Sunday, October 31, 2010 Jon Stewart's kind of an asshole, it turns out.

So I read this article by Mark Ames, who really comes down quite hard on this whole "Rally to Restore Sanity." Read it yourself, but his basic argument is that the whole thing is basically a way for people to avoid real political engagement; to avoid seeming too gauchely earnest about anything and thus looking, god forbid, uncool; ha ha it's all a big joke.

I think he's painting with an overly broad brush here; I have no doubt that plenty of the rally's participants were genuinely politically engaged people who just wanted an opportunity to have some fun and what's wrong with that? But the basic thrust of his argument rings very true to me, regardless of the motivations of any individual participants. I feel this way especially after hearing Stewart on Fresh Air a week or two ago, talking about the thing. I wrote a post about it, but I didn't post it at the time for whatever reason. I am going to do so it now. Roll tape:

Boy, you know I DO enjoy watching The Daily Show semi-regularly, but Jon Stewart was recently on the NPR interview show Fresh Air, and WOW, there were a few parts were he came off amazingly badly (transcript here). Here he is on the subject of this stupid Rally to Restore Sanity:

GROSS: Now, some people are worried. There's a big AFL-CIO liberal march, there's the FFL, the NAACP, a whole bunch of groups. Some people worry that your march is going to take away from their, like, serious political march.

STEWART: Right, yeah. Tough shit.

GROSS: Why do you say that?

Mr. STEWART: I have a job. I don't have to do yours. I don't have to do their job. Let them do their job. If their job is to motivate the voters and to rally people to their cause, God bless. Do whatever you've got to do. But that's not my job. My job is to, again, express our point of view comedically about what we view as the political process.

You know, I don't I have no obligation to the Democrats or progressives or liberals or unions. Our feeling is, corruption is corruption. If a union is corrupt, you can't leave it alone because it's a union, and they help so that 8-year-olds don't work in factories anymore. You know, you have to go where you feel like the absurdity is. So we're not anybody's we're not warriors in their cause. And if they're upset, they should have thought of that, you know, the past couple of years, before they lost, you know, the momentum that they had gained in 2008.

Someone sounds a trifle defensive here, no? There was a way to answer this question without sounding like an asshole. Stewart...did not successfully navigate this way. First, there's the "I don't actually care about issues or elections" bit. That would have been charming enough, but then, with no segue, we abruptly jump, with no provocation whatsoever, to "unions are corrupt" (presumably black people are corrupt also). Also, apparently if you need to have a rally to support your causes, there's something fundamentally wrong with you. I mean, what the hell? This is an incoherent, Mallard-Fillmore-level rhetorical performance. It's bullshit, and Stewart ought to know that it's bullshit.

Later on:

And its very easy to dehumanize, and I will say in this room: I would imagine, you know, Beck and Palin are easier punching bags, and we can think of it as, oh my God, I'm so scared if they take over. And you know what? We'll be fine. You know, we had a civil war. Just - we're not that fragile, and I think we always have to remember that people can be opponents, but not enemies.

Ha ha, yeah, why would anyone possibly think of right-wing political nihilists as anything but legitimate players in this big ol' crazy game of politics? Stewart has--or claims to have--this insane belief that the concept of "bipartisanship" has meaning; that we really all basically want the same things when it comes down to it. Um, no. Republicans (and many Democrats; let's not kid ourselves) want a corporate oligarchy. That's not what I want, or what any non-stupid/evil person wants. Really.

Will "we" be fine (and are we really meant to imagine that a second Civil War would be "fine")? Well, for a value of "we" that means "white straight multimillionaire talk show hosts," yes, I suppose it's hard to argue with that. The question of whether the tens of thousands of Americans who die each year because of our shitty health care system are "fine?" Or the ones who are dying in our meaningless wars? From malnutrition? From insufficient safety regulations? For want of a legitimate medical procedure? From the cynical stirring up of racial hatred? Homophobia? This is what right-wing politics gets you. It's pretty goddamned easy to get all philosophical and conciliatory when you happen to be a part of society's élite and you're never gonna be affected in any meaningful way by it all. It's the same thing I don't like about South Park, as I've probably noted elsewhere--sure, they can be very funny, but the whole "we're far too cool and hip and jaded and ironic to actually care about anything" business is just repulsive, whomever it's coming from.

