Thursday, January 8, 2009

Colbert, Take 2

"By attempting to mock conservative commentators, Colbert may unintentionally be helping these commentators sway potential voters to the right."

That's one of the conclusions to a study I discussed in detail yesterday. Published in the latest JOBEM, the research suggests that channel-surfing young people may not quite get what Stephen Colbert is up to as he plays a far-right, self-obsessed, TV talking head, or at least the effects of Colbert's comedy may have unintended consequences.

Watching Jon Stewart's faux news show? No such effect, suggesting something about playing an Archie Bunker-like role can have the opposite effect than you hoped for. Or maybe this is actually some kind of secret Colbert plot? A conservative, posing as a liberal, playing a conservative, and ... er, never mind. Getting a headache.

The mixed message is no doubt the root of the problem.

The authors hypothesized that Colbert's mixed message would lead to a decrease in internal efficacy, the idea that one is capable of participating in politics. The hypothesis makes sense. But Table 4 reports the results on "Internal Efficacy" and the standard question "Agree that politics and government seems too complicated." High scores mean low efficacy and there is a positive relationship between watching Colbert and this measure, meaning viewing it leads to less efficacy. But the authors say their hypothesis was not supported. It's confusing as hell, or I'm just confused. Clarification needed. They would have been better served by flipping the measure, recoding it in such a way that high meant greater internal efficacy, otherwise their table title is misleading.

Enough quibbles. It's a fascinating study, thus getting two days of discussion from me. Hell, might get a third if nothing better shows up.

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