To hear kids today tell it, programs such as “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” have broken all kinds of new ground and brought viewers a brave, new world of televised political satire.
Well, actually, political satire can be traced all the way back to Aristophanes, around 400 B.C.
In fact, it has been argued that studying satire is one of the best ways to understand the values, tastes and power structures of society.
But just so the kids don’t feel too badly, televised political satire became prominent much more recently, in the 1960s.
Shows such as “That Was the Week that Was,” “Rowen and Martin’s Laugh In,” and “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” all poked fun at religion, politics, the war in Vietnam and numerous other sacred cows. “The Smothers Brothers” was so controversial it was canceled by CBS midway through the season.
Other programs, such as “All in the Family,” which ran from 1971 to 1979, used
the sitcom format to tackle previously untouchable subjects such as racism, homosexuality, rape and abortion. Despite its controversial content, the Nielsen rating service ranked it No. 1 for five consecutive years.
“Saturday Night Live” debuted in 1975, and the show changed the way television comedy treats American presidents.
Chevy Chase took on President Gerald Ford, Dan Akroyd made fun of Presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, Dana Carvey and Will Ferrell impersonated both Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, and Darrell Hammond satirized President Bill Clinton.
The oral tradition, newspapers, radio and television have all had roles to play in poking fun at political leaders.
Ever since the early days of the republic, satire has been a part of the American political scene.
And like we’ve often said, there is nothing new under the sun.