University of Connecticut professor shows satire provides perspective

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Joseph McAlhany, History Professor at the University of Connecticut, gives a presentation on media and politics April 24 in the craft room of Loftin as a part of the 2019 Multicultural Conference. Travis Doyle

The speaker uses coverage of a homework assignment from a nearby charter school to show the effectiveness of comedy.

By Travis Doyle

The real value of comedy is that it can be used to comment on society, and when the joke gets so close to the actual truth and stops being funny, it can help confront issues, a history professor the University of Connecticut told about 40 people April 24 in Loftin Student Center.

“The real value of transgression and comedy is that when it gets to the point that it’s not actually funny, and what comedy can do is actually push us up to that point, Joseph McAlhany said in a session during the college’s multicultural conference.

Comedy is “a place where things can get worked out because it’s not serious,” he said. “Because it gets dressed up in laughter and absurdities, it somehow then allows us to really confront these issues.”

He used a slide show with video and written works to demonstrate ways comedians, politicians and writers have used satire to more effectively show topics or views they wish to get across.

Among the segments were examples from Aeschylus’s “Agamemnon”; Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”; comedian Michelle Wolf’s monologue at the 2018 White House Correspondents Dinner; President Obama’s anger translator clip from “Key & Peele,” a sketch comedy show; and clips from ‘The Daily Show” with Trevor Noah.

One of the clips was from a 2018 segment of “The Daily Show” presenting a comedic twist on a homework assignment at the Great Hearts Monte Vista North Charter School adjacent to this campus. The assignment asked students to list the positives and negatives of slavery.

He said other news outlets discussed this topic in a serious manner, yet he believed the “The Daily Show” clip was more effective.

Another clip he showed was from Wolf’s presentation in which she satirically criticized the Trump administration.

One of her ongoing jokes was that this was the second year the president did not attend the event.

If we don’t have people that push those boundaries, we’re not really going to ever have those discussions in open, frank manner,” he said. “Politicians of all sorts have long recognized this, as we go back to Agamemnon and think about Orosetes, how he saw him as a danger.”

He said he believes society uses offensive humor to confront problems.

“I think it (humor) has the unique power to disarm us from our reasoned armor,” he said. “When we have a logical argument and we tend to think about defending that and humor can break that down, and we use them as a, I think, much more effective way to deliver a point.”

After showing the modern clips of satirical commentary, McAlhany went back to the 18th century with Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.”

The essay uses satire to criticize economic conditions by suggesting the impoverished Irish could fix their economic problems using poor children as a food source.

The conference was one of the events in the annual conference produced by the English program at this college.


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