Alternative Media or Controlled Opposition?

Are shows like The Daily Show, Colbert Report and Real Time With Bill Maher really as alternative as people like to believe? Or do they play the part of “controlled opposition” -actually serving the forces they pretend to subvert? I don’t have the final answer, but it’s a question worth contemplating.

Political satire plays an interesting role in modern culture. It gives a mostly younger, well educated and liberal audience a chance to laugh at things like war, injustice, environmental issues and the violation of civil liberties. My point is not that these issues are too serious to be joked about. Laughter can always be therapeutic, and the notion that some subjects are taboo is itself one that inhibits freedom. But can satire sometimes be used as a way to discourage real resistance or the creation of a truly new paradigm?

In a recent essay in The New Yorker, author Malcolm Gladwell suggests that Stewart, Colbert, Saturday Night Live and the like are part of “the institutionalization of satire.” In this essay, he quotes another writer, Jonathan Coe, as saying, “Laughter is not just ineffectual as a form of protest…it actually replaces protest.”

I don’t know if I’d go that far –laughter is certainly better than mindless acquiescence. Yet it’s also easy to see how taking the position of snickering at the stupidity of mass culture, political leaders and other absurdities can indeed take the place of more substantial action.

If you really analyze what the most popular American political satirists are focusing on, you’ll see that a lot of it has more to do with matters of culture, education and even geography than ideology. This is especially apparent in the supercilious attitude of Bill Maher as he recounts the latest faux pas made by Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh. A lot of this ends up being a well educated, urban and mostly coastal (East or West) audience having a laugh at the expense of Middle Americans who shop at Walmart and watch Fox News.

In other words, a lot of the appeal of this type of satire (and all satire, perhaps) is in experiencing a rush of cultural elitism, a shared sense of being part of the hip crowd. So what’s wrong with that? We could criticize cultural elitism from an ethical, sociological or class struggle point of view, but that’s not my intention here. My point is that these contemporary political satirists are essentially playing a mind game on their fans. They are flattering their audience into a state of
appeasement and self-satisfaction.

It’s also crucial to remember that these high profile satirists are part and parcel of the American mainstream media, as much as they like to portray themselves as “alternative.” If you doubt this, consider that Jon Stewart’s annual salary is currently $30 million. How many of his “Occupy” fans who protest the bonuses of CEOs even know this?

If you need any evidence of where shows like The Daily Show Ultimately stand, consider a recent interview Stewart did with Erik Prince, founder of notorious private security company Blackwater and author of a new book (the title says it all) Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror.

Stewart made a half-hearted attempt to appear like he was asking some tough questions, but it was quite apparent that the whole interview was a chance for Prince to redeem Blackwater’s image in the public eye. Watch the video below to see what Abby Martin (someone who does a real alternative news show called Breaking the Set) has to say about Stewart’s interview.

Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher, along with the Fake News segment on Saturday Night Live can be fun to watch, and they do sometimes provide some much-needed humorous break from the often bleak world of current events. Some of their ironic observations might even occasionally expose something significant about how the power structure operates. But don’t mistake them for anything truly alternative.

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3 Responses to Alternative Media or Controlled Opposition?

  1. Pingback: Lane Hudson | Alternative Media for the Left Wing | Welcome to the Glory Hole

  2. Malcolm X says:

    Thank you for writing such a thought provoking and informative piece.

    Controlled opposition and other methods are becoming increasingly advanced in their ability to censure, to stifle communication, and to inhibit unified opposition against the centralized corporate/banking power.

    We’ll always read through the lines and try to use our best judgement from the data we collect from infiltrate-able and censor prone mediums of expression like all modes of communication besides spoke and hand written. On the local level we should take what we know in general to organize in the interest of the people and earth, against the our enemy, the organized banktocracy-corprocratism which rules every nation.

  3. Lion of Omega says:

    The more people awaken to the phenomena of controlled opposition, the more the establishment needs to *pretend to protest against* controlled opposition. The “layer-upon-layer effect” is what it can be seen as. It’s like a continual game of ping pong in a way. So, it goes something like: government versus people. Then protesters against government. Then fake protesters pretending to be real protesters. Then fake protesters pretending to be real protesters fighting against fake protesters (which is where we’re at now). For example, some see the obviousness of the fact that Alex Jones is false opposition and they call him out on it. So the establishment responds by electing some of their own to “call out” Alex Jones on being fake opposition while secretly being on the side of Alex Jones and the establishment he is a member of, and diluting and/or diverting the messages of those who earnestly spot the controlled opposition. They do it all in vain because God and Righteousness will win and the Day of Judgement will be achieved in full, according to prophecy and the Law of Justice.

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