After 2001 and the attacks on 911 Americans began to lose trust in both their government and the media.
According to a 2002 Pew Research Center study, American audiences of television news fell by almost half between 1993 and 2002. The data also reveal a generation gap across the ages. Among 18–29-year-olds, only 40% reported watching television news at all in the previous day, a number that climbs to only 52% among 30–49-year-olds.
Along with Pew Center’s 2004 study on election coverage, that showed 18–29-year-olds increasingly turned away from mainstream sources of broadcast news, only 23% saying they “regularly learn something”. It is plain to see American audiences lost the faith they had in the traditional sources of mainstream news.
During this time though, American audiences turned to a different form of news and campaign information, late-night television and comedy shows. The 2004 Pew survey found that 21% of people ages 18–29 say they regularly learn about news and politics from comedy shows. With one program rising above the rest, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. With the post–September 11 passing of ABC’s Politically Incorrect, The Daily Show has risen to the cutting edge of the genre. Its unique blending of comedy, late-night entertainment, news, and public affairs discussion has resonated with a substantial audience.
It’s not just the younger audience either; research shows that the show also attracts an older audience, with 27% above the age of 44.
With American audiences turning to satirical comedy shows to catch up on news and politics, I was curious if we’d done the same thing in Australia.
The short answer to this is no, but why?
Australians are definitely unhappy with the Government, an Australian National University survey conducted last year shows 40 per cent of Australians are not satisfied with democracy, 26 per cent believing government can be trusted, with 74 percent believing the government makes “little difference” to household finances, and 69 per cent thinking government policies have little impact on the country’s financial position.
Australians also have a low opinion of the media with only 39 per cent of Australians saying they “think they can trust most of the news most of the time”.
There are two reasons though why Australians haven’t turned to satirical comedy shows like American audiences have, the first being that though Australian audiences have a distrust of news media in general, if you change the previous question so it only focuses on the news they watch the number jumps to 53%. Australians it would seem have found themselves in a bit of an echo chamber, choosing their couple of news sources and sticking with them.
The second reason Australians haven’t turned to programs like the Daily Show, is that we simply don’t have any. Australia has a long history of satirical programs, but none have been able to do the same job as The Daily show has in America, and I’ll be discussing why this is in my next video.
Senator Nick Xenophon and journalist Peter Green have lamented the lack of anything like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report in Australia. For Green, this is a field in which we cannot let the Americans win because: “We are a nation known the world over for an inability or at least reluctance to take ourselves seriously”.
On the contrary, I believe this is exactly why we can’t produce shows like The Daily Show.
Because we take ourselves so un-seriously in Australia, I mean honestly this is our police service; we have a completely different way of doing satire.
In Australia what passes for political satire is ridicule. The audience has to have someone to look at as the butt of the joke and laugh because it feels superior to that person.
Australian comedy then, tends to attack the messenger not the message.
A great example of this can be seen in Norman Gunston. When Norman conducts an interview were not only laughing at him but more so, his ability to take the absolute micky out of famous, talented people. To bring them down a couple of pegs.
Australia has suffered a bit from this long poppy syndrome for a long time, and it is deeply rooted in our culture, so much so that it spills into more than comedy. Donald Horne presents this well in his book, the lucky country when he writes,
“Much energy is wasted on pretending to be stupid. To appear ordinary, just like everybody else, is sometimes a necessary condition for success in Australia.”
When Australia does satire the message we convey is, “Look what these wankers did, what idiots.” The kind of satire that The Daily show presents sends an entirely different message. More like “Why is this happening? Is this really the best we can do?”
The closest thing, at least recently that Australia has come to emulating the Daily show, is probably The Weekly with Charlie Pickering. The Weekly focuses more on social justice issues, rather than just taking swipes at politicians, but still falls in to the trap of focusing on the messenger and not the message. It has also been criticised for being unoriginal, copying too much of the American style seen in The Daily show and Last week tonight.
So it seems Australian satirical programs are in a bit of weird place, being asked to be like that in America, but remain completely original.
Along with this, a lot of people in the industry have put running a satirical show in the too-hard basket. Partly because television comedy as a whole is a struggling market here. When the obvious career path for local comedians is to head overseas, why build up a bunch of jokes based on politicians and references no-one overseas will get?
Along with this to air a show on the ABC you have to adhere to their editorial guidelines that mandate “balance” in political coverage, making satire harder to pull off, especially when only one party is in power.
Australia has a long history of great satirical comedy shows, and it’s disheartening to look at how far we’ve come. Satire used to be something we praised, in 1966, Australia aired its first satirical program, The Mavis Bramston Show and it won three Logies.
The closest thing a program that was even mildly satirical has come to winning lately was in 2006 when The Glass House was nominated in the category of “Most Popular Light Entertainment or Comedy Program”.
It was beaten by Dancing with the Stars.