Posted by: robertheinz | October 15, 2012

The Daily Show with Bertolt Brecht or Aristotle?

In Chapter 19, O’Shaughnessy & Stadler point out that comedy can possibly increase awareness of social issues and eventually contribute to social change. This on the other hand is challenged by Marxists like Bertolt Brecht, who argue that comedy encourages people to “accept the status quo, rather than provoking social change” (O’Shaughnessy & Stadler, 2012, p. 327). While reading into this topic I couldn’t help but thinking about my family’s past in the former German Democratic Republic. According to the Marxist ideology, stories are needed to tell us what is wrong with our society and contribute to social change. How awkward is it that the same ideology would play eventually against the same system?

With the autocratic regime in East-Berlin failing to serve the demand for stories that wanted to be heard by the majority of the East-German population, it ultimately opened the door for cathartic West-German productions. Although not favoured by their own government, over 80% of the East-German households were capable of receiving West-German television and radio programs over the airwaves. Through news, documentaries, TV-shows, and comedies, western values entered the East-German minds.

Excessive media censorship and bureaucracy left the GDR government incapable of filling that void for a long time. Despite the popularity of Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble and his influence on the new generation of playwriters in East-Germany, West-German comedies remained popular. Only in the late 70’s and throughout the 80’s stand-up comedies and Brechtian style theatre revealed to be a cornerstone in establishing a counter-hegemony and forum of freedom of speech.

According to O’Shaughnessy & Stadler, cathartic as well as non-cathartic models both question their ability for social change. The East-German transition proves to be a good example for the dynamic when both are a factor. But which one is more influential on our society and how do these experiences translate into our day and age?   Does the Daily Show with Jon Stewart actually increase our awareness of political and social issues? – Or do we tend to accept things with a quick laugh?

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