Breaking Boundaries| Shifting the Conversation: Colbert’s Super PAC and the Measurement of Satirical Efficacy

Amber Day


Stephen Colbert’s announcement in 2011 that he was starting his own Super PAC one-upped The Colbert Report’s already substantial commitment to boundary muddling. By raising real money, producing commercials, and exploring the nuances of campaign finance regulations, Colbert acted out his critique of current law in tangible form. The novelty of the experiment created anticipation amongst fans and commentators that the project would have a direct effect on attitudes about campaign finance, or that Colbert would veer into clear advocacy work. Indeed, expectations matched the standard assumptions about satire: that efficacy should be gauged by measurable influence on individual opinions. In reality, the PAC’s commercials likely did not influence many outside his existent fan group. However, the project as a whole did work to license journalistic attention and to impact the wider debate about campaign finance. The example demonstrates that the more grandiose expectations of political entertainment are often misdirected, as they are premised on the prospect of instant audience malleability. Rather the most interesting possibilities involve more incremental shifts in the public conversation.

Full Text: