The Daily Show

The Daily Show: Black Lives Matter, ideology, and online content

20 minutes to read
Article
Joël Grassère
19/03/2021

The Daily Show has a specific combined-media ideology and position in the hybrid media system. It holds an antiracist ideology and can normalize this through its unique position, thus aiding the Black Lives Matter movement. However, this is partially thwarted by filter bubbles and polarization.

In this article, I will examine this show's usage of media and political ideologies, including how it supports specific causes and groups such as Black Lives Matter. Further I will look at the effectiveness of this in the context of filter bubbles and contemporary American polarization.

What is The Daily Show?

The Daily Show is a satirical TV program that covers political news in the United States. Its current host is South African comedian Trevor Noah. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the show has taken a new form. It was renamed "The Daily Social distancing show" and has become similar to YouTube shows with quick-cuts, short segments, and a more amateurish and authentic format.

The show now functions as a mix between a YouTube show and an actual news show. Segments of the program are regularly posted on online, i.e. both on network TV and YouTube. On the video platform they also post compilations of video segments organized by topic. An example of this is a compilation of their coverage of former U.S. president Trump's "best" Tweets. 

The show and its host have become famous on the internet, especially in liberal circles. Trevor Noah could be called both a traditional and social media celebrity. In addition to this, memes, internet articles, and tweets are often discussed on the show and posted on the show's different social media. While this type of media use is not exclusive to internet shows, it is more typical of them. Also indicative of this are specific camera shots that center the anchor, guests chiming in via video instead of visiting the studio, and not using a professional studio.

The show has adopted what Chadwick calls a hybrid media logic, in which internet and broadcast media logic are fused. The typical content that you would expect from an American political news show is covered in an entertainment format. Moreover, the show covers a lot of Trump-related news, quite a bit of criminal justice, longer editorial pieces, and even human interest pieces from time to time.

Furthermore, the show features different specialized reporters. They are often used to connect to a certain population or issue.  For instance, Roy Wood Jr. often talks about African American issues. This is communicated through formal elements such as quick-cuts, short segments of video, intertextuality through memes and other media, and short jokes interspersed with serious content.

Lastly, the show is also active on Twitter and other social media. Here they share clips from the show.

The Daily show's Twitter page in early January 2020

Using the hybrid media system

Before analyzing their ideology and its impact on political news cycles, we must first analyze how The Daily Show uses different media. This will reveal the process that meanings conveyed in the show go through.

 

To do so I will use the episode above to demonstrate how the show utilizes features from multiple formats or genres. At the bottom of the video, we can see a news ticker. This is typical of American broadcast news. Furthermore, we can see how the show uses other news outlets, all while joking and applying quick cuts. This is reminiscent of the internet and specifically common YouTube video formats. So, we see a combination of broadcast and internet media formats

Thus we can see that the show mixes formats from both internet and broadcast media.

In this case, internet media format features refer to ways of using audiovisual media that are widely accepted on the internet and that internet users are generally expected to understand. This communicative framework allows the show to communicate meaning. The viewers are expected to have some foundational understanding of how meaning is conveyed online. For example, The Daily Show uses memes, specific types of shots, and a style of mock conversation commonly found online.

The broadcast media format, on the other hand, is the conventional way of using audiovisual media for Television. Examples would be a news ticker, showing other network TV clips, and having live guests. A TV viewer is expected to understand these communicative tropes.

This dichotomy is particularly clear when watching coverage of the Fauci Video incident (starting at 03:07). We first see clips from other cable news networks. This technique is often used by political satire programs on network tv. The anchor would usually go on to explain the clips and make longer, more content-focused jokes, as seen on John Oliver's program Last Week Tonight.

However, the Daily Show does not follow this pattern. Following the news footage, there is a mock conversation between the public and former U.S. president Trump, both personified by the anchor. This is a typical pattern in YouTube shows, like ScreenRant's "Pitchmeeting." This mock conversation is followed by more cable news footage, followed by a more serious ending with a moral element. The show thus combines broadcast and YouTube media formats.

Consequences of combining media formats

Combining media formats has consequences for viewers. For instance, to understand why this show does the faux conversation or refers to certain sources the viewer needs specific knowledge. This knowledge is treated as normal and thus micro-hegemonic. Thus having micro-hegemonic knowledge is required to understand the show.

This knowledge requirement is expanded as viewers need to be familiar with the broadcast media format and the YouTube or internet media format. Thus, viewers are required to understand intertextuality and features from both online and offline media. The viewer needs to recognize both the faux conversation and what using footage of a certain cable show means. The conditions for uptake are higher. One needs to be literate in more media formats.

The conditions for uptake are higher. One needs to be literate in more media formats.

