The Stewart-Colbert Generation
Does it matter that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert put together an event that amounted to little more than an extended television episode? Does it matter that they picked the media as an easy, nonpartisan scapegoat? Or even that the music was hit-or-miss and the stunts felt designed to meet a quota?
Or does it matter that Stew Beef threw a Halloween bacchanal, and we showed up?
The rally was a party for young progressives, all of whom were strangely abuzz with self-assurance, even in the face of a likely midterm defeat. By 3 p.m., it seemed most of us were less impressed with the rally than with ourselves. But if the three-hour fete had a focal point, it was the crowd, not the hosts. Out of the quarter-million who showed up, many were between 18 and 30, and the costumes and signs were hilarious, ostentatious, and seriously competitive. Stewart’s “serious note” fell on a crowd of Pedobears and Orcs.
The rally’s hodgepodge of lunacy reflected the monsters in the crowd: the odd (R2D2) followed the awful (Kid Rock); the grotesque (Ozzy Osbourne) met the benign (Cat Stevens); and all was strung together by an undercurrent of humor and reason—our hosts.
We were all guilty of idolizing comedians over politicians. “I’d watch Jon Stewart do anything,” said a woman standing two rows down from me near 4th Street and Madison. Fair enough, I thought, I probably would as well. But would anyone say the same about an equally charismatic and intelligent senator or congressman? Is Stewart’s visibility the only difference?
David Carr may be correct in saying the media affects only a tiny percentage of Americans. But he’s underestimating media’s influence—especially when there’s such a great reason to turn the TV on. Stewart insists he’s just a comic, but he knows we know better. And now, as Andrew Sullivan notes, he and his counterpart seem to be reaching across the aisle, pleading with any and all disenchanted (and educated, and sensible) to listen.
To many—me included—the yin and yang of Stewart and Colbert represent the idea that solutions are made possible with dialogue—an idea not totally supported by politics. And when the two comics sang about an America filled with “gay guys who watch football / and straight guys who watch Glee,” it reaffirmed our suspicions that while politicians may be out of touch with us regular folks and our complex identities, the pundits sure aren’t.
Here, in the realm of media—insane and hysterical and manipulative as it is—someone is listening to us. Even if the rally’s onstage acrobatics failed to make an eye-opening argument, I left D.C. assured that our generation’s specific brand of insanity—arrogant progressivism spurred on by the energy of lunatic comedians—is the insanity that will persevere.
Cabling It In
It was a stretch when GMPM asked me to comment on Jon Stewart’s speech at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, D.C., on October 30.
I’ve only seen The Daily Show a handful of times. I watch Glenn Beck’s show often, and feel his is an important voice that needs to be heard.
There will be plenty of pundits on both sides of the aisle who will read between every possible line to vilify/lionize this endeavor, but I will not be one of them.
Stewart got serious with his metaphoric masterstroke, a comparison of the press to our national immune system. “When the media amplifies everything,” he proclaimed, “we hear nothing.”
The respective crowd-size estimates don’t matter. The count that matters is what will happen tomorrow in the midterm election.
I am familiar with crowds like the one that showed up at Jon Stewart’s rally. Most of the Portland Metro liberals I bump into are talented, compassionate, and intelligent, tuned in to civic and governmental affairs.
At a Halloween party for the progressive-minded International Club Saturday night, I was welcome, even though many in attendance know I’m on the “other side,” and regularly go to bat for notables like Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O’Reilly. There were no Karl Rove masks, at least not this year.
I spend most of my interactive time with conservative-minded people, and can report that they are hard-working, law-abiding, patriotic Americans. Tea Partiers always include the Creator when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Establishment Republicans are getting that folks are concerned about the direction of the country, debt, spending, and the erosion of traditional, small-government, free-market values.
The sinister/laughable subtext for the rally for many on the left is inescapable: Fox News.
Many in Stewart’s TV audience forget the dearth of Fourth Estate conservatives before Fox, which found a market that was ignored, and created its own brand of balance, diversity, and entertainment. Every day, millions of Americans vote with their remotes.
Viewers do need to remember that employees at both Fox and MSNBC have many broadcast hours to fill. It is their job to keep the ball in play, keep the controversies brewing, and scrutinize developments down to the last Hail Mary pass from the last desperate incumbent.
Question what you’re hearing. Know when to turn the TV off, or at least to something apolitical. Ice Road Truckers, anyone?
In his best moment, Stewart spoke about how indiscriminately tarring people with labels like “Marxist,” “homophobe,” “racist,” or “bigot” obscures the line between the truly heinous and the merely oppositional. We let the really bad actors off the hook.
The Comedy Central star also riffed off a video analogy showing rush-hour commuters of all ideological stripes enabling one another’s access to a clogged tunnel in an orderly, democratic fashion.
Consider the words of Ronald Reagan: “All change in America begins at the kitchen table.” I think Jon Stewart was saying the same thing.