Generic Criticism of COVID-19 in Satirical shows
With the advent of Coronavirus, many life situations and systems have witnessed a massive change in how they operate and that includes the change adapted by late night shows such as Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Late Show with Steven Colbert, and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. They have all shifted to quarantine versions of the shows. Their satirical lens to the current situation has changed little and their views and opinions on this novel crisis and what it implies including life in quarantine, the death crisis, the weakness in the healthcare system, political negligence, mental health, the impactful economic crisis, and many more face the fire of these shows’ satire.
Coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan, China, and very quickly, was transmitted to rest of the world. One of the main reasons for this included the dynamics of the global village we live in today where traveling has become extremely prevalent and fluid. Where China appeared to be the epicenter of this virus, the highest death rate and confirmed number of known cases for the virus is, as of yet, found in the US. Where about 4500 people lost their lives in Mainland China, about more than 90,000 people have lost their lives in the US. This has given rise to many conspiracies such as the virus in itself being used as a biological weapon to gain the global status of “superpower” by having economic and power hegemony by China. Other theories of its origin include that the novel virus was found in the bats in Wuhan and when some people consumed them for food, the virus was contained in them and they became carriers for it, infecting other people unknowingly with the deadly virus until its consequences became apparent.
Soon, this virus took over the lifestyle of the entire world as the only solution for containing it was disclosed to be social distancing and a concept used ages ago was put forward known as self-isolation or quarantine. This resulted in people slowly decreasing their social activities, although exceptions apply, and this later metamorphosed into countries applying national lockdowns and closing their borders to other nations for travel and trade to contain the virus. Dire steps were taken especially after Europe, including France and Italy, and the US came under the bus of Coronavirus. This, however, revealed a lot about the loopholes in the “developed countries” political systems, as in many, it took thousands of lives for country leaders to understand that human lives should be the priority in this case.
The superpower of the United States of America reacted too slowly in dealing with what now has become a pandemic. The Trump administration received international and national backlash. The Trump administration kept making things up and in the mid of March, Trump said that “Nobody knew there’d be a pandemic” in a press conference. However, evidence suggested otherwise. Trump was also criticized for making contradictory statements such as when he announced that there will be a travel ban on everybody coming from Europe into the US. Later his team and his own tweets cleared up the misunderstanding that the travel ban will not apply to US residents, their families and some important businesses. Also, Trump’s body language also spoke volumes about his inner confused, stressed and tense state of mind as opposed to his apparently confident demeanor. Further, some of the promises made by Trump that were consistently insisted that will be met, were actually not met and caused more anxiety and angst in the already endangered Americans. For instance, Trump repeatedly insisted that by Easter, the Coronavirus will go away. However, the consequential impact of the virus instead blasted America by leading to exponential rise in deaths. Moreover, Trump’s promises to open the country to counter the economic crisis that ensues as millions of Americans have signed up for unemployment by May 1st too proved hollow and impractical in actuality. It can be seen from these examples that Trump’s instinct’s on the virus were extremely wrong and so was the case with many other Americans who have faced backlash from the mentioned shows in a subtle manner by using satire as a tool to highlight their shortsightedness.
Using Generic Criticism is extremely useful in bringing about the actions of the status quo under scrutiny by playing it safe and not while doing so at the same time. Many have termed this concept as being one of the many “meta-critical approaches” that ought to paid attention to (Brock and Scott). This concept can be traced back to the Aristotelian times when Aristotle came up with the study of the art of persuasion now known as rhetoric. The need for the specific term Generic Discourse came to be about when a plethora of different discourse found their way in the norm and thus the term was coined so (Black).
Rhetoric is basically a way of trying to effectively convey one’s message or thoughts to other people in their speech or any other form that uses language. Generic Criticism generally encompasses the types of criticism used in a piece of speech, art, or written work and is a great tool to be used to convey one’s point of view in a unique way.
The scripts of the shows mentioned in the introduction can be broken down and looked at with the lens of satire. For instance, in the episode snippet named “The Battle Over Wearing Masks” from The Daily Show With Trevor Noah (it’s quarantine edition called The Daily Social Distancing Show) Trevor uses satire to convey his point brilliantly. The extract mentions, “Trevor Noah: But if we know that masks can help save lives and stop the spread of coronavirus, why are so many people refusing to wear masks when they go out in public? Well, one reason is that just honestly, they’re not super comfortable. And one woman in Kentucky found a solution that totally didn’t work.
