Political Entertainment: Historical Traditions and Contemporary Genres
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
The term “political entertainment” refers to a broad category of literature, media, and performance art in which politics and entertainment are comingled. Because of its varied and complex nature, there is no singular definition for political entertainment. However, to be considered as such, the content should have a primary or secondary political focus and generally include implicit or explicit references to socio-political issues. Within political entertainment expository, rhetorical and narrative structures are used to offer socio-political information, commentary, or critique. The content ranges from historical accounts to contemporary issues and often includes some type of moral imperative, civics lesson, policy preference, or desired outcome. Sometimes the purpose is simply to entertain, while other times the purpose is to engage, inform, or persuade mass audiences. Moreover, political entertainment is multi-functional, offering audiences a variety of ways to consume hedonic and eudaimonic political content.
In recent decades, there has been a marked increase in political entertainment such as documentaries, fictional dramas, historical reenactment films, political music, animated series, and online videos. These forms range from short films, one-time events, and single audio tracks to feature length films, serial productions, and full television series. On a global scale, political podcasting has become increasingly infused with entertainment. Sometimes referred to as alternative or emergent media, political satirists and public opinion leaders use online formats to offer entertaining political commentary and social critique outside the bounds of traditional media systems. Additionally, made-for-cable, online, and on-demand outlets such as original HBO and Netflix series are quickly gaining ground as alternative political entertainment formats. The mixing of entertainment and news has also created a popular form of political entertainment known as soft news, infotainment, or news hybrids. These take the form of morning and daytime talk shows, online and cable news programs, radio, television, and podcast opinion shows, etc. With the increase in partisan political news and the proliferation of subscription-based outlets, it has become increasingly difficult to separate traditional news and opinion from news hybrids and related forms of political entertainment.
The roots of political entertainment can be traced back to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, wherein satire (the earliest known form) was found in literature, graphic, and performing arts. Satire, as the forbearer of political entertainment, was traditionally studied from a humanist tradition and remains an important aspect of literary studies. Contemporary political entertainment research has broadened to include multiple disciplinary perspectives, mediated formats, cross-cultural orientations, and international viewpoints. Modern political entertainment literature traverses the humanities and social sciences, offering critical, qualitative, and quantitative assessments of the nature, content, and impact these media have on different democratic societies.