Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Media, Gatekeeping, and the War in Iraq

This is a political cartoon by R.J. Matson from the New York Observer that I thought tied in pretty closely to our discussion on the impact of humor in politics. I thought this Matson cartoon was closely related to the readings we did from Mulkay and McKain. The direct commentary of the media in this cartoon is a long-running style of political humor that these articles focused on specifically. We may think that political cartoons or other forms of political satire are being subversive or are directly challenging political norms, but a cartoon like this emphasizes that much of political humor is entirely beholden to the status quo.

This political cartoon in particular is being critical of the gatekeeping quality of the News. An image of a radar screen is covered with contemporary stories and media interests, none of which happen to be the War in Iraq. Matson points out rather directly that the media has chosen to ignore what should be one of its major stories. While some of the issues encompassed in the radar screen are also serious such as the economy and the presidential candidates, some of the issues focused on are entirely trivial in comparison to the war such as March Madness and, most notably, Eliot Spitzer. It can be shocking to actually consider that a current story like the Eliot Spitzer call-girl debacle can actually dominate headlines more than the continued violence and relative chaos in Iraq. In this cartoon, Matson is expressing his frustration, similar in many ways to the manner in which Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert express their frustration on TV every night.

Matson is being critical of the gatekeeping practices of the media recently, or what kind of news the media chooses to focus on. While this political cartoon appears to be poignant and extremely critical of the status quo, it does become clear after reading McKain or Mulkay that political cartoons such as this rely heavily on the status quo in order to function. As McKain states in a totally clear and not-confusing manner, “As a parody of News, TDS constructs itself out of news transmitted by the News, just as the News uses news content as its bricks and mortar” (pg. 416). Indeed, this political cartoon and many others wouldn’t exist if the traditional media didn’t continue its ways. Like Mulkay said, “Institutionalized political humor is derived from, and dependent for its meaning upon, the established pattern of serious political discourse” (pg. 210). The status quo in both media and politics is the number one target for political cartoonists and satirists.

Mulkay also points out that, “repetitive political humor contributes to a sense of political apathy which actually makes it easier for our rulers to continue to exercise political domination in the customary manner” (pg. 210). If this is indeed the case, then I feel that it speaks more poorly of us as the public as opposed to the political humorists who choose to take on these issues. That being said, a political cartoon such as this one can’t help but remind the public of an important issue when the mainstream media has so far failed to do so. While political humor may not succeed in destroying the entrenched style of media we’ve grown accustomed to, it can succeed on a smaller level. Even if these forms of humor only reaffirm existing views, the fact that these opinions have an outlet through this channel of expression is valuable.

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