"Through his unique voice and vision, 'The Daily Show' has become a cultural touchstone for millions of fans and an unparalleled platform for political comedy that will endure for years to come." -- Michele Ganeless, Comedy Central President
Jon Stewart announced this week his intentions to step down as anchor of "The Daily Show" this year. UMass Dartmouth Associate Professor of Political Science Doug Roscoe discusses the impact of the decade plus run of the show and its anchor that shaped a generation's view on politics and current events through comedy.
What impact has "The Daily Show" under Jon Stewart had on political discourse?
DR: Jon Stewart's brand of entertainment on "The Daily Show" fused a critical and intelligent perspective on current events with biting and witty humor. People watch because it was funny, but also because it is smart comedy and poked holes in the facades of politics. In the mass media age, politics is infused with stage-managed spectacle, and Stewart is brilliant at showing us the man behind the curtain. In this regard, it is important to note that the media was the target of his bits as much as political figures. Stewart loved to lampoon bogus politicians, but he was equally critical of journalists for failing to call out the artifice of politics.
How influential was the show and its anchor in influencing younger people's view on politics in general?
DR: Stewart's political and media criticism, combined with perfect comedic timing, proved an intoxicating mix to viewers, particularly among younger demographics. That said, it is easy to overstate the role of "The Daily Show" as a legitimate conduit for information on public affairs. A 2012 poll by the Pew Research Center found only 9 percent of Americans said they learned something regularly about the campaign by watching late night comedy shows. Even among 18-29 year olds, this number rises only to 15 percent. In contrast, 28 percent of this young age group regularly learned something about the campaign from cable news networks. Moreover, "The Daily Show" did not--and was not intended to--provide a comprehensive overview of current events. Issues were chosen more for their comic potential than for their relevance and salience.
What's the legacy of "The Daily Show" under Jon Stewart?
DR: Stewart's impact on the way we get information about politics may be larger in its legacy. Shows like "The Colbert Report" and John Oliver's "Last Week Tonight" have applied Stewart's formula on air. Perhaps more importantly, these shows have become stars of the internet. Bits from these programs now show up regularly in social media feeds. As more and more people get their political news from places like Facebook, Stewart's approach to infotainment may become even more widespread in a medium that is well suited to short, funny videos.
About Doug Roscoe
Professor Roscoe's academic interests center upon Congress, the president, interest groups, and political parties. He is especially interested in the dynamics of the electoral process, and how interest groups and parties shape lawmaking and public policy through electoral politics. His research has been published in the Journal of Politics, Legislative Studies Quarterly, Social Science Quarterly, the American Review of Politics, and the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. In 2011 Professor Roscoe was a Fulbright scholar at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, China.