Nick Meador writes on his blog:
A 2009 study found that people tend to interpret ambiguous political satire according to their own views and self-image. This has enormous implications for satirical programs mocking democratic behavior, produced by media conglomerates that support Internet censorship. (The following is an essay that I was not able to place with a magazine, but still wanted to share with the world. Feel free to re-post on your blog or website, in accordance with the Creative Commons license. Just give me credit and link back here.)
“The revolutionaries of any decade will become the reactionaries of the next decade, if they do not change their nervous system, because the world around them is changing. He or she who stands still in a moving, racing, accelerating age, moves backwards relatively speaking.” – Robert Anton Wilson, Prometheus Rising (1)
On Thursday, December 1, 2011, Stephen Colbert addressed the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a bill currently under consideration in U.S. Congress, on his late-night political satire program The Colbert Report (pronounced “Cole-bare Ree-pore”). Fight for the Future, a group coordinating the push against SOPA and Protect-IP (a similar bill being considered; the “IP” stands for “intellectual property”), says that such a bill would allow the government to shut down websites for any copyright infringement, while making it a felony to stream copyrighted content without permission. (2) According to PCWorld, the government could also restrict access to foreign sites with the help of Internet service providers (ISPs), or block advertising and payment services from working with the sites. (3) The result, as anyone with a cursory understanding of the issue can predict, would be a drastic reduction our free speech rights and possible damage to the DNS system upon which the Internet depends.
Some critics of the proposed bills regard this Colbert episode as important national coverage. After all, if SOPA passes, it would possibly be the worst change at the federal level – by which I mean, bringing the worst consequences for our democracy, our culture, and our individual lives – since the 2010 Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited corporate and union spending in political campaigns under the guise of “free speech.” (4) What those critics do not realize is that a large portion of Colbert’s audience probably missed the point about the proposed intellectual property bills.
A 2009 study from Ohio State University evaluated the way that political beliefs affect a viewer’s perception of both humor and the host’s intentions in The Colbert Report. The peer-reviewed journal article by LaMarre, et al, called “The Irony of Satire: Political Ideology and the Motivation to See What You Want to See in The Colbert Report,” says that “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.” (5) However, according to the authors, self-identified “conservatives” and “liberals” (measured on a seven-point range) both found Colbert equally funny.