor. Here's the original commentary so you can see for yourself.

The New York Times covered the reaction to the gaffe in an article this morning. In a thoughtful piece, Gail Collins dissects Romney's commentary. While the reaction to Romney's original comments may have been a bit overblown, the substance of what he did say is not good for a candidate who is already perceived as out-of-touch with the experience of average Americans. As a scholar of political comedy and culture, Romney's latest gaffe is noteworthy -- as is the media's reaction.

Just how awkward are these comments? How much will they hurt Mitt Romney in the end?

As February begins and the primary contests roll on, look for journalists, comedians, and academics to pay even closer attention to the "gems" that come out of Romney's mouth.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Facebook, 2012, and Times Square

Want to share your views on the pressing issues of the day? Want to see your face and views up in the lights of Times Square?

According to an article in today's New York Times, Facebook users will have the opportunity to vote on key political issues using the new app 2012Matters. The non-partisan polling app will touch on nine issues during the course of the election cycle including: the economy, health care, immigration, social issues, energy, Social Security, debt, national security and the environment. 

After users rank what they see as the personal importance of these nine issues, they'll have the option of sharing their poll rankings (and their Facebook photo) on the Nasdaq billboard in Times Square. The billboards will highlight how the importance of these key issues varies by state.

The 2012 Matters app represents an interesting bridging of political sentiment with new technology and allows users to express their political viewpoints in one of the most public of spaces -- Times Square. Moreover, the app is designed to encourage political engagement among those who might not normally follow political campaigns or issue debates that closely.

The analytic capabilities for academic researchers are promising as are the benefits with respect to civic and political engagement. The new effort reminds me of some clever work analyzing the sentiments present in New Years Eve wishes by colleagues in computer science from UW-Madison.

For more check out the app, here.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Stephen Colbert -- Children's Book Author?

While the interplay between Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on campaign finance reform and who should control the Super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow is receiving a lot of attention and is a recent focal point of the two shows, sometimes it's nice to pause and appreciate the comic abilities of the show hosts.

This past week Stephen Colbert broadcast a series of interviews with legendary children's book author Maurice Sendak. The dialogue in the clips is particularly amusing and helps to showcase Colbert's ability to do what he does best -- comedy. So often academic researchers, myself included, focus on the political implications of everything Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart say and do on their shows. Sometimes it's important to just appreciate their work as comedians and be entertained -- just for fun's sake.

In the spirit of focusing on comedy and a good laugh, here are the two interview clips. Enjoy for a good weekend laugh!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Michael K Williams (aka Omar) in a new PSA for Marriage Equality

If you're a fan of The Wire, it's quite possible that Omar is one of your favorite characters and Michael K. Williams is therefore one of your favorite actors on the series.

Whether good or bad, for those outside Maryland, Omar and The Wire drive impressions of Baltimore.

As it turns out, Michael K. Williams is the latest in a string of of folks who are speaking out for marriage equality in Maryland. Check out the PSA below:

Same-Sex Marriage debate heats up in Maryland

Both Washington state and Maryland will be considering the same-sex marriage issue yet again this winter. A report in today's New York Times suggests that the Washington legislature now has enough votes to pass the measure, making Washington the seventh state to legalize gay marriage.

Can Maryland be the 8th state?

A new report in today's Baltimore Sun outlines the specifics of the bill Governor O'Malley submitted to the state legislature last night. Included are greater protections for both religious leaders and institutions that oppose same-sex marriage. While there was strong support for an alternate bill in the Senate last year, the bill fell short of the votes needed to pass in the House of Delegates. This year O'Malley plans to be more active in the debate, leading the push to see the measure passed.

Stay tuned as both sides gear up for a battle in Maryland.

For more, check out coverage of the effort in The Washington Post.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Lack of Coordination: Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart Push Ahead in South Carolina

One of the best things about Jon Stewart taking over the Colbert Super PAC, now aptly dubbed The Definitely Not Coordinating with Stephen Colbert Super PAC, is that the two comedians get to push the legal boundaries of what it means to not coordinate.

Here's just one example of non-coordination that aired on last night's episode of The Daily Show:

Seems as non-coordinated as Gingrich's call to the Super PAC supporting his candidacy -- Winning Our Future -- to correct any inaccuracies in the attack videos airing against Mitt Romney. The Colbert/Stewart effort also seems as non-coordinated as Mitt Romney's connections with those running Restore Our Future which has already spent $2.3 million dollars on ads in South Carolina.

I don't know about you, but I'm eager to see some more non-coordination between Stewart and Colbert. Their on-air meetings have added a new twist to the shows and presumably the ratings.

Colbert South Carolina Ads

Feel persuaded to vote for Stephen Colbert in the upcoming South Carolina primary on January 21st?

I don't know about you, but I'm enjoying the ads even if I can't vote in South Carolina.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Not Sure about Mitt: Vote Colbert in South Carolina

If you subscribe to emails from the Colbert Super PAC like I do or if you're just a frequent viewer of The Colbert Report or even someone who spends time on social networking sites, you'll by now know that Stephen Colbert has turned over the leadership of his Super PAC (Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow) to Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show.

