Breaking Boundaries| When Parody and Reality Collide: Examining the Effects of Colbert’s Super PAC Satire on Issue Knowledge and Policy Engagement across Media Formats

Heather LaMarre


Following the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision on campaign finance (i.e., Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission), political comedian Stephen Colbert took to the airways with a new kind of entertainment-based political commentary; satirical political activism. Colbert’s creation of a super PAC garnered the attention of national media, providing him the opportunity to move his satire beyond the confines of his late-night comedy show (The Colbert Report). Transcending traditional boundaries of late-night political comedy, Colbert appeared in character on a variety of political talk shows. Meta-coverage of this collision between parody and reality begs the question: Do audiences who consume Colbert’s super PAC parody in different media contexts demonstrate significantly different effects? Using data from a Web-based experiment (N = 112), effects of consuming Colbert’s super PAC satire in different media contexts (political comedy show, political talk show) were compared. Results indicate that consuming Colbert’s super PAC parody in the context of his comedy show resulted in significantly higher levels of issue knowledge and support for campaign finance reform when compared with those who consumed Colbert’s super PAC parody in the context of a political talk show (Morning Joe). The present study addresses the theoretical and practical implications for political and policy communication.

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