Friday, November 18, 2016

Is "comic jeremiad" a contradiction in terms?

What's the difference between a jeremiad and a rant?

The question arose in my comedy class yesterday as we discussed the efficacy of comedy in persuasion, using examples dealing with gun control, which isn't exactly a guffaw-inducing topic. We looked at some Onion articles ("NRA Calls for Teachers to Keep Loaded Gun Pointed at Class for Entire School Day") and Samantha Bee's impassioned response to the Orlando massacre (click here). 

I asked the students to think about an issue they feel strongly about and then decide which would be more likely to change their mind: a researched essay presenting reliable data or a humorous rant. Their responses were pretty evenly split, which can be read two ways: either comedy is a more effective persuader than I'd imagined or else students recognize the value of serious research.

One thing they agreed they would not find persuasive would be a jeremiad. Apparently nobody wants to be preached down to or condemned, but comedy makes a bitter message more palatable. So they want a funny jeremiad--does such a thing exist? 

(I think we call that a rant.)

I meant to rant and vent,
to cant 'til they'd repent,
to scorch them with a jeremiad--
But I made them laugh instead.


dgwilliams said...

Is it better to rant, or to sit and be tide?
Is it better to dance, or get a stitch in the side?
Whether or not, the grand scheme will subside
With a great trumpet call drawing some to His side!

Contingent Cassandra said...

Wow! Sounds like an excellent, and all-too-relevant, discussion.

I think my vote would be for a humorous rant by someone who had done solid research. (S)he wouldn't necessarily need to cite, or even mention, the sources in the rant, but somehow that kind of foundation shows (and of course also means that if the hearer is inspired to explore the subject further, (s)he won't find that some of the funniest lines rely on incorrect assumptions).