“Your work is ingenious. It’s quality work. And there are simply too many notes…”
“Amadeus” (1984), Academy Award for Best Picture
Malcolm Gladwell’s recent (and excellent) “Paradox of Satire” podcast (from “Revisionist History” series) has launched a necessary debate as to the place “Satire” has within televised comedy programming.
“…it requires interpretation…”
Gladwell makes the case that popular comedy shows, such as “The Colbert Report”, and comedians such as Tina Fey, simply overwhelm audiences with humorous “skits”. The Roman satirical poet Juvenal (late 1st – early 2nd centuries AD) echoed this almost 2,000 years ago when he wrote:
Laughter can starve the effectiveness of satire and social commentary in the human brain through a psychological condition called “Cognitive Load“. This mental juggling, or multitasking, can overburden the working memory of most people. Thus, conservatives and liberals alike default to “stereotypes”, seeing their biases reinforced even when negatively portrayed.
The traditional purpose of satire is social criticism of abusive conditions in society, with the hope of bringing about change. And that takes courage. But comedians need ratings and laughs to stay on the air. Satire gives comedy a nice cache, but will wither before the bright lights and cameras.