This past year, Americans elected the forty-fifth president of the country, President Donald J. Trump. February 20th will mark thirty days into the Trump administration and within that time, President Trump has managed to flip the entire conception of politics upside down. From his presence on twitter, to his claims of CNN reporting fake news, to inciting ‘alternative facts’, and emphasizing nothing more than his greatness, President Donald J. Trump seems more of a comedian than anything else. In fact, to many, the presidency seems like a running joke that desperately needs a punchline to wrap up the whole ordeal. But, joke’s on you America, a billionaire real estate tycoon with no previous public display of political involvement was voted into office by non-other than yourselves. But, maybe you couldn’t really help it, right?
Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump exercised a very basic rhetorical maneuver. Repetition. In an article published by The Financial Brand, titled Say It Again: Messages Are More Effective When Repeated, author Jeffry Pilcher explores the repetition technique in the world of advertising. In the marketing world, the term “effective frequency” was coined to describe the “number of times a consumer must be exposed to an advertising message before the marker gets the desired response”. In a study conducted by Microsoft, they found that consumers typically had to hear audio advertisements six to twenty times before they were subconsciously inclined to buy or engage with the product being sold. Psychologically, humans are repetitive in nature and the more they are subjected to an idea, the chances of their opinions resonating with the same idea increase. Essentially, we all have a subconscious that is easily influenced by the world around us especially when we are bombarded with media coverage regarding certain ideologies. And Lord knows, whenever its election season the only coverage is political coverage. Especially in the comedic realm.
In 2008, Tina Fey impersonated Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live when Palin was running as Vice President under John McCain’s campaign. During her running, Palin’s popularity dramatically decreased in correlation to the six skits in which Tina Fey spoofed her image. That year, McCain lost the election to Barrack Obama and many blamed it on the “Fey Effect” or the subconscious persuasion that occurred when comedy intertwined with politics. In a peer reviewed article published in the Public Opinion Quarterly, authors and political scientists, Jody C. Baumgartner, Jonathan S. Morris, and Natasha L. Walth published their research regarding the “Fey Effect” in their article, The Fey Effect: Young Adults, Political Humor, and Perceptions of Sarah Palin in the 2008 Presidential Election Campaign. The authors conducted a survey study among young adults across the country regarding SNL’s comedic influence. In their sampling pool, approval rates for John McCain dropped from 40 to 31 percent after the SNL spoof of Sarah Palin was viewed while disapproval rates increased from 39 to 55 percent. While they did not concretely conclude that the election results directly correlated with the SNL skits, they did acknowledge that, to some extent, media has effects on the “political attitudes of those who use it most”. In the case with Saturday Night Live, the main consumers seemed to be young adults that lent their knowledge of politics solely to comedic news outlets. In 2008, the presidential candidates were continually mocked within comedic media lending to the “Fey Effect”. With SNL’s coverage of the past election and its continual mockery of President Trump through Alec Baldwin’s impeccable impression, a phenomenon similar to the “Fey Effect” may very well have taken place. Except this time it worked in Donald Trump’s favor.
With the constant political coverage as of late, media consumers everywhere are subconsciously shaping their political agendas based on the outlets in which they gather their information. Humans are innately persuadable and with that comes both advantages and disadvantages. Philosophers have argued in the past that there is really no original idea because every thought and opinion a person forms was shaped by their past experiences. In a world of repetitive techniques from advertisements, to political rhetoric, to comedic integrity, our subconscious human psyches are bombarded with media persuasion. The presence of multiple media platforms may be shaping us more so than we think with various outlets constantly reporting on the current national agenda. It is good to informed, but wise to be aware. So, the moral of the story? You may be the puppet.