However, using features from multiple media formats can also have advantages. The show has more options in communicating meaning: it can use both memes and a news ticker; it can make more varied the jokes and references. Thus the show can attract viewers and entertain or inform them in more varied ways. This is relevant as any meaning that the Daily Show conveys will be communicated through this system. Both the expanded options and the necessity of hegemonic knowledge for receivers impact a viewer's opinion about the ideas and happenings the show covers.

This does not mean the show can create fixed meaning. Meaning in the hybrid media system can be re-entextualized both by sharing and merely viewing a piece of content. For instance, someone sharing a video sarcastically might change the meaning from an honest statement to a mockery of that same statement. Furthermore, if a viewer misunderstands the show because of a lack of overlapping mental context between creator and viewer, the meaning communicated could differ for the specific viewer. For instance, a swastika could communicate a religious symbol in Buddhism or a Nazi symbol depending upon one's context.

Both the expanded options as well as the necessity of hegemonic knowledge for receivers impact a viewer's opinion about the ideas and happenings the show covers.

Then the question remains, why can The Daily show require such high levels of preexisting knowledge from its viewers? This is due to its specific emplacement on either TV or YouTube. On YouTube, most people will be familiar with the YouTube format, and on TV most will be familiar with the broadcast format. Therefore, the chance that they would miss all the cues present is diminished. Thus the show can expect a viewer to understand more media formats and have more micro-hegemonic knowledge because of its specific emplacement.

Later I will further explain the logic behind using multiple media formats as it relates to the big organizing of Black Lives Matter.

Political Ideology

I will now analyze The Daily Show's ideology and associated political tradition. 

I will use the example above to illustrate the show's ideology. It is a compilation of their own clips on discrimination, called DiscrimiNATION

We can see that the show has an antiracist ideology

We can see that the show has an antiracist ideology. Discrimination is an important issue for the show, important enough that they make many videos on it, and then make those into a compilation. Furthermore, the show satirizes people associated with racism, especially former U.S. president Donald Trump. It also covers many issues that matter to minorities, and racism and inequality are often subjects of debate. This all indexes an antiracist ideology.
 

We can see ideology in the show through the assumptions the host makes. For instance, when covering voter suppression, like in the video above, it is not questioned whether solving this would be good. Racism in a democracy is assumed to be bad. This is further connected to minorities - the anchor shames republicans for blocking minorities from voting. Antiracism is embedded in this assumption. When racism in the voting process is revealed, it is mocked and disparaged. Racism is a moral issue for The Daily Show.

Of course this does not mean that every viewer will become an antiracist, or even pick up on the antiracism messaging. This is all dependent upon the viewer's knowledge. If the hegemonic knowledge is not present, they can not pick up on it. Furthermore, a viewer might be less inclined to agree with or pick up on this ideology based on their background.

The Daily Show, Black Lives Matter, and big organizing 

The show works to normalize antiracist ideology and as such helps to create a context in which the Black Lives Matter movement can become part of the mainstream. The Daily Show has reported quite heavily on racial injustice and other topics related to this organization, possibly due to their shared antiracist ideology. I will now look at a few instances where The Daily Show and BLM are connected. In these examples, we will see how a TV program can aid a social organization in mobilizing big organizing and engagement.

Donate function adde to The Daily Show Video's

On YouTube, there is a donate button for the NAACP legal defense fund next to all Daily Show videos. NAACP supports racial equality. Effecting racial equality by eradicating white supremacy is Black Lives Matter's cause. The show therefore facilitates fundraising for an organization that is heavily connected to racial equality. Thus, the show helps further the same cause as Black Lives Matter. However, they are not a direct part of the movement.

The Black Lives Matter movement has been linked to a phenomenon called big organizing. This means the group wants to mobilize many people, and does so by applying leadership positions and hierarchy to online media. BLM, for instance, has clear leaders, but also recruits and spreads their message through social media, and has a huge social media presence. An ally of the BLM movement could aid their big organizing through engaging and mobilizing people as well as normalizing the cause. I will now examine how the Daily show, as an ally to the Black Lives Matter movement, does this.

For instance, in the above video, the anchor talks about the Black Lives Matter protests. At the end, he begins speaking in the first person, saying, "we are not naive." He identifies with the people who are demonstrating, and the show therefore indirectly endorses the protests. Furthermore, the last sentence of this video cements the show's view: "the people are still fighting, the people are still pushing, but something tells me, if they keep at it, there will be no stopping them." The show's support helps to normalize the protests by framing them as good instead of radical.

This means the show is encouraging people to become and remain activists. They are supposed to independently further the cause. Thus, the show is aiding in Black Lives Matter's big organizing. It helps normalize antiracism by aiding in mobilization, which the anchor praises.

