“FOOLS ARE MY THEME, LET SATIRE BE MY SONG”
“I believe that the government that governs best is a government that governs least, and by these standards we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.” Stephen Colbert
Johnathan Swift couldn’t have said it better himself. The ways that information about politics and government are shared by Stephen Colbert and Johnathan Swift are basically one big slap to the face of government. Political satire is one of the highest forms of thinking that there is in the world, and Johnathan Swift and Stephen Colbert can prove it to you.
If you don’t live under a rock you have probably watched Comedy Central or at least have passed by it as you channel surf. If you watch it regularly you might recognize the gentleman in the photo above. Stephen Colbert is regarded as one of the great satirical minds of this era. I’ll be taking a look at these two giants in the world of satire and what it is that makes them so great.
According to A Modest Proposal by Johnathan Swift, all the Irish people needed to do to fix their problem of famine and over population was eat the children. If someone wrote something like that today we would blow them off as crazy and possibly just ignore them. In 1729 the people were shocked. Swift was saying how awful the conditions were in his home country and he was telling the Irish people that it was the British governments fault.
However, Swift does make it clear that this is a satirical piece that is just meant to make the government uneasy and show his home country what the real problem it is that the country is facing.
This type of elevated, almost elegant sarcasm didn’t end with swift. It grew and developed over the years and has since spiraled into the hands of a new powerhouse in the world of political satire and that would be our very own Colbert. Back in Swifts day, he may not have reached as many people as Colbert did, but he still made a massive impact.
A popular segment at the beginning of The Colbert Reports’ run was called “Better Know A District” was directed towards a different Congressional district where Colbert would interview a member of Congress from that district. He would proceed to interview the Representatives which would result in an embarrassing ending for the interviewees because of how Colbert would question them.
Many members of Congress continued to appear on the segment even though it usually ended badly for those who were on the show before them.
What helps these two political giants is the fact that they are genuinely smart and knowledgeable about the topics they are discussing or making fun of.
A poll that was held at Cambridge University in England in 2013 showed that people who liked shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report was an indication of intelligence. Then the Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Publicmind poll stated that people who got their news from The Colbert Report are more informed than those who watch MSNBC CNN and Fox News.
The beauty of this type of satire is that someone could become anyone that they want. The could fight for whatever causes they deem worthy to fight for, and they’ll usually do it in some of the most though provoking and shocking ways possible.
Swift was well known for his intelligence, his presents in the church, and his power as a writer. He used this power to it’s full extent to write satirical pieces such as Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal.
Celtic people covered Ireland at the beginning of the 17th century, most of whom had extremely strong Catholic backgrounds. Swift felt that the government wasn’t doing anything productive to solve all of the problems Ireland had at he time so he came up with this “modest proposal” to grab the attention of not only the government but the people who were clueless about what their government was doing to them.
An example of how Colbert showed his viewers just how easily they can be misinformed on an episode of his show he got onto Wikipedia and proceeded to get onto the article about “Elephants.” He then proceeded to edit it to say that the elephant population in Africa had tripled in the past six months. This was able to easily grab the attention of his viewers.
Another thing that helps Swift and Colbert with their display of satire is their use different personas to get their points across. Johnathan Swift used many different pseudonyms for some of his writings such as Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff, or he simply made it an anonymous work.
Stephen Colbert didn’t go as far to change his name but he does have a different personality on his show. He is most commonly known as a humorous, out spoken republican that likes to interact with the real world by doing things like appearing in front of Congress to speak. During this specific event Colbert was often his comedic self, but he did change to a serious tone for when the topic called for a more somber mood.
This is where our two satirists show how good that they are in this field. They are able to have an infinite number of tones and perspectives in everything that they do. This shows how intelligent they are and proves that sometimes you need to say something a few different ways to get across to your audience.
These two men have so much power and intelligence to and they use it to make fun of the government and show the people how much power they actually have.
Political satire will always be around. It will continue to be passed down through different mediums until there are no more humans left to make fun of governments. People who really think about political satire and try to learn more about it.
Adam, Hyde. “What Is Collaboration Anyway?” The Social Media Reader. N.p.: NYU, 2012. 53-68. Print.
Damrosch, David, Kevin J. H. Dettmar, Susan J. Wolfson, and Peter J. Manning. “A Modest Proposal.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 4th ed. Vol. 1C. Boston: Longman, 2010. 2431-437. Print.
Lovin, Jared. “Analysis of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”” Lagrange College. N.p., Dec. 2011. Web.
Mcgrath, Charles. “How Many Stephen Colberts Are There?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 07 Jan. 2012. Web.
Quintana, Ricardo. “Jonathan Swift | Anglo-Irish Author and Clergyman.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 May 2015. Web.