NewsMax: A Kentucky woman is going viral for the way she wears a mask. This woman is caught on camerashopping with a hole cut in the middle of her protective mask. She claims it made it, quote, easier tobreathe. Everyone is required to wear a mask while out. Of course, the CDC is advising that masksshould cover both the nose and mouth completely.
Trevor Noah: OK, I’ll be honest. I get where this woman is coming from. Wearing a mask can make it a little harderto breathe. But you know what can make it a lot harder to breathe? Coronavirus. Like, I think somepeople might be missing the point of the mask. It’s not about conforming. It’s about safety.” The genius of this script not only lies in the content but visual effect as well that complement it. The content is effective because it presents a humorous way to humiliate the ones who put comfort higher up in their priorities but whereas, in this time, priorities are clear: masks can save lives and no alternative exists. This is not belittling, degrading or shading the woman but this tactic softly makes fun of the woman who did not actually pay heed to the coronavirus threat as much as she should have.
Continuing the theme of masks, Trevor given another funny example, “Trevor Noah: Although I will say one guy in San Diego got a little too creativewith his coverage.
KTLA 5: Outrage is growing over a man seen wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood inside of a Von’s grocery store nearSan Diego. Other shoppers took pictures of the man seen Saturday in the city of Santee. Store clerksreportedly asked the man to remove the hood or leave. He finally took it off while he was in line, thenpaid for his items and left. Santee’s mayor and others have condemned the incident.
KTLA 5: Detectives from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department are now investigating and will pursue anyappropriate charges.
Trevor Noah: Wow! Wearing a Klan hood as a face mask. That seems counterproductive.
Trevor Noah: Because, I mean, you might be protecting yourself from Corona, but you’re definitely going to get acase of ass whipping. And I know this guy thought he was being intimidating wearing a KKK mask inpublic. But I’m sorry, man, you’re in a grocery store. I can’t be scared of anyone buying GoGurt. Plus, Ilike how he only wore the hood. Yeah. So he was at home like. Should I put the robe on as well.” This dialogue contains tongue-in-cheek along with satire to criticize the ones making a joke out of this serious situation where thousands are losing their lives. The usage of words in this is extremely important to notice as it sets the satirical tone from the very start by introducing the action of the man of wearing a Klan Hood as being a “creative” action.
Trevor also integrates a similar serious situation of the arms debate in the US with a lighter tone that conveys his point that some Americans care more about not covering their faces than taking an important issue like the ownership of gun with due seriousness. The dialogue mentions, “Trevor Noah: …in America, you don’t just have the right to bear arms. You also have the right tobear face.
ABC 8: In Houston you could get a thousand dollar fine for not wearing a mask. That’s led to at least onelawsuit and complaints of government overreach. These mandatory masks amount to governmentoverreach.
Fox 26: There is now a lawsuit over face mask requirements here in Harris County.
Fox 26: There are many people who are unhappy with the order. Close to 150. Demonstrators protested themask mandate.
CBS: I don’t want to wear masks. I don’t want the government telling me what to do.
Fox 26: You cannot allow the government to overreach the Constitution, because if you allow that, then whatelse is next? Only God knows how.
Trevor Noah: Hell yeah, I’m sick of the government telling us what to do. Telling us to wear masks. You’ve got thosered lights that tell us when we can drive. Stopping me from buying romaine lettuce because it has E.coli on it.” The rhetorical device Trevor uses take help from simple everyday life examples such as comparing a traffic light to governmental order of taking precautionary measures. This highlights the stupidity of the people who are refusing to abide by the rules set by the government related to Coronavirus.
Similarly, Jimmy Kimmel’s show also showcases satire when viewed using the lens of Generic Criticism. In the episode titled, “Perfect Mother’s Day, Maskless Pence, Busy Trump and Mom Texts,” he blatantly makes fun of the unintellectual nature of Trump and the US Vice President, Mike Pence as the dialogue mentions, “Jimmy Kimmel: Mike Pence, pretending to carry empty boxes of PPEs into a hospital is the perfect metaphor for whohe is and what he’s doing. A big box and nothing, delivering another box and nothing.
