Fake News, take 1
Satire is not a form/technique well integrated into American culture. Sure there is SNL and The Simpsons, The Daily Show and the charming Jane Bond, Nancy Clue, and the Hardly Boys novels of Mabel Maney and of course The Onion. Just the same, these are cultural artefacts more to the fringe than the center and often receiving harsh criticism when their satirical essence is misunderstood...or missed all together.
Ana Kothe's When Fake Is More Real: Of Fools, Parody, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, citing Paul Lewis's Cracking Up (2006), compares two forms of contemporary American political humor by contrasting Rush Limbaugh and Jon Stewart. The former uses mean-spirited humor to distract and self-eggrandize; the latter parody and satire to open reflective space while highlighting un-official truths in the face of political corruption. The nature of so much American comedy over the last 30 years, aka this author's memory, seems more of the first type: humor belittles and mocks otherness or makes light of more trivial human interactions (oh the standard sitcom) thereby propping up status quo. Would a cultural palate used to satire as a means for addressing the un-official truths (in Kothe's effective terms) of its own world ran to and been offended by the likes of Borat?**
What is the difference between Satire and Parody? For that matter what really is Irony? In certain circles the witticism is "we can't be true hipsters, we know the real meaning of ironic." Hip or not, Kothe's article puts Parody in the title, but uses Satire seemingly interchangeably until discussing Play it Again Sam (1972) and quoting Linda Hucheon in The Dialogic Imagination: "What is parodied is Hollywood's aesthetic tradition...; what is satirized is our need...." The Oxford English Dictionary includes more interesting information than can be reproduced succinctly here: satire and parody and irony. Perhaps the finer subtleties are not of the utmost importance for teaching youth, but precision in language is valuable to any educational endeavor.
If this isn't a style most Americans grow up appreciating, how do some of us learn to love it and how do we share that with others, especially students? One easy exercise is to start with a basic comparison of a story covered in the New York Times and the same story as in USA Today. What facts, figures, and information is provided? Are there experts or studies cited that can be confirmed? How long are the articles and where is each placed within its respective paper? The writing style, vocabulary used, ancillary charts, tables, or figures? Learners could do this a few times and then move on to a local paper, an online news source, televised or radio news articles and eventually into the formats more closely associated with entertainment such as The Daily Show or The Onion. Learners can look for "what is (supposed to be) funny" and state justification for why it is or is not by exploring the greater context and other relevant evidence.
In the moments when the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Sacha Baron Cohen are found to be offensive, why? What buttons are pushed? What values are challenged? It may prove to be quite difficult if not impossible for all viewers/readers to come to appreciate satire - but this does not preclude the opportunity to share and learn about the issues referenced in such biting parodies. In many cases, the age of the audience may serve as a limiting factor, as both satire and parody rely on prior knowledge for their effect. However, in many cases kid culture at least paraphrases older stories, formats, political figures, and so on. Much like the opportunity presented by youth oriented historical fiction, these pieces for kids present a keen chance to enlighten and engage young flexible minds with the more challenging nature of referential entertainment and communication.
There is a risk to stressing skepticism as a means for evaluating news of any kind from any source, though this is a fair assessment of what is required when comparing political candidates, policy solutions, and dish detergents. Disengagement, disillusionment, and even fear have been argued results. Instead of assuming news to be true until proven false, or false until be demonstrated true - both of which rely on unrealistic polarized dualisms - the emphasis in the public and in education should be on determining veracity by confirmation from a variety of sources, formats, and perspectives and with the understanding that any single "newsworthy event" cannot have its whole "truth" summarized in one article, series of television segments, or blog posting(s). Ongoing interaction with content and analysis is necessary to be "in the know." With continued information acquisition will typically come increased understanding and more opportunities for action and involvement, both important antidotes for anxiety or misanthropy inspired by news consumption.
**After thinking of Borat for this first time in a long while and referencing the film/character/phenom here, I noticed in the little "did you know section" of the Star Tribune paper at the coffeeshop a reference to him! Here's the related longer article: http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/movies/41329077.html?elr=KArksUUUU.