Celebrate the Constitution at TTU: Gubernatorial debate, political satire highlights

Constitution Day at Tennessee Tech University Sept. 14 is shaping up to be the best ever for political and media buffs alike.

The day’s activities include a nonpartisan gubernatorial debate and a discussion of the role of political satire in democracies. The Nolan Fowler Constitution Day Celebration, now in its sixth year, commemorates the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.

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Danna Young
Understand the role of political satire – and give yourself a few laughs – with Danna Young, assistant professor of communication at the University of Delaware. Young specializes in the study of media, politics and public opinion.

She’ll discuss the impact of popular programs like “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” “The Colbert Report” and political satire websites like Funny or Die. The free event is set for 5 p.m. in Derryberry Auditorium and is open to the public.

“Democratic governments are suitable homes for and even require political satire to function well. I'll also be talking about how satire works, cognitively, to expose hypocrisy and bring to light criticisms of people and institutions without explicitly criticizing them head-on. Most importantly, I'll reveal how and why this mechanism can be particularly effective as a form of persuasion,” she said.

Young said viewers of programs like “The Daily Show,” which is popular with college students, are more politically savvy than many realize.

“Viewers of ‘The Daily Show’ are more engaged in politics, more attentive to politics, more knowledgeable about politics, and more likely to be participating in politics than people who don't watch the show.  We also know that the observation that ‘young people are getting their news from The Daily Show’ is probably inaccurate,” she said.

Young finds the website Funny or Die and “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central among the most interesting outlets for political satire because they’re on the cutting edge of pop culture and politics.

“The Colbert Report,” she said, is a fascinating example how irony, parody and satire work together to make arguments that one might not be able to make in a serious way.

“The show itself is a parody of a Fox-news style pundit show. Colbert’s entire presentation is ironic. He means the opposite of almost everything he says.  And the resulting message is satirical in that it critiques the institution of conservative media as well as many conservative ideas,” she said. “Yet, such complex messages require a lot of work on the part of the audience, and so are always open to misinterpretations.”

After Young’s presentation, audience members are invited to remain in Derryberry Auditorium for a live video feed of the Highlands Town Hall Debate 2010, which will originate from TTU’s Wattenbarger Auditorium in the Bryan Fine Arts Building at 7 p.m. The debate is being presented in partnership with WTVF NewsChannel5 and the Tennessee League of Women Voters.

The day’s activities are in remembrance of Nolan Fowler, who taught history at TTU from 1962-79, including classes on constitutional law. Fowler passed away in 2008, but before his death endowed a fund with $150,000 to sustain this event each year to promote knowledge of the U.S. Constitution.

All educational institutions receiving federal funds are required each year in September to host a celebration commemorating the Sept. 17, 1787, signing of the U.S. Constitution.

For more information about Young’s visit to campus, call Constitution Day Committee chairperson Kent Dollar at 931-372-6547 or see the website.  For more information about the debate, contact Laura Canada at 800-264-5541 or 931-586-2211 or see the website.
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