Jimmy Kimmel: His boss, King Joffrey, got a bit of unsettling news today. One of the President’s personal valets hastested positive for Coronavirus, which is a big deal because the White House valet works very closelywith the President on a personal level. He does everything from handing him the remote to turn onFox News in the morning to grinding up his Adderall at night.
Jimmy Kimmel: The White House says Trump took a test. He gets tested every day and tested negative. Think he getsthat swab shoved up his nose every time? I wonder what kind of sound he makes when he gets that.But this President doesn’t have time for the virus. He is very busy obstructing justice and redecoratinghis wall. Trump reportedly wants to have his border wall painted black. Now he wants it painted blackso it will get hot from the sun and then people won’t want to climb it.” Two very serious jokes are employed by Jimmy in his dialogues and yet he slides away easily using satire by making fun of the heavy stuff. He questions the cleverness and intellect of Mike Pence by comparing him with an empty box indicating that he is hollow from the inside by insinuating that he does not have a brain. This is the underlying message yet is shrouded in the metaphor. Another serious joke used is by highlighting Trump’s absurdity by mentioning how the evident humanitarian crisis in the US is being undermined by Trump as he prefers to talk about his border wall amidst such desperate times. Using words like “redecorating” the wall really signifies what Jimmy thinks is the superficial and stupid nature of the American President that is costing him a lot.
Building upon the theme of the wall, Jimmy mentions, “Jimmy Kimmel: The paint job will reportedly cost anywhere from five hundred million to threebillion dollars to complete, which is a lot of money to paint a wall that doesn’t exist. But don’t worry,Trump put his number one son in law in charge. Jared Kushner, whenever there’s a job around theWhite House, Jarrett gets it. Jarrett is like Jared Kushner is like the world’s least reliable handyman.” Jimmy also drags Trump’s nepotism under the bus while mentioning his other weaknesses that help in highlighting his overall bad performance during covid-19.
Likewise, The Late Show With Steven Colbert also widely uses this technique of satirically commenting on politics in an attempt to let the general people know what is actually going on. In the episode titled, “Trump’s Valet Tests Positive For Covid-19 As His Campaign Prepares To Deploy Their Death Star”, he mentions, “One of the things about this virus is that itdoesn’t care who you are or whether you believe the virus is worth staying inside for. You can stillcatch it. Case in point, we learned today that one of Trump’s personal valets has tested positive forCoronavirus. Well, maybe this will help the President understand how scary it is for the average American when one of their personal valets tests positive.
Steven Colbert: Now, the President’s fine, but this was a risk given that Trump’s valets do not wear masks and thevalet who tested positive works in the West Wing and serves the President his meals. That soundstroubling. But keep in mind, the way you serve Trump, his meal is to kick the door open. Throw thechicken bucket inside and slam the door before you lose a hand. The President was reportedly prettyupset. A White House source said that “news that someone close to Trump had tested positive forCoronavirus was hitting the fan in the West Wing.”
Steven Colbert: Luckily, the White House fan is so caked with poop at this point; it no longer spins. Now, this news isinconvenient for the President because it gets in the way of Trump’s core message that we’ve got toopen up the country as fast as we can. And to that end, the CDC is actually already prepared adetailed document with step by step advice to local authorities on how and when to reopen. But theadministration has shelved the document. It’s just another part of the President’s long runningcampaign. The less you know.” This dialogue is highly satirical as it mentions the indifference of the American President towards the safety of the people around him that might also affect him in turn. Also, the informal language used such as the fan being caked with “poop” is definitive as it makes fun of the presidency’s apathy. This combined with the jokes made on the entire Trump regime regarding the propaganda related to information being hindered from reaching the public, emphasizes the message Steven is trying to convey in a subtly open manner.
Conclusively, it can be seen that understanding generic criticism is important as it makes one grasp the hidden messages in many different aspects in life and different sources. The examples given of the three shows explore the type of satire in generic criticism and how it proves to be effective in conveying harsh reality to the pupils.
Gustainis, Justin J., (1982) The Generic Criticism of Social Movement Rhetoric, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Harrell, Jackson and Linkugel, Wil A., (1978) On Rhetorical Genre: An Organizing Perspective, Penn State University Press
Foss, Sonja K., (2004) Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration & Practice