Here’s an interesting find by the good folks at National Newswatch that might be worth keeping tabs on in future. Satire Canada (SatCan for short) describes itself as “a site that marries satire with statistics, providing a weekly measurement of what is being said by who, and to what effect.” The following is a breakdown of their methodology:
Each week, we examine the editorial cartoons published in 30 newspapers taken from newspaper clippings and publisher websites (great morning reading) as well as segments from CBC’s Rick Mercer Report and This Hour has 22 Minutes. Each item is reviewed by one of three readers who fill out a custom-designed content analysis questionnaire. The questionnaire contains a number of variables, including: author, news outlet, owner, the presence of social issues (such as privacy, human rights violations, media censorship, pollution, police brutality, etc.), topic, the context (national, local, international), key stories, the subjects used/targeted by the satirist, and even their relative tone to one another. Moreover, each item is weighted within the survey based on its estimated audience reach. We use NADBank (the annual survey of Canadian newspaper readership) and Nielsens television data to weight each item based on the number of Canadians the satirical item would likely reach. That’s what we mean by a story or subject’s “profile” or “exposure” – the estimated size of the audience that subject or topic would likely attract that week. Intercoder reliability tests are also conducted to ensure that our coding is consistent over time. By examining the data, we hope to point out what issues political satirists are highlighting, where and to what effect.
According to their “media trends” overview from the past election: “One-in-five Canadians exposed to political satire during the campaign saw a cartoon or skit that portrayed Liberal leader Stéphane Dion as physically weak: a characterization that was often contrasted with a ‘strong’ Stephen Harper.” Hardly a profound or even insightful take, but probably one that fairly matches the perception of many people.
Which kind of begs the question as to what came first; the caricature or the pseudo “reality” of that being a fairly typical representation of his essential character? In some respects the satirical depictions begin to almost take on lives of their own that are quite independent of the object of ridicule in many ways as they increasingly become part of the satirist’s own particular narrative or editorial point of view (think of Mark Fiore’s harshly drawn Bush character, for instance, or Dewar’s cartoon version of Dion that always appears as a spindly, somewhat hapless elf dressed in green).
It’s interesting to speculate as to how and when such impressions become generally accepted — and gauge how potentially damning that can be to the reputation and viability of the actual politician or target of the mockery.