U.S. presidential elections are extraordinary moments—ruptures in everyday time, full of transformative promise. Maybe. More than two decades ago, in her seminal essay on time, Nancy D. Munn wrote: “the topic of time frequently fragments into all the other dimensions and topics anthropologists deal with in the social world.” So, in the cacophonous 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, how do we perceive time and why might that matter?
Elections, embedded in cyclical time, are sometimes interpreted as pivotal events that shape longer histories. Such histories can be narrated as slow change, fast change, or stasis; crisis or normalcy; repetitive or linear process; progress or regress. Anthropologists are attuned as well to smaller-scale temporalities. They listen for different personal experiences of time and observe social configurations in which they nest.
Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Angelique Haugerud.
“America is a shining example of how to hold a free and fair election, right?” asks Bassem Youssef, a comedian and former heart surgeon who is often referred to as “the Egyptian Jon Stewart.” Astute answers to that question about the condition of U.S. democracy often come from foreigners such as satirists, as well as my East African research interlocutors.
Like Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah (The Daily Show), Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Report), and Jon Oliver (Last Week Tonight), Bassem Youssef uses irony and satire to hold a mirror up to society, and to unsettle conventional political and media narratives. State political pressure forced termination of the popular satirical news show Youssef created in Egypt during the Arab Spring. He then moved to the United States, became a fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics in 2015, and in 2016 started a new show in the United States called “Democracy Handbook” on Fusion TV. As foreigners, Youssef, Jon Oliver (British), and Trevor Noah (South African) wittily play off stereotypes of their own home regions as they comment on events in the United States—such as Trevor Noah’s Daily Show segment comparing the 2016 Republican presidential nominee to African dictators.