Events will examine the role of satire in a democracy

February 12, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Whether in words or in pictures, free speech and expression are hallmarks of a democracy and the dialogue that happens within it.

Two events next week organized by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy and its Center for Democratic Deliberation will focus on how satire factors into that equation.

Sophia McClennen, professor of comparative literature and international affairs, will present “Trump is a Joke: Why Satire Makes Sense When Politics Doesn’t” at 3 p.m. Feb. 20 in 302 Pond Lab.

McClennen’s work focuses on the intersections between culture, politics, and society. She writes regularly for Salon and recently appeared Neil Degrasse Tyson’s “Star Talk” and Comedy Central’s “The Opposition with Jordan Klepper.”

Center for Democratic Deliberation Director Brad Vivian said McClennen’s work shows how satire and comedy provide resources for making arguments that have greater impact than other types of political dialogue.

“It's not a time for democratic politics as usual, so it's no surprise that people are finding unconventional ways to make arguments about issues of government, law, and democracy,” Vivan said. “We are featuring her work as part of our overall mission to help us understand all the ways in which people seek to influence the state of civic discourse on important affairs.

Later that week, the McCourtney Institute for Democracy will present political caricaturist Steve Brodner. His talk will be held at 4 p.m. Feb. 22 in the Sutliff Auditorium of the Lewis Katz Building.

Brodner’s illustrations offer concise and passionate assessments of hot-button issues and the players involved in them — going beyond simple drawings to capture the conflicts and emotions of public figures.

He covers all sides of the political spectrum and has worked as an illustrator and political commentator since the 1970s. His illustrations appeared in major media outlets including Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and The Washington Post.

McCourtney Institute Managing Director Chris Beem said Brodner’s work is a reminder of the power satire can have on checking those in power. It is also a form of democratic dissent, which is the theme for all of the institute's events this year.

“In a democracy, a degree of disrespect just comes with the job,” Beem said. “Insulting our leaders through caricature is one way in which we continue the never-ending political argument. It is also one of the ways that we reinforce the idea that the people are sovereign and those in power are there to serve us.”

Both events are free and open to the public. The Center for Democratic Deliberation is a Center of Excellence within the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. Both centers are part of the College of the Liberal Arts.

  • Sophia McClennen and Steve Brodner

    Sophia McClennen and Steve Brodner will speak Feb. 20 and 22, respectively.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated February 14, 2018