The effect of satire primarily revolves around who’s interpreting it. Like in any kind of humor everyone has his or her own taste on what is and isn’t funny. Similarly, people who are not familiar with the context of a joke probably won’t get the joke. So, it isn’t surprising that when Stephen Colbert, a liberal comedian, was graciously invited to President Bush’s correspondent dinner in 2006 ultimately to ridicule the president while America watched, the air got a little tense in the room. However, it must have seemed like the chance of a lifetime for satirical comedian Colbert; he couldn’t believe he was there. Pinch me…no, shoot me in the face, he said (without much laughter from the crowd). The guy couldn’t believe he wasn’t dreaming. So he gave it all he had, for its how these things go: you poke some jokes at the president, everyone laughs and knows you’re not serious (or do they?), and in the end everyone is friends. But take a look for yourself, it doesn’t seem like the President was really laughing along with us:
But does this mean the satire wasn’t particularly successful? Ultimately, it comes down to who the satirist is targeting as the audience, not as the butt of the joke. And this takes a bit of interpretation. If Colbert were to be targeting his direct audience: the President and the rest of the guests at the dinner, then perhaps his whole act was a failure. However, if Colbert were to be targeting a much greater audience, perhaps American citizens, or liberals, or even just the fans of his T.V. show, then the satire turned out to be a great success! From his witty comparisons of himself to Bush not being “brainiacs” and “thinking from the gut” rather than using their minds, to his undermining of the President’s authority of by mentioning that he stands “on things” rather than “for things,” Colbert was spinning a show for all of the fans of, well, not Bush. By asserting himself as an equal to the President from the start, Colbert was able to criticize, humiliate, and ridicule Bush and the Republican Party and their beliefs, which would seem the satire was successful…though maybe not to the party members at the dinner. In fact, although Colbert’s satire intends to inspire people’s minds to change, it seems that his direct audience would be more inspired to defend their beliefs than to jump on board with Colbert. So it’s no surprise he received so few laughs from his audience, and perhaps not surprising either that a YouTube video replay of this satire received so many views from all the people who agreed with his ideals.
But it seems that most of us should be able to handle a laugh at ourselves every once in a while, right? Maybe not if the audience is laughing at you. And in this case, the audience at the correspondence dinner wasn’t laughing, but it’s possible, the greater audience all had a good laugh at the dinner guests and Mr. President.