Breaking Boundaries| Political Satire and Occupy Wall Street: How Comics Co-opted Strategies of the Protest Paradigm to Legitimize a Movement

Dannagal G. Young


In the fall of 2011, during the height of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests in Zuccotti Park and around the world, satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert spent a significant amount of time covering the movement. And while many of the delegitimizing framing devices of the “protest paradigm” (Gitlin, 1980) were notably present in these comedic segments and discussions, their underlying meaning was anything but delegitimizing of Occupy Wall Street. Content analysis reveals that The Daily Show (TDS) and The Colbert Report (CR) were both overwhelmingly positive in their coverage of OWS but that the programs incorporated legitimizing and delegitimizing protest framing devices quite differently—TDS using literal criticism and rhetorical exaggeration to warn the rogue protesters of the dangers of acting inappropriately and CR using irony to generate sympathy for the cause and its participants. Survey results indicate that exposure to political satire was associated with favorable perceptions of OWS and its participants, a trend that also appeared as a function of network news viewing.

Full Text: