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Posts Tagged ‘Jon Stewart’

On the eve of the Rally to Restore Sanity (which I’m going to! Hooray!), there have been some people asking whether it is simply a get-out-the-vote effort for the Democratic Party. Others, too, have expressed the fear that it could become political. And that certainly is a danger; viewers of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report do tend to lean to the left. And the Democratic Party would love a bit of momentum to stem the Election Day shellacking they are likely to receive, and would love to use this rally to gain momentum.

I really hope that doesn’t happen. If the message of Stewart and Colbert became politicized, it would be terrible for America, because their message is exactly what our national discourse needs. Consider these two videos: the infamous head-stomping at a Rand Paul rally, and Keith Olbermann’s Glenn Beck-esque declaration of the Tea Party’s intention of bringing back Jim Crow and hanging union leaders.

Both sides are losing their damn minds. The increasing hysteria only serves to allow one side to hysterically point out the other side’s hysteria as proof that the first side is the non-hysterical one. And the media, conservative and “lamestream” alike, treat it like a boxing match, without ever asking why they give the hyperventilating fools a platform. What do they care if the country goes to hell? It makes for great TV.

In the midst of this stupidity, Stewart and Colbert point and invite everyone to laugh at the stupidity. And in the midst of the laughing, they hit on a pretty important idea: the governance of the country is not a reality show or a sporting event. It should be more grown up than this. While we laugh, we stop and realize, hey that’s a good point.

That’s why I’m going to the rally. Because it invites us, after we’re done laughing at stupid people, to realize that America is bigger than an ideology. We’re attempting to “create a more perfect union.” You know, union–like a marriage. And unions don’t work out when the husband is stomping on his wife’s face, and the wife says her husband wants to bring back Jim Crow and hang union organizers. You have to stop the name-calling, and try to see it from the other person’s side, and admit that sometimes you’re wrong, and work out a livable compromise. That’s what the rally is about. And that’s why I’m going.

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One of the things that Jon Stewart does best is skewer news programs for treating politics, the governance of America, and serious world events like a reality show, rather than actually being serious world events. Here and here are a couple of classics.

Neil Postman bemoaned the banality, triviality, and silliness of news programs, and TV in general, throughout his career. But towards the end of his classic Amusing Ourselves to Death, he predicts the rise of someone doing exactly what Jon Stewart does:

There are only two answers that come to mind, one of which is nonsense and can be dismissed almost at once…

The nonsensical answer is to create television programs whose intent would be…to show how television recreates and degrades our conception of news, political debate, religious thought, etc. I imagine such demonstrations would of necessity take the form of parodies, along the lines of “Saturday Night Live” and “Monty Python,” the idea being to induce a nationwide horse laugh over television’s control of public discourse. But, naturally, television would have the last laugh…[t]he act of criticism itself would, in the end, be co-opted by television. The parodists would become celebrities, would star in movies, and would end up making television commercials.

I think Postman is being a bit overly cynical in his assessment of the lack of effectiveness of the Jon Stewarts parodying television. But it is remarkable, because what he described in 1984 is almost exactly what The Daily Show does. And it must be said, Jon Stewart has become a bit of a celebrity, as he is now the most trusted “news”man in America. So far, I don’t think he has sold out the way Postman predicts, and I hope he doesn’t. Regardless, Neil Postman was the man.

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