Zeitgeist

Throughout history, the United States of America has gone through an amalgam of historical, political and environmental events that have changed our perspectives on certain issues. Zeitgeist refers to such feelings and often changes with time and age. “It depends on timing, on you, where you are in life… your own personal zeitgeist” (Dunphy, p. 11). The media can have a great impact on how you view a certain topic and may, therefore, fluctuate the zeitgeist of an individual. Two popular shows that have been able to capture these moments are Comedy Central’s South Park and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Both satirically based shows serve their fans in a timely manner what with South Park’s six-day production cycle and The Daily Show’s dailyness.

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One ongoing issue that has been debated on for decades is that of global warming. Scientists have spent much time researching the causes of the environmental issue while others believe it to be a myth. Studies state that warming is caused by several gases, much of which are emitted in the atmosphere by human beings. According to National Geographic (http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/gw-causes?rptregcta=reg_free_np&rptregcampaign=20131016_rw_membership_n1p_us_se_w#close-modal

), “since 1990, yearly emissions have gone up by about 6 billion metric tons of ‘carbon dioxide equivalent’ worldwide, more than a 20 percent increase.” When referring to the zeitgeist of this period, evidence shows that these drastic climate changes are on the minds of many around the world. According to the Year-End Google Zeitgeist of 2005, Hurricane Katrina placed second in the top news google search for that year. Both of the aforementioned shows have reacted and shared their thoughts on these alarming data.

Screen-300631On October 19, 2005, South Park aired its Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow episode (http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s09e08-two-days-before-the-day-after-tomorrow) in which Stan and Cartman crash a boat into a beaver dam resulting in a massive flood. The show parodies the science fiction disaster film “The Day After Tomorrow” while also referencing the responses of Hurricane Katrina. Like many of the Katrina victims that were interviewed by on-site news reporters, the victims in this South Park episode were looking for someone to blame. They tried to put the blame on George W. Bush, terrorists, Al Qaeda, FEMA and the mayor. As was mentioned in Satire’s Brew, “Every story needs a boogeyman, a mythical creature hell-bent on destroying everyone and everything we’ve come to know and love” (p. 110). In this case, the story refers to drastic climate change and the boogeyman would be the characters themselves.

South Park news later reports that the destruction was caused by global warming. As coverage continues, newscasters are sensationalizing the actual events with exaggerated body count numbers. In the midst of all the chaos, a man repeatedly says, “we didn’t listen.” Stan’s father tells his son, “We didn’t take care of your Earth and now you have inherited our problems.” It isn’t until this moment that they realize they could’ve taken better care of their planet. This episode is encouraging its audience to be more involved in taking precautions to save the planet.

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In another episode (http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s10e06-manbearpig), a very flamboyant Al Gore warns the students of South Park Elementary School of the dangers of ManEarPig. No one believes it’s an actual thing to be concerned about and accuse him of wanting attention. This episode aired in 2006, the same year that Al Gore premiered An Inconvenient Truth, an Academy Award winning film enlightening people about global warming and climate change. The documentary received much press and even led to Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize achievement.

Every person has their thoughts on global warming, whether they believe it, don’t believe it or have no care for it at all. Harry Lime pointed out, “sometimes a work can change the trajectory of an art form and what a civilization will accept” (p. 60). From the Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow and ManBearPig episodes, Trey Parker and Matt Stone give off the impression that they don’t believe in Al Gore or global warming. Whether this will change the views of their audience is unlikely considering the lack of scientific background information.

The Daily Show, on the other hand, addresses the climate crisis with incorporated external news segments. According to The Yale Forum, 67 episodes of The Daily Show addressed global warming between 1999 and 2011 through reports on scientific findings. On December 8, 1999, in a segment called, “that’s thaw, Folks!” Jon Stewart satirizes the idea of global warming with jokes poking fun at the possibility of scuba diving between national landmarks and thawed out lost polar expeditionists in the near future. We laugh along with him as he does his jester like duties and serves as “the surrogate of the people” (p. 6)

The Daily Show has the upper hand when compared to South Park, credibility wise, when Al Gore visits during a 2006 episode (https://cogito.cty.jhu.edu/16136/jon-stewart-interviews-al-gore/.) Stewart shared that he believes the science but he doesn’t “know what to do.”  Gore refutes the accusation that he is only promoting his book and documentary “for political purpose” or to “mask ideology to expand the role of government.” He goes on to say that global warming “is the only crisis we’ve ever faced that has the capacity to completely end human civilization” to which Stewart replied, “nuclear’s got a shot. The bomb’s got a shot.” Stewart stays away from propaganda by avoiding “promoting a doctrine or cause to fight for all” (p. 118). He does this by taking a light approach to the interview as seen from the prior example.

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In a 2005 interview with author Chris Mooney, Stewart said, “It’s very difficult to know if people are lying to you with science…I can only conclude that Yale and like institutions are doing a terrible job of translating findings to the public.”  In other words, like many people, Jon just wants the easy facts and straight to the point. Many reports on global warming involve models, and charts, and graphs to which one can easily get lost in. Fortunately, National Geographic has this http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/12/1206_041206_global_warming.html

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As we have seen in the above examples, satirical shows help in “revealing the core of American society” (p. 74). Since the early 1980s, climate change has been an international environmental issue affecting people of all backgrounds. As a result, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) was created in 1992 and signed by over 150 countries. Unfortunately, issues do arise when finding a solution that all countries can unanimously agree on. For example, the U.S. refuses to take effective action due its dependence on fossil fuel. If we take a look at zeitgeist again, the spirit of the times in America show that we are more concerned with economy than environment. We have grown accustomed to being productive and making industrial improvements, no matter what the cost. Both South Park and The Daily Show have shown it’s audience what could possibly happen should we continue to live a wasteful lifestyle. South Park illustrated this with the flood and Stewart did so with the help of outside sources.

 

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