Funny man

Assistant Professor of Communication Elizabeth Benacka and her two Richter scholars are investigating Stephen Colbert’s use of satire as a rhetorical device.

Joaquin Basile Patron ’17 and Kristen Whitney ’17 have it real good. Aside from getting to watch hours and hours of Stephen Colbert videos for their Richter Scholar research on satire as a rhetorical device, they say their experience has been valuable because they get to work closely with Assistant Professor of Communication Elizabeth Benacka.

“When I met her during the Richter interviews, she seemed so interested in her own project and made it sound so appealing. After that, I knew I wanted to work with her,” said Patron, a communication and theater double major from Montevideo, Uruguay.

Benacka, who earned both her MA and PhD from Northwestern University’s Department of Communication Studies, said she decided to propose a Richter Scholar project for the three-week term because, “Having to teach a topic makes you understand it more comprehensively. The Richter Scholar program provided me with a great opportunity to complete an article I have been working on by forcing me to break it down to its component parts so that I could involve students in the process for three weeks.”

For their part, Patron and Whitney started by watching many videos of Stephen Colbert—both in and out of character—to evaluate his use of satire as well as its effectiveness.

Their conclusion: Satire is an effective method of reaching the bustling public of today because it offers them two things at once, information and entertainment. Stephen Colbert is one example of an entertainer who has experienced success in this area. 

“This is reflecting a change in today’s society,” Patron said. “In the last couple of years, it’s been more noticeable, especially concerning politics. Satire has the power to create civic engagement in the youth, and it allows people to think they can be involved in politics. Stephen Colbert makes people think they have a voice. They feel like they can make a change.”

Whitney, a secondary education and mathematics double major, said she’s appreciated delving into rhetoric at a more advanced level than her experience in high school and also learning the research process and how it extends to other fields. Patron said he’s taking away the practice of working as part of a research team.

“My team was amazing,” Benacka said. “In addition to performing excellent research and providing critical insights, Kristen and Joaquin brought incredible enthusiasm and energy to my project. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with them.”


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