Irony and Outrage: The Polarized Landscape of Rage, Fear, and Laughter in the United States



For almost a decade, journalists and pundits have been asking why we don't see successful examples of political satire from conservatives or of opinion talk radio from liberals. This book turns that question on its head to argue that opinion talk is the political satire of the right and political satire is the opinion programming of the left. They look and feel like two different animals because their audiences are literally, two different animals.

In Irony and Outrage, political and media psychologist Dannagal Goldthwaite Young explores the aesthetics, underlying logics, and histories of these two seemingly distinct genres, making the case that they should be thought of as the logical extensions of the psychology of the left and right, respectively. One genre is guided by ambiguity, play, deliberation, and openness, while the other is guided by certainty, vigilance, instinct, and boundaries. While the audiences for Sean Hannity and John Oliver come from opposing political ideologies, both are high in political interest, knowledge, and engagement, and both lack faith in many of our core democratic institutions. Young argues that the roles that these two genres play for their viewers are strikingly similar: galvanizing the opinion of the left or the right, mobilizing citizens around certain causes, and expressing a frustration with traditional news coverage while offering alternative sources of information and meaning. One key way in which they differ, however, concludes Young, is in their capacity to be exploited by special interests and political elites.

Drawing on decades of research on political and media psychology and media effects, as well as historical accounts and interviews with comedians and comedy writers, Young unpacks satire's liberal "bias" and juxtaposes it with that of outrage's conservative "bias." She details how traits like tolerance for ambiguity and the motivation to engage with complex ideas shape our preferences for art, music, and literature; and how those same traits correlate with political ideology. In turn, she illustrates how these traits help explain why liberals and conservatives vary in the genres of political information they prefer to create and consume.

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publish Date
December 02, 2019
6.2 X 1.1 X 9.3 inches | 1.15 pounds

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About the Author

Dannagal Goldthwaite Young is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Delaware and the Center for Political Communication, a Distinguished Research Fellow with the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and member of the National Institute for Civil Discourse Research Network. Her research on the psychology, content, and effects of political entertainment has been widely published in academic journals and media outlets, including The Atlantic, The New York Times, Columbia Journalism Review, Variety, and National Public Radio. She has also been an improvisational comedian with ComedySportz Philadelphia since 1999, and is the creator and host of Dr. Young Unpacks, a playful deep dive into the psychology of media, politics, and pop culture.


"If you love political comedy or opinion shows, or if you hate them, or if you're just concerned about the sorry state of our polarized country, you'll enjoy reading this book. Young gives the best explanation I've seen as to why political shows on the left and right are so different-and so important as shapers of American politics." -- Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind

"Dannagal Young's Irony and Outrage is a scholarly and deep, well-researched, and unique study into the history, politics, and psychology behind how and why we, the people, pick and choose the media we consume. Also, I loved the parts where she interviews comedians and they say funny things. Irony and Outrage is a thought-provoking, enlightening, and very fun read!" -- Ed Greenberg, The Committee and The Second City

"As a political journalist who's spent way too much time on the conservative convention circuit, I've seen way too many unfunny right-wing comedians do terrible Barack Obama impressions, and I happily muted Mike Huckabee's gravy-based joke routine on Twitter a long time ago. But as Dannagal Young's Irony and Outrage shows us, exploring the age-old question of why aren't conservatives funny reveals so much much more about the American political character than we might admit. The types of media that liberals and conservatives create and choose to engage with are actually natural expressions of our psychologies, our needs, and our personalities. This book is essential reading in our polarized and outraged times; it turns out that what we watch and how we laugh correlate closely to how we vote." -- Peter Hamby, Snapchat's Good Luck America

"In this engaging tour de force, Professor Dannagal Goldthwaite Young upends conventional wisdom about the ancestry, function, effects, and synergies between the satire of the left and outraged opinion talk of the right." -- Kathleen Hall Jamieson, University of Pennsylvania

"Dannagal Young's book made me laugh when she quoted comedians and -when when I wasn't chuckling-it made me consider her argument and reconsider some of my own. If you have an appetite for an academic overview of political discourse in our country and in our time, this book should satisfy that hunger." -- Alan Myerson, Director of The Second City and co-founder of The Committee

"Painstakingly-researched, yet irresistibly accessible, Irony and Outrage is a monumental contribution to our thinking about American political comedy, certain to be widely assigned and cited in political science, communications, psychology, and media studies for years to come. Young builds an engaging and provocative argument-challenging readers' assumptions about the very origins of our political tastes and preferences in a way that is bound to inspire robust debate (and perhaps even a little outrage) among fans, pundits, and academics alike." -- Sarah Sobieraj, co-author of The Outrage Industry: Political Opinion Media and the New Incivility