Back in the fall of 2003, after my horse’s ass initiative but before I started blogging, I shopped a satirical guest column around to the various daily papers. The Seattle Times and Seattle P-I promptly took a pass, but David Seago at the News Tribune was “sorely tempted … to stir the pot.”
Tim Eyman had been threatening to run an initiative that would have slashed the state school levy by 25%, cutting $800 million from K-12 spending per biennium during an economic downturn in which the state was already struggling to balance the budget. Inspired by Jonathan Swift’s satirical masterpiece, A Modest Proposal, I proposed that we could indeed cut taxes and while improving academic performance… if only we would harvest our schools’ lowest performers, and feed them to their fellow schoolmates.
I was pretty damn proud of my dry, Swiftian tribute, believing I’d found a way to clearly present some rather wonky data in an entertaining manner. But alas, after mulling it over for a couple weeks, the TNT declined as well, fearing that too many of their readers lacked the satire gene.
“Sometimes you just have to put a big red sign reading ‘SATIRE’ out there for those people who inevitably won’t get it,” Seago emailed me, a sentiment I found to be incredibly over-cautious considering I was suggesting cannibalism, for chrisakes. Needless to say, the essay went unpublished, and while I ultimately had less entertaining, more solemn guest columns printed in the Times, P-I and TNT, this particular rejection certainly played a role in motivating me to start my own blog.
But… as it turns out, Seago probably knew his audience a helluva lot better than I did, for as a new study from The Ohio State University once again proves, there are a lot of folks out there who just don’t get satire… and most of them are conservatives.
This study investigated biased message processing of political satire in The Colbert Report and the influence of political ideology on perceptions of Stephen Colbert. Results indicate that political ideology influences biased processing of ambiguous political messages and source in late-night comedy. Using data from an experiment (N = 332), we found that individual-level political ideology significantly predicted perceptions of Colbert’s political ideology. Additionally, there was no significant difference between the groups in thinking Colbert was funny, but conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements. Conservatism also significantly predicted perceptions that Colbert disliked liberalism.
That’s right… Colbert actually resonates with conservatives in his audience because they think he’s really one of them. They just don’t get the joke.
Not that, after nearly five years of blogging, I should be the least bit surprised. Here on HA we’ve always dabbled in satire, much to the confusion and dismay of some of our more concrete, righty trolls, who just can’t wrap their rigid little minds around the difference between being serious and being solemn. Indeed, intentional ambiguity has almost become a hobby of mine, if only for the amusement of watching my trolls get hopelessly mired within the lines while futilely attempting to read between them.
Many conservatives just don’t get satire. And that explains a lot.