THE BLOG
11/27/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

2008's Biggest Winner: Satire

(Reprinted from my article in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer Oped Pages 10/26/08)
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Dana Carvey as George H.W. Bush: "Let me sum up. On track, stay the course. Thousand points of light."

Jan Hooks as Diane Sawyer: "Governor Dukakis. Rebuttal?"

Jon Lovitz as Michael Dukakis: "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy!"

Right-wing talk radio has finally met its match. And it isn't liberal talk radio (except for the syndicated Femme Fatale of Farce, Stephanie Miller) . It's satire. The audience for satirical sketches and stand-up, rehashed incessantly via YouTube, parallels Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity radio listenership put together.

When Saturday Night Live spoofed the 1988 debates, the late-night viewers laughed. Then, pretty much, it went the way of videotape sales for the home. Its effect on the election, if any, was nil.

But when you have the technology to shoot it repeatedly throughout the cybersphere and into every office and home over and over just in case you missed it the first time, you find not only that the king has no clothes, but also that the obscene-yet-hilarious image is imbedded in your mind forever.

Think the state of the economy has helped Obama? Try Tina Fey. Attempt to find one person who hasn't caught a glimpse of the Sarah Palin look-alike's weekly hilarious and spot-on parody of the Republican vice presidential nominee.

Viral? It's become a fatal epidemic for the McCain campaign that's all but infected any possibility of credibility that might have been harvested from Palin's selection.

Impact? Try election-changing - why do you think Palin showed up on SNL?

The combination of satire from Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher and David Letterman tied to YouTube's easy access has made any clever swipe at a candidate deadly, especially for John McCain. If talk radio is the right's echo chamber, satire has become the left's.

What joke does the right have? I mean, besides Bill O'Reilly. The problem for the right is that the humor emanating from the likes of O'Reilly is, at best, unintentional.

Deliberate attempts at right-wing humor have fallen flat. Fox's 1/2-Hour Comedy Hour didn't get through a season. The recently released film spoof An American Carol drew less than one-third the per-screen average of Bill Maher's documentary Religulous.

It's only when so-called leftist satire takes on the left does the humor seem to work.

To be sure, satire is far from a 21st-century invention. In fact - from Aristophanes to Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain to Oscar Wilde, Will Rogers to Stanley Kubrick - much of what was said or written before continues to have relevance today.

Swift was able to imagine a second President Bush: "There are few, very few, that will own themselves in a mistake, though all the World sees them to be in downright nonsense."

Oscar Wilde foresaw talk radio: "Closed eyes listen, afraid to see on their own. Easily influenced and simply conformed."

Twain was familiar with present-day Congress: "Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself."

Rogers must have known something about the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections: "I am not a member of any organized party - I am a Democrat."

Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove showed that even the most powerful have their ironies: "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the war room!"

Of course, sometimes - many times? - satire writes itself. "I think we are welcomed. But it was not a peaceful welcome," said George W. Bush in defending Vice President Cheney's prewar assertion that the United States would be welcomed in Iraq as liberators.

But no matter which way it's aimed, satire teaches us in maddening terms. It exposes the absurdity of the actions of the powerful, many of whom we elected. It is not only a heart-and-soul cleansing for the public, but also a warning to those who are determined to continue the masquerade.

And with YouTube spreading the word, whenever there's an attempt to pass off blather as truth, satire has raised its side-splitting smarts, revealing those who try to make fools of us as the biggest fools and - on the first Tuesday of November - losers.

No joke.

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Award-winning TV writer and Former National Lampoon Political Editor, Steve Young, Blogs at steveyoungonpolitics.com.