The show further helps people actively engage with antiracism through a combination of humor and seriousness. This makes it more interesting to watch and thus easier to engage with the show's antiracist ideology. This leads to more people being mobilized for the antiracist cause. This ideology then becomes more easily normalized.

In the video above, we see coverage of the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. Even though this clip is rather short, the anchor takes almost a minute at the end to simply talk. He states that minorities all over the world are united in this fight, and, to him, that is the strength of the protests.

This shows that the anchor wants people to be engaged and mobilized in activism. The show places emphasis on the idea that all minorities are in the same boat. He says they all know that the system is keeping them down, and thus they stand together. The way he says this is overtly positive. He is emotional and stating the reason for the protest's success. His tone is a mixture of angry and happy. The show says all these people do not find it acceptable and gives a tone that the protests are good. This means people will generally walk away from watching this with a sense that mobilization for the protests is good. The show thus normalizes protesting for Black Lives Matter.

This could be seen as a prefigurative discourse. That means the show makes a statement, specifically describing a reality that is not there. This statement reshapes reality. He says all minorities are united and thus asks for mobilization. This description of reality is currently not accurate: a lot of people are mobilized, but many are not. The statement is, to a certain extent, a call to action. Thus, it could be considered a prefigurative statement.

Lastly, the show made a segment called "The Right Way for White People to Address Racial Injustice." This is a comedic interview between one of their reporters, Desi Lydic, and a racial dialogue expert. The video has comedic elements, but also really does give a few tips on how to discuss racial injustice. It is comparable to "how-to" videos that are very common on YouTube. One could even say that they are attempting to teach people a sort of speech repertoire.

The Daily Show tries to engage people, teach them something, and change the way they act. By getting people to engage with their antiracist ideology, they aid Black Lives Matter's big organizing through engagement and mobilization. They normalize the antiracist ideology that Black Lives Matter espouses.

By getting people to engage with their antiracist ideology, they aid Black Lives Matter's big organizing.

With its position in the hybrid media system, The Daily Show is a very powerful ally for the Black Lives Matter movement and antiracism in general because it explicitly and implicitly normalizes antiracism and the Black Lives Matter protests. They are not directly part of the movement but share its antiracist ideology. It produces content that is favorable to the Black Lives Matter movement and antiracist ideology and gets people engage with them.

Unsuccessful normalization

It remains difficult to tell whether The Daily Show succeeds in normalizing antiracist ideology, but I will attempt to give some insight here.

Comments Daily Show connected to BlackLivesMatter video

First, looking at the reactions to these videos on YouTube, we do see some positivity. In the comments above we can see a rather typical set of reactions. They are largely positive about the show and one even quotes the show, saying that it makes them emotional. Thus The Daily Show at least effectively engages and normalizes antiracism, as people react to it positively in large numbers.

However, one of these comments a potential issue with this conclusion. Static_chip says, "man I wish the racists would listen to this guy." This comment shows one of the major hurdles The Daily Show faces in successfully normalizing antiracism: filter bubbles. A filter bubble is the limited bubble of content algorithmically fed to people on social media, which is based on content you have already interacted with. This means that people who are familiar with antiracism would be more likely to see The Daily Show's content online. Filter bubbles ensure that some people will not see these videos. Therefore the only people seeing The Daily Show's antiracist content are likely those who already agree with it.

Further people who never watched anything comparable for ideological reasons will have less of the hegemonic knowledge necessary to understand the format. So even if a conservative person happens to see the show on comedy central or YouTube, it is more difficult to normalize antiracism for them as opposed to someone with existing antiracist beliefs. They would not be in the correct filter bubble where they can build an understanding of the media formats that are used to normalize antiracism.

Increased political polarization and filter bubbles make sure that normalization does not reach antiracism's staunch opponents.

This does not mean it is useless. If used correctly it could normalize antiracism to some. It also emboldens and encourages mobilization to those that already have such a conviction. Basically, it can help people that are ideologically primed. They already are familiar with some values that underlie antiracism and can understand the way the antiracist discourse is enacted. For those people, The Daily Show can have a normalizing effect on antiracism. However, polarization and the filter bubble make sure that normalization does not reach antiracism's staunch opponents.

Conclusion

The Daily Show is unique - it combines media formats from YouTube and broadcast television. This gives new opportunities for meaning-making, however, to fully grasp the show one also needs to have hegemonic knowledge of its context and formatting. Through its choice of topics and the assumptions it makes, the show demonstrates and promotes an anti-racist ideology. Furthermore, the show aids the Black Lives Matter movement through normalization and engagement in big organizing. The program tries to engage viewers as activists, gives tools to aid the organization, and makes content favorable to the cause. All this is done with the use of digital media. Although these efforts have surely had some impact, polarization and filter bubbles make sure that strong opponents of antiracism will be less affected..