Colbert is taking a step back from the Super PAC so that he can be considered as a candidate for president in the upcoming South Carolina primary on January 21st.

Here's Stephen's take on his electability in South Carolina and his popularity as a Mitt-ternative.

Since candidates are technically not allowed to coordinate with super PACs, it makes sense that Stephen Colbert can't remain as the director of Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. Trevor Potter, Colbert's lawyer explained the prohibition on last night's show. Here's a clip of the discussion and Colbert's handing over the reins to Jon Stewart. It seems it doesn't even matter that Stewart and Colbert are business partners. That doesn't count as coordination. Really?

While Colbert's candidacy is meant as a joke, his Super PAC and involvement in the 2012 campaign has attracted a fair amount of media attention. Check out Brian Stelter's piece in today's New York Times for just one recent example. It's also important to note that the piece appeared alongside articles about more "serious" candidates running in the 2012 South Carolina GOP primary.

While there are in fact some obstacles to Stephen Colbert actually being a legitimate candidate in South Carolina, there is the possibility that he may attract a small but decent amount of voters and actually be seen by some as a potential alternative to the current pool of candidates.

All in all, the transfer of Super PAC leadership and the focus on attracting voters in South Carolina increases the profile and impact of Stephen Colbert and even Jon Stewart. This latest development brings attention yet again to campaign finance reform and the ability of Super PACs to influence elections given their ability to purchase television airtime for these non-coordinated ads.

Looks like it will be a fun week or so as we approach the South Carolina primary.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Santorum continues to Offend

All eyes are on New Hampshire this evening as the GOP primary there draws to a close.

It seems that Rick Santorum has continued to ruffle feathers -- this time his comments aren't directly tied to the gay and lesbian community -- now he's making controversial comments about members of the African-American community and entitlement programs. Specifically, Santorum is reported to have commented on January 1 in Sioux City, Iowa:

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum singled out blacks as being recipients of assistance through federal benefit programs, telling a mostly-white audience he doesn't want to "make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money.

Of course, like any skillful politician, Santorum is trying to deny that he really made the controversial remarks directed at African-Americans. In fact, Santorum said that he wasn't really saying the word "black," -- just a simple twist of the tongue. Here's Stephen Colbert's take on Santorum's comments from last night's broadcast of The Colbert Report.

And for more on Santorum and other GOP candidates controversial remarks, check out Frank Bruni's latest column in the NY Times.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Many Talents of Stephen Colbert

This weekend's NYT Magazine section has a great cover story on the many "faces" of Stephen Colbert. Comedian, family man, and now chairman of his own Super PAC (Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow), Colbert is living proof that late night comedy can truly influence American politics.

And of course there's Colbert's ability to influence everyday American life:

There is a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor named after Colbert (Colbert’s Americone Dream) and a NASA exercise device (the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Elliptical Trainer, or Colbert) and a minor-league hockey team mascot (Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle) in Saginaw, Mich.

I'm a bit partial to the NASA device -- here's an illustration:

Of course, it's Colbert's performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2006 that really started to help the comedian capture the attention of mainstream news outlets and political junkies alike. For a flashback, check out the video below.

All in all a great read for those who are big fans of The Colbert Report and for those of us academics who have shown through research that exposure to political comedy can help to inform the electorate -- particularly younger citizens and those who are less likely to pay attention to politics.

Stay tuned for more research on the impact of The Colbert Report and other late night comedy programs like Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Santorum: The Butt of the Joke on The Daily Show & The Colbert Report (pun intended)

While Mitt Romney is technically the winner of the spoils of Iowa -- by a mere 8 votes -- it seems that Rick Santorum is the media's new darling.

For late night political comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, Santorum's surge and his infamous "Google Problem" provided some rich material for the start of the new year.

The Stewart clip below is laugh-out-loud funny and will make you think twice about digging into that leftover holiday box of chocolates.

The Colbert clip offers a nice primer on Santorum's "Google Problem" for those in need of a refresher on the alternative definition of "santorum."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Iowa 2012: Victory for V-Neck Sweater Vests (and Santorum)?

I'm anxiously awaiting the results of the 2012 GOP Iowa Caucus. Will Mitt Romney be able to secure more than 25% of the vote? Will Ron Paul eek out a Mike Huckabee style victory? Or will Santorum and his v-neck sweater vests make the most of some recent momentum?

While the New York Times sweater vest story (link above) is a funny one, nothing beats these proposed Santorum newspaper headlines, a fun list that pays tribute to Santorum's Google problem.

While Romney remains as the presumptive nominee even with a second or third place finish in Iowa, a second place finish (or even a good showing) for either Santorum or Paul will keep the respective #2 candidate in the media spotlight.

If it's Santorum in the news, you can bet the headlines, the sweater vests, and the association with the Google problem will only continue on to New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Speaking of Same-Sex Marriage: Bill Maher's Rules for the New Year

Bill Maher, host of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher offers his list of new rules for the new year in today's New York Times. You can read the full list here.

My personal favorite:

New Rule You can’t be against same-sex marriage and for Newt Gingrich. No man has ever loved another man as much as Newt Gingrich loves Newt Gingrich.

Happy 2012!