Can Late-Night TV Actually Change Political Opinions?

Ashna Gupta ‘21

Many people rely on their late night TV as a way to laugh and forget about their worries. When it was first around, talk show hosts would joke about celebrities or general relatable topics. Now, there has been a huge shift to politics, mainly caused by Trump’s election. The shift has been so prominent that it’s hard to avoid politics if you’re a fan of late-night TV.

Talk show hosts used to focus their episodes on Trump to increase their ratings, considering that it’s a topic everyone finds entertaining, but, recently, they have fully discovered the effect their political statements have on people. Kishan Gandham ‘19 states, “It does have the ability to politically socialize. I feel that it has had an even stronger effect on Americans after the 2016 presidential election.” Even a single late night TV episode has such an impact on other social media platforms, with opinions spread all over Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. With episodes so entertaining and easy to access, the younger population especially has felt an increase of political opinions in their daily life. Megana Gummadi ‘21 claimed, “YouTube basically raised me. Everything I’m passionate about came from there because I got all my information from there. The first time I heard about LGBTQ rights was from a YouTube clip of the Jimmy Fallon show. They talk about topics that school or my family never talks about.” By being the “first influence” on young people, late-night TV changes the way they think from day one. These shows imprint on younger people’s minds and build on the foundation for all political ideas they may have later on.

Late-night TV additionally appeals to the younger generation, or most people in general, as it translates lengthy and complicated information into something more humorous and understandable. It can take a five-page article and turn it into a short skit performed by a celebrity actor. The influence they have is limitless. Late-night TV has become so omnipresent that S. Robert Lichter, a professor at George Mason University stated, “Late-night humor has become a part of campaign discourse. It’s not just the news politicians have to worry about, it’s the jokes.” The jokes make such a lasting impression that it ends up impacting the audience more profoundly than the news. One joke can be spread to millions of people, shaping their ideas in less than a second. For example, on May 6, 2017, John Oliver passionately urged his viewers to overload the Federal Communications Commission’s comments inbox with comments about wanting a free Internet. They did, quickly crashing the commission’s website in the process. After Oliver’s encore, his viewers crashed the F.C.C. site yet again. A talk show host has the power to induce their audience so strongly that they follow the host’s requests.

As time goes by, the amount of politics in late-night TV will only increase, making people’s opinions even more socialized. Eventually, late-night TV could overshadow the news given that it has a greater impact and many more viewers. With the absence of news, unbiased information will be rare causing political views to only be determined by one-sided media. Overall, by using political comedy, late-night TV has the amazing effect of being able to influence political thoughts and opinions.