So, for me the best political satire is not coming from the major networks, it comes from John Oliver and Hasan Minaj, who are locked away in paid networks or available on youtube, or Sam Bee.
Why your public transportation sucks - Hasan Minaj Patriot Act
Authoritarianism - Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
I enjoy the monologues of the late night comics. But for the primetime ‘situation comedy’ landscape there is nothing that addresses the political moment in any effective way. I should be clear even the people I have highlighted don’t always cover the onslaught against our democracy. Part of it is down to the relentlessness of that onslaught, part to the intermittent nature (26 times per year) of their programming and mostly down to the original ignorance of most Americans about their own government and our place in the larger world. Americans have been privileged to have good government for most of the past 100 years and what corruption we had was hidden - we didn’t confront it in our daily lives. In fact there was a book about how most of American government works invisibly. This is clearly not the case through most of the world. In consequence we are almost disarmed in our press response as well as our comedy. We’ve developed habits where there are clear boundaries on what is “acceptable” and people are censured (think Kathy Griffin or Michelle Wolf or the aforementioned Samantha Bee) for even marginally stepping beyond those boundaries. We want entertainment, not enlightenment, as if those things are not compatible goals.
So, to answer your questions, I see the role of satire as shining a light on the society, especially its ruling classes or ruling ideas, and puncturing their air of inevitability and invincibility by pointing out their ridiculousness. As in the Oliver piece I linked on authoritarianism, where Putin and Duterte are ridiculed on the way to explaining Donald Trump, where we can come to understand the risks of Trump while disempowering him on one level. Good satire makes us see we can separate ourselves from our situation and then change our situation. It gives us hope.
What works, for me? The shows I highlighted (and additionally the Daily Show) all work by taking some aspect of the dysfunctional world (as in the Transportation piece by Hasan Minaj) and pulling apart its pieces to show how power works and how it has real world effects that we can see. If the system is designed to work invisibly then the corruption also becomes invisible. Then the Koch Brothers are a slogan- people we are told to distrust, but we don’t understand why. Unmasking their actions, making the invisible visible is not essentially comedy, but the comic stance makes the exposition work in a way that a PBS documentary often doesn’t. We can’t engage with an issue in the same way if it is larger than we are, comedy makes it smaller than we are.
It is difficult to know what I want to know about satire in other countries because it needs to be organic to be meaningful. What I mean by that, to go back to Hasan Minaj as our example, looking at how he treats the subject, how would that same topic be conveyed in a Pakistani satirical piece or an Argentinean political cartoon? I am pretty sure that corruption in public transportation is a feature in both those countries and its effects are even more consequential (or more obviously consequential). Rather than being explored only for 1/2 hour segments from four commentators once every two years I am pretty sure the topic is hotly debated socially. I hope my question isn’t so vague that it is unanswerable, but that is the kind of thing I am curious about.