“I think I’ve always been interested in political engagement and young people in particular,” said Amy Bree Becker, 38, in reference to her indomitable passion for the intersection between politics and popular culture.
Often focusing her incisive analysis on how comedy — specifically that in the realm of satire via cinema and such television shows as “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report” and recent election “coverage” (so to speak) by “Saturday Night Live” — might affect voter turnouts and decisions, for example, Becker writes commentary for such outlets as The Washington Post and Vox.com while teaching communications courses at Loyola University Maryland.
Factors that particularly intrigue Becker in the political proscenium include how and why people are driven to feel as they do about political elections and the like, as well as how specific attributes of voter identity along the lines of gender and educational level may come into play.
Originally from Clark, N.J., Becker met her husband — computer scientist Andrew Goldberg — while working toward her Ph.D. in mass communications (with a dissertation on “political comedy”) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After receiving said doctorate in 2010, Becker and her husband moved to Maryland.
Becker taught as an assistant professor at Towson University in that same year until 2014, at which time she started as an assistant professor at Loyola.
Becker has two young children — a son and a daughter — who both attend preschool at Temple Isaiah, where her family have been members for the last year.
How did you end up getting involved in the study of politics and communication?
I was a political pollster before I went back to school. My parents called me “bug” as a kid because I was always asking questions. That was part of what got me into earning my Ph.D. I’m very interested in what happens when entertainment becomes political or when politics becomes entertainment. This does help young people learn about politics; there’s an idea here about comedy providing news information for people who might otherwise not pay attention.
As someone interested in identity, could you discuss your own connection to Judaism?
I am Reform and was raised as such. I’m really committed to being Reform. I really like Temple Isaiah. The rabbi is great, the school is great. It’s familiar in that it’s really similar to the temple I went to when I was growing up in New Jersey. I went to camps and to Israel and that kind of stuff growing up, and it was a pretty important part of my experience. Judaism hasn’t really been a focus of my work, but it has popped up a little, like when I did some studies on Jon Stewart and it came up more than I thought it would. There’s certainly a rich history of Jewish comedians doing satire, but I’m more interested in broader political effects.
Who are some of the specific television hosts you prefer to watch?
I like Colbert. I miss Jon Stewart. I don’t think [current “The Daily Show” host] Trevor Noah has quite filled Stewart’s shoes yet. Seth Meyers is doing some good coverage. Samantha Bee brings in a more diverse voice and perspective. Up until recently, there was just a whole crop of white male hosts, and so it’s a little groundbreaking with her there now too. John Oliver and she, their humor is a little more substantive, and they are kind of attracting more of a diverse audience than “The Daily Show,” which is younger, more male and liberal. Those watching Oliver are certainly liberal, but also an older, more sophisticated audience.
What is the general take on the political scene right now by your students?
The thing that has been really interesting to me is they’re all really disappointed. This is the first election they get to participate in, and they don’t really like either candidate. Some of my female students are excited about the possibility of the first woman president. But most of them, they’re upset about the rhetoric, how divisive and uncivil things have gotten.