This is the second installment in our series examining the intersections of education and entertainment in 2016. Read a previous entry on a documentary, and check back for future pieces on a play, animated movies, and television.
It’s no secret that politics has been especially central to late-night comedy over the past year or so. Some would argue that shows—from The Daily Show to Full Frontal With Samantha Bee—have served as more robust sources of political news than traditional broadcast news. According to a recent analysis by Tyndall Report, since the beginning of 2016, ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News devoted just 32 minutes to coverage of policy issues.
“What we’re witnessing, actually, is a movement in these longer-form satire programs in the direction of exploring in-depth, complicated policy issues,” said Dannagal Young, an associate professor of communication at the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication. “I think what humor offers that’s particularly useful is the ability to reframe complex policies in really clear, simple, accessible terms.”
One of the themes that saw a notably prominent presence in late-night comedy in 2016 was education. Trevor Noah interviewed the professor Sara Goldrick-Rab about Paying the Price, her new book about the financial strain of higher education in the U.S., on The Daily Show. Samantha Bee looked at how schools are responding to fears about mass shootings. John Oliver was particularly keen on talking about education issues on his HBO show Last Week Tonight, devoting two segments to them in 2016, one on school segregation and another on charter schools. The latter was so controversial that the Washington-based Center for Education Reform, a pro-charter nonprofit, offered a $100,000 prize to the charter school that created the best rebuttal to Oliver’s tirade; Natomas Charter School in Sacramento, California, won.