My New Brew of Coffee, Satire’s Brew. (Part 2: Origins)

Power is a hard word to define. It comes in many different shapes and forms; there is physical power, the power of intelligence, the power of knowledge, power of self control and many others. It can either make you feel comforted or endangered, vulnerable or protected, strong or weak. Brian Dunphy discussed the concept of power in his book, Satire’s Brew, specifically in the chapter, “Origins: Shadows of Forthcoming Events“. In this chapter, Dunphy writes about being in Amsterdam, struggling to find something he can write his thesis about. As he learns more and more about the great American cartoonist, Thomas Nast, he begins to see parallels between how Nast used his power and “emotional collateral” to take down Boss Tweed during the 1800s while Fox News used their power and “emotional collateral” to encourage the country to go to war with Iraq during the early 21st century. With this realization, Dunphy introduces to his readers the idea of the power of emotion and persuasion.

Emotions are pivotal in our existence. We are often influenced by it and it plays a critical role in many of our everyday decisions. But what happens when one capitalizes and manipulates it for their own purposes? We’ve already seen an example of that already. Nast during the 1800s was able to create cartoons that instilled feeling of terror, anger and disgust into the citizens of America. His cartoons showed the world the ugly side of “Boss Tweed”. This one person was able to create feelings of revulsion toward one man, destroying not only his control and power of the people of New York, but also his reputation and his future. This is the kind of power that John Oliver also discussed in his TV show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, specifically during the episode where he talks about the system of the lottery in America.

According to the show, the lottery is essentially a legal gambling system supported by the government. However, no one sees it that way. Mostly because of the way the lottery has been advertised over the many years. It is believed that the money made on lottery sales goes to “charitable causes” such as education. As a result, individuals feel better about playing. They are manipulated into feeling powerful; like they doing something good for the world. This, however, is not the case. Truthfully, a part of the lottery earnings is “funding” things like education, however, it does not necessarily mean that it is adding any additional funds. In fact, because money from the lottery revenue being used for education, the government has actually taken away fund from other resources. In all reality, money from the lottery is actually replacing other funds, rather than adding to them.

Playing the lottery, however, is not just about to stop. Lottery ads and commercials still play on other emotions, especially hope. Advertisements selling the concept of hope are pretty effective, and play with a person’s dream, the dream of maybe one day having a car, of having enough money for your child’s education, of one day owning a house. These ads manipulate individuals’ hope and desires and persuades them into playing the lottery, a game in which the chances of winning are 1 out of 176 million.

Just as Nast attempted to open the eyes of the American people to the corruptness of Boss Tweed, Oliver is trying to get people to recognize the vicious lottery system that is not only taking money away from them, just a Boss Tweed did, but is also manipulating and deceiving them. Just as Nast used his blunt illustrations to convey his message, Oliver is using video clips and images to spread his. We can only hope that the world listens. 

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