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  • Brenden Pragasam

Popping False Balloons

I am a freshman at St. Mary’s College, Moraga, CA majoring in Industrial Design. As part of my course requirements, I am expected to write an article and I chose to write on “Popping False Balloons.” As I was doing my research and when I started to write the essay I began to reflect on my own faith; for I cannot disassociate my faith from what I am and what I do. In the process I realized that the need to question my faith is an attempt to make it more meaningful for me and never a denial of my faith. Isn’t that what Jesus did and invites us to do: to commit ourselves to a mature faith? After I present the meaning of “Popping False Balloons” and its challenges for us then I will try to relate that concept to my faith.

Disproving the unquestionable, otherwise known as “Popping False Balloons”, remains to be more than a common goal for most pieces of Satire. It is also vital for balancing the perspectives prevailing in modern society. Moreover, the action of questioning presumed facts in society has allowed for changes in every place from the president's office to the rights of the individual. Thus, the journalist term “popping false balloons” is not just an upset to the traditions of a country, but a force used to change the untouchable issues in the present world.

Starting with the word’s origins and intentions, “Popping False Balloons” was a term given to disprove a sacred cow. In Hinduism, the cow is known as a sacred being and was to remain untouched. When those words became adapted into the world of journalism, it became a term to identify an object that holds a deeper meaning in a certain society. To that end, popping false balloons became the modern equivalent to disproving a sacred cow, thus how something quite unquestionable in the hearts of the modern person could be used as a cover for darker actions.

One of the first things that was questioned was the deep patriotism of the American people after the Second World War. While the era was definitely filled with its own list of scandals including Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, the respect for the American president remained to be a large wall between the uncomfortable state of the American people and the diplomacy at the time. Due to one of the original programs of Satire named the Smother Brothers, the president’s actions to move into the Vietnam War soon became a portal for one of the first attempts at “Popping false Balloons”.

The Phil Ochs’ song “The Draft Dodger Rag” featured on the Smother Brothers TV show was a commentary on the mandatory drafting in the Vietnam War for people who wouldn’t have qualified for the army in the first place. While the song was light on politics when compared to other satire shows that came in the future, it remains well regarded as a starting point for the tendency to “Pop False Balloons”. For the time, the show was so controversial that it was kicked off television, something which definitely showed how news satire was becoming a pursuer of the tough questions in society.

After their success, other people like the National Lampoon followed suit, eventually creating one of the largest known satires in mainstream culture (aka Saturday Night Live). While remaining to be far from the intentions of “popping balloons”, the National Lampoon's satires of popular culture soon allowed for a larger acceptance of News Satire in mainstream culture. By 1975, their acceptance led to the same writers moving into television to eventually go against the news formats at the time as well as take a large role in starting the satirization of politicians.

One of their most iconic pieces is a satirical exaggeration of the “Katie Couric vs Sarah Palin” interview. While remain relatively similar to the original conversation, the exaggerated pauses and simplification of the conversation allowed for the average person to start realizing the realities of politicians at the time. Thus, by re-enacted SNL short became an icon for Sarah Palin’s reputation and allowed the people to see a different side of a politician.

However, while both the National Lampoon and Saturday night live commentaries were successful monetarily, they failed to truly show larger scale politicians and their individual flukes. Hence, Saturday Night Live’s success was completely crunched by the success of Jon Stewart in “the Daily Show” with their “Bush vs. Bush” video. This video was not only a famous use of past and present against themselves, but a true understanding of how to use someone’s contradictions against themselves.

In more detail, the video used clips of when George bush was a governor and when he was a president to show how he not only changed his political stance, but also his personality after the tragedy of 9/11. As a result, the “Balloon” of patriotism was not popped, but definitely damaged.

The most recent person to pop the balloon is named John Oliver in his show Last Week Tonight. While John Oliver definitely made his impact in the Daily Show, Last Week Tonight is one of the first modern television shows to be focused on change and understanding rather than attempting to merely satirize a situation for the reason of laughter. His show became iconic for modern impact, and while John Oliver and HBO resist temptations to receive credit for legal reasons, publications like the TIME magazine among others quote him for having his own “John Oliver” effect. From chickens to encryption and Church blackmail, every episode is attempting to “Pop false balloons” as a goal rather than a side note, which has not only changed the reputations of politicians, but to larger issues like immigration among others.

For example, take the original pilot episode of 2014: The Indian election. While definitely a less impartial argument than later episodes, the first episode was able to predict the outcome of the election through careful analytics while showing the ignorance mainstream media has over international policy. All of the things listed would be counted as successes by themselves on Saturday night Live or other earlier shows, but John Oliver pushed the envelope, giving different but increasingly well-built conversations about immigration, Donald Trump, infrastructure and civil rights. Each of the episodes also offered an ultimatum or an actual solution to the controversies discussed (when applicable) Thus, all of these things show how John Oliver was not only able to pop false balloons, but to show how doing so has a real impact on society as well as the reformation of institutions.

In my life as a Christian, the “Popping False Balloons” has not only become a phenomenon, but it is something that my religion encourages us to do. It was St. Anselm of Canterbury who said, “Faith Seeking Understanding.” Faith needs reason to breakdown the various tenets of faith itself. Reason and Religion are not at odds with each other. Reason questions religion so religion retains its pure sense and religion has recourse to reason to explain what faith proposes. A questioning mind is not a challenging mind that rejects tradition. We question in order to make sense and to have a mature perspective of faith. Did not Jesus’ question the Scribes and the Pharisees and often punctured the sacred cows about the authorities; both religious and secular? In today's society, we must often use the puncturing of false balloons to allow for the emergence of new interpretations of the story of Jesus according to our sings and times. True religion must challenge the status quo of its own religion (whatever form the challenge expresses itself but always done in good faith) so that truth is never hidden under false balloons. It is in this that religion will transform itself to become meaningful to serve the needs of our present society and its culture.

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