Analysis Of The Daily Show and Real Time Shows

The English language features a bevy rhetorical devices and tools to communicate persuasively. Satirical works often employ irony and sarcasm in an effort to make a larger point. Throughout the Western cannon, authors have effectively used satire when making arguments regarding societal issues and large human matters. From ancient Greek playwrights and Shakespeare to modern interpretations like the television shows The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Real Time with Bill Maher, satire has been an impactful device in making compelling arguments.

In the past, the writers Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain employed satire to make larger points regarding societal movements and conditions during their time. In his work “A Modest Proposal”, Jonathon Swift, in the early 18th century, utilized satire to make arguments regarding class divisions and the approach of the British government toward the impoverished Irish. Like Swift, the American author Mark Twain used satirical approaches to present a criticism of humanity in the 19th century. Ultimately, this essay will illuminate how both authors used satire within the theoretical framework to effectively render arguments concerning human social conditions during their lifetime to affect greater change.

Swift in his essay, “A Modest Proposal”, satirically addresses the suffering of the Irish in the early 18th century by entrenching his arguments in the class derisions and economic divisions that affected not only the Irish but larger English society. Rhetorically Swift makes an exaggerated claim, whereby he proposes that the Irish should sell their children as a source of food to wealthy individuals (Swift 353). Though Swift is not literally arguing that impoverished Irish should put their children up for sale for other human beings to consume, he uses these exaggerated claims to illuminate how out of touch the upper classes of the time were with regard to the suffering of the underclasses in Ireland and beyond.

As Todd (41) argues in his essay, an author uses a satirical device to make exaggerated claims regarding the persons, objects and/or forces that are causing a problem in society. The application of exaggerated claims works to elicit a response and engagement from the reader.

The literary device and approach function to forge a setting, whereby the reader must ask him or herself why a figure of great erudition such as Swift would make such a seemingly ludicrous claim. By taking that step, the reader becomes more engaged and thoughtful on the subject matter theoretically. He or she begins to see beyond the ridiculousness proposed on the surface to better understand the serious factors that have compelled the writer to approach them regarding the subject matter in the first place.

Like Swift, the American author Mark Twain was a master of employing satire to make larger points regarding society during his lifetime in the 19th century. Twains works often were rich in both humor and irony to make his arguments more convincing and engaging for the reader to contemplate. For example, Twain’s piece “The Lowest Animal” finds the author delivering a satirical scientific argument on the arrogance and selfishness of human beings.

Rather than simply making a deliberate argument regarding his viewpoint on the subject matter, Twain uses the rhetorical device to present an ironic scientific argument for why man is the lowest form of animal on Earth. This approach becomes actively engages the reader because most people assume that human beings are the superior being on the planet. Of course, traditional science underscores this from a technical viewpoint.

However, Twain ironically turns the table showing how often times humans act in base ways that betray their status as the superior beings. In his mocking scientific approach, he makes claims that feelings of revenge and shame are supposed to be traits of only the lowest animal life, yet human beings are most likely to experience and engage in these types of emotions and actions (Twain 181-183). In other words, Twain manages to marshall evidence in a way to expose how humans often act no better than the animals that they believe they are superior to in terms of classification and evolutionary development.

Twain’s application of a scientific argument and understanding to illustrate this point underscores Todd’s arguments regarding how the author must gain the participation of the audience in a satirical work. Todd (44) argues, “Thus, satire forces the audience not only twenty to subject matter but also to question the manner presentation of that subject… the purpose of identification, Then, is to bring man to knowledge, You his knowledge to change attitudes, And with a new attitude to alter man's course or action toward the ideal…” Therefore, Twain proposes on the surface a seemingly ridiculous notion of using a scientific approach to illustrate how humans by their actions are rather low compared to other animals forms they are supposedly superior.

This approach compels the reader to pause and think, recognizing Twain’s irony, and thus becoming more engaged and pliable to his influence for change. Ultimately, satire may well parallel notions of soft-selling and more indirect approaches of persuading people to rethink their opinions regarding political, social, economic or human conditions. Arguably, contemporary masters of the literary approach exist in television such as Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart who have lampooned traditional news outlets to compel their audience to think more for themselves with the aim of both entertaining and educating them.

25 October 2019
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