Ozarks Tonight: Politics through the lens of humor

Ozarks Tonight

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A Drury student has been making headlines locally after winning a New Yorker caption contest. This was a regular exercise in his political satire class taught by Dr. Jeff VanDenBerg.

We told you about Kyle Johnson a couple of weeks ago, and in this Ozarks Tonight, Jenifer Abreu talked to him and with Dr. VanDenBerg about the class and its benefits to students.  

The class is part of Your Drury Fusion, a program that encourages students to take courses outside of their major to explore different paths and broaden their horizons.  

“I thought with a political satire class we could talk about politics and important issues, but do it through the lens of humor and have fun with it,” said Dr. VanDenBerg. “We can both analyze politics and create some humor and content. And that can be fun for students.”  

Dr. VanDenBerg says the caption contest, and actually winning the caption contest, wasn’t really part of the plan. It was just an exercise in the classroom to get students to use their creative muscles and do some critical thinking to get one entire idea into one sentence and begin to think about writing comedy.

“If you have a good one, go ahead and send it off,” Dr. VanDenBerg said to students about submitting their captions to the new Yorker.  

Johnson suggested that if someone won the contest, that the entire class could get extra credit.

“If we are going to do them anyway, we might as well submit them,” Johnson said.  

Well, it just so happened that someone in the class did win and it was the very person who suggested the extra credit in the first place.

Both were surprised. Dr. VanDenBerg said he never expected a student to actually win.

Johnson is an accounting major.

“I didn’t really expect, not only to be in a political science class but to be enjoying it as much as I am,” Johnson said. “It’s been really eye-opening.”

Dr. VanDenBerg says most of the students in his class are not a political science major.

He says he wanted to create a unique class that could help students of all majors, and prepare them no matter what they choose to go into.

“An introductory seminar that would get students to think hard about political issues and be critical thinkers, and think about their place and their responsibility as citizens,” he said. “But do it in a way that is accessible and fun.”

Dr. VanDenBerg says they also study the effect of political satire in participation rates and voter turnout, as well as how satire has been used in the past and how it’s used in other countries.  

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