Putting a humourous spin on current affairs distracts the public from serious issues
It seems like a natural human reaction to downplay upsetting situations with humour. It makes them seem less scary. We watch funny movies to cheer up, we joke about our stress and make light of our procrastination even though these actually make us want to cry, and we laugh at our mistakes and embarrassments.
However, when the world’s political climate is so bad that we have to cover it up with humour, that’s when I believe the perception of politics can get dangerous.
Lately, I believe the media, including news outlets and social media platforms, have been taking a comedic approach to politics. More and more headlines make readers laugh rather than worry about what’s going on in the world.
Think about it. A little over a week ago, the media erupted because U.S. President Donald Trump drank from a water bottle in a funny way during a press conference—the response was heightened by the fact that Trump mocked Senator Marco Rubio in 2016 for doing the same thing, according to CNN.
While this story succeeded in making people laugh, it holds no importance in political discussion. There is no way that Trump drinking water was more important than the content of the press conference. As specified on the White House website, Trump made remarks about his trip to Asia and commented on his plan to rapidly reduce the nearly $800-billion annual trade deficit the United States has with other nations. Yet no one talked about that. Using humour to distract the public from the real issues is no joke. In my opinion, it minimizes their importance and severity.
When political affairs boil over, a tweet or a funny anecdote often take the spotlight rather than the issue at hand. For example, Trump tweeted “covfefe” in the middle of the night back in May. According to CNN, he was tweeting about bad coverage from the press concerning the Russia investigation, but he accidentally typed “covfefe” instead of “coverage.” This particular tweet was posted a few days after the FBI announced concerns about Jared Kushner’s ties to Russia and one day before Trump withdrew from the Paris agreement, as reported by The New York Times. Yet, stories and speculations about the meaning of “covfefe” seemed to be all anyone was talking about.
The negative consequences of unnecessary and misdirected coverage are profound. I believe one example would be the role this type of coverage played in the 2016 United States election. According to the Washington Post, Trump did not spend any money on television ads for the first 202 days of his campaign. This was possible because of all the free publicity he got from the media for the most ridiculous reasons. This attention made everyone familiar with his name and, in my opinion, definitely affected his popularity when it came time to vote.
However, we should stop pointing fingers across the border and begin examining our own issues here in Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau receives a lot of global media attention, but I don’t believe it’s for his policies. In my opinion, most of the attention he gets is based solely on his good looks. For example, he appeared on the cover of GQ magazine in May 2016 and was listed as one of Vogue’s “10 Unconventional Alternatives to the Sexiest Man Alive.” While this is not a form of humour, it is still a distraction from the policies and current affairs that impact Canadian citizens.
Politics is starting to seem more like a reality TV show. When reading or listening to the news, media consumers should be asking themselves: “Will this matter in a few years?” Reporters should be focused on politically relevant information that the public needs to know. In my opinion, if something won’t matter in a few years, it isn’t important and shouldn’t be published in the first place.
News media producers should also think twice before taking a comedic approach to politics. A journalist’s job is to inform the public about national and international affairs and keep citizens informed. By turning these important issues into jokes, they aren’t equipping citizens with the tools needed to be active members of our democratic society.
Politics is not a topic we should be covering up with humour because, unfortunately, it’s usually no laughing matter.
Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth