5 scholarly things we learned from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Next up in my “5 scholarly things…” series is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Because, really, did we learn anything from The Daily Show with Craig Kilborn?

I’ll leave the hot takes for other sites. I’ll leave the tears for the secrecy of my own dark living room. I’ll leave the heartbreak for when The Daily Show with Amy Pohler is ending.

Let’s just get to it:

1. ‘Moments of Zen.’ Xenos and Becker.

What the researchers did: Participants in the first experiment were shown either a traditionally presented (hard) news story or a segment of comedic news about the same subject. Next, they researchers let the participants the surf the Internet while monitoring what they searched for and what they looked at using super secret spy (research) software, i.e. the participants didn’t know what they were being watched.

A second group of participants (totally different people) in a second experiment watched the hard news clip or the comedic news clip. Then, they were made to watch The News Hour with Jim Lehrer about the same topic and quizzed on their knowledge about the topic.

What we learned: Among the less-politically interested, the comedic news provided a gateway to search out traditionally reported news about the topic. But, they also learned less from the comedic news than from traditionally reported news.

My take: Audiences need prior knowledge to get the joke. So, it’s unsurprising that audiences learned less from comedic news than traditional news. But, maybe there is hope for the future if watching fake news inspires you to search out more information-packed news.

Interesting fact: This was one of the first academic papers I read when I started grad school. Jonee Lewis and I presented it in our New Media and Democracy course. Since then, the slide show has garnered more than 1,000 views. Seriously, 1,000 views for some boring thing I did for class. Also, I work one floor down from Xenos.

No, not that kind of gateway.

Cite: Xenos, M. A., & Becker, A. B. (2009). Moments of Zen: Effects of The Daily Show on information seeking and political learning. Political Communication, 26(3), 317-332.

2. ‘Laughing Matters.’ Bingham & Hernandez

What the researchers did: In a field experiment, two sociology professors used relevant clips from a variety of TV news sources in their lessons. Afterward, they surveyed the students about what they learned and their opinions about using the clips in the classroom.

What we learned: Students said they remembered and liked what they learned through watching humorous video clips, including Louis C.K. and TDS, that illustrated sociological concepts. The emotional experience of laughing resonated with the students, and connected for them the concepts to their everyday lives.

My take: In the survey after watching the funny clips, 97 percent of students said watching the clips added to the learning experience. Similarly, 96 percent said the clips were an effective learning tool. Those are numbers dictators get elected by. While we’ve learned scholarly things from TDS, we can also teach scholarly things using TDS.

Interesting fact: Beavers (2011) found TDS clips were also effective at teaching political science. Really, the whole course should just be watching the show.

Bingham, S. C., & Hernandez, A. A. (2009). “Laughing matters”: The comedian as social observer, teacher, and conduit of the sociological perspective. Teaching Sociology, 37(4), 335-352.

Stewart likes to laugh, too.

3. ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Audience Attitude Change during the 2004 Party Conventions.’ Morris

What the researcher did: This one’s a two-parter. First he did a content analysis of the jokes during both the Democratic and Republican conventions. Second, he used survey data that asked people the same questions about their political opinions and views twice: before and after the conventions. That survey data also included information about what type of television programs – including TDS – they watched during that period.

What we learned: The content analysis found that jokes that appeared during the Democratic convention characterized the participants as pandering and politically blundering. Republication jokes also included pandering, but more often attacked character flaws.

The survey data showed that when all other factors were eliminated, those who watched TDS during the conventions had a change in political opinions. Particularly, non-partisans (people who say they have no particularly political party leaning) who watch TDS had a less favorable opinion of Bush after the Republican convention than before.

My take: On one hand, these findings aren’t particularly surprising. People who watch TDS tend to be influenced by the opinions of the show. I wouldn’t have a lot to study if the media didn’t have an effect on public opinion. The thing I found interesting was the size of the effect of TDS compared to other shows. For example, while the favorability of Bush changed among those who watch David Letterman, Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno also changed, it didn’t change enough that we can say that change wasn’t chance. But, on a 10-point scale, people’s view of Bush decreased on average 1.19 points.

Morris, J. S. (2009). The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and audience attitude change during the 2004 party conventions. Political Behavior, 31(1), 79-102.

4.     ‘Predicting the Consumption of Political TV Satire: Affinity for Political Humor, The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report.’ Hmielowski, Holbert, Lee.

What the researchers did: Surveyed by phone 305 people about their personality and their television viewing habits.

What they learned: Age, cable TV watching, satire sitcom watching and liking humor are all predictors that you’ll watch TDS (and shows like it).

My take: These seem to confirm the types of things we would expect of an audience that who tunes into a humorous, satirical cable TV show every evening. But, it leaves unanswered a big question: Why is a 52-year-old so appealing to a young crowd? It’s no longer an acceptable answer to say that he’s on at 11 p.m., when the older folks are in bed. Nor is it fair to say it’s only people who have cable. Many (including me) now have access to the show the next day in normal waking hours for free.

Cite: Hmielowski, J. D., Holbert, R. L., & Lee, J. (2011). Predicting the consumption of political TV satire: Affinity for political humor, The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report. Communication Monographs, 78(1), 96-114.

5. ‘Primacy Effects of The Daily Show and National TV News Viewing: Young Viewers, Political Gratifications, and Internal Political Self-Efficacy.’ Holbert, Lambe, Dudo and Carlton.

What the researchers did: Participants in this a lab experiment was assigned to one of three conditions: To watch a TDS clip first and then a clip from CNN; to watch a CNN clip and then a TDS clip; and a group who saw no media clip. Then, the researchers split all the participants into two groups based their answers to three three questions about how much they believed they could cause political change. This split, done along the median, was made a high political self-efficacy and low self-efficacy groups. When you count the three manipulated conditions and two efficacy groups, they had six groups. After the participants viewed the clips (or didn’t in the control condition), they were asked about their need for political information was met by the shows – this is called political gratification.

What we learned: People who already feel low self-efficacy – people who think nothing they do matters to – feel less political gratification if they first watch The Daily Show and then later CNN than if they watch CNN first and The Daily Show second. Those with high political self-efficacy felt pretty much the same about how much political information they got regardless of order.

My take: This is the most fancy-worded way to say: You have to know a bit about politics before you watch TDS to get the joke. This paper talks about primacy effect – how order matters. But, for me it’s rarely like I specifically consume news in a particular time-ordered chunks. Maybe I first see a headline on Twitter, then I see some jokes about that on Twitter, later in the day watch TDS where that topic is addressed. The next morning I make time to read a whole news article about that topic. So while this experiment has implications for the theoretical ideas it wanted to test, I would like to hear from the authors how they think these results work under normal viewing habits.

Cite: Holbert, R. L., Lambe, J. L., Dudo, A. D., & Carlton, K. A. (2007). Primacy effects of The Daily Show and national TV news viewing: Young viewers, political gratifications, and internal political self-efficacy. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 51(1), 20-38.

There’s really only one way to end a post about Jon Stewart. Here it is, your moment of zen.

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