A perhaps minor nit that nonetheless needs to be picked:

And this really is true: We don't fact-check, and we don't look at context because of any journalistic criterion that we feel has to be met. We do that because jokes don't work when they're lies.

So we fact-check so that when we tell a joke, it hits you at sort of a guttural level as opposed to it's not because we have a journalistic integrity. Hopefully, we have a comedic integrity that we don't want to violate.

Mm. Ya mean like the time you bought hook, line, and sinker into the one-hundred-percent-bullshit anti-acorn story brought to us by the unbelievably slimy James O'Keefe? Well all right then.

Here's the conclusion:

GROSS: So just one more thing: Do you have like, an experience on "The Daily Show," or as a comic, where you say, this is my peak experience; this is as good as it gets - like, this is so great?

Mr. STEWART: There was a congressional bill where they were going to get money for first responders for 9/11 for chronic health issues. And I mean, its a no-brainer. The people that went into the towers that - or were down there searching, to have their health bills taken care of...

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. STEWART: ...and legislative maneuvering - the Democrats wouldnt bring an up or down vote because if they did that, the Republicans would be allowed to insert amendments. And one of the amendments that they could insert was that you couldn't give any of the money to illegal aliens.

And so the Democrats were afraid that they would have a commercial that would be made that would say, you voted to give money to - so rather than standing up and being moral for the people that risked everything for us down there, they decided to try a legislative maneuver that made it so that two-thirds had to pass the bill, so that no amendments could be put in it. Well, the Republicans obviously, you know, shot it down -their own moral failing.

So we did a segment on the show called "I Give Up."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: And the ability to articulate our sense of just absolute sadness, but through a prism of comedy - like, we came in, in that morning just really despairing as we watched this go down. And we walked out that night, feeling like we had yelled and felt, you know, we had a -we put it through the prism and the synthesis and the digestive process that we put it through, and we made ourselves feel better.
And we didn't make ourselves feel better by ignoring it, by dismissing it, by not dealing with it. We made ourselves feel better by expressing our utter rage at the ineptness and lack of courage from our legislators. And we walked out of there that night feeling like, you know, what, (bleep) good day's work. That was it.

It's obviously a fucked-up situation--though Stewart for whatever reason downplays the mind-bogglingly offensive idea that it's important to make sure that any first-responders who are also illegal immigrants (is this a category that actually exists?) get fucked over--but I ask you: how perfect is it that Stewart's favorite moment ever was one that gave him the opportunity to get drunk on really unchallenging self-righteousness (you know what else was bad? HITLER.)? Seriously. Fuck that guy, and fuck his faux-reasonableness.


Blogger Unknown pontificated to the effect that...

He has absolutely no problem ambushing people like Chris Matthews or the Crossfire guys (under supposedly friendly and professional contexts), while he plays softball with both those with real political power and folks who come on his show and spout fallacious nonsense (as with the former G. W. Bush advisor and global warming denier who's been on at least three times over the years). Stewart is as juvenile, naive, sophistic, and incapable of meaningful or pragmatic rhetoric as he is intelligent and clever. These are traits he has knowingly and intentionally cultivated, to great success--an action which only makes him more of an asshole.

I enjoy his show, but I don't take him seriously. He would probably claim he doesn't want anyone to, that he's a comedian hosting a 'fake news show' on Comedy Central; but he clearly has a point of view which he pushes for, and he definitely spends a good amount of time taking himself seriously. Commentary seasoned with humour remains commentary, nevertheless.

5:12 AM  
Anonymous dlauthor pontificated to the effect that...

And so, the left continues to eat itself for not abiding by unachievable standards, while the right actually succeeds in getting stuff done. Evil stuff, yes, but they actually make it happen rather than griping that so-and-so is an asshole and such-and-such is too reasonable or not reasonable enough.

It almost makes me wish I were a conservative, so I wouldn't be so consistently disappointed with everybody on my damn side.

10:10 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

I'm sorry you feel that way, but hey, *I'm* still voting for Democrats (as much as they disgust me), and I'm not doing false-equivalency bullshit either. You can probably find better people to blame.

12:11 PM  
Anonymous Sonia pontificated to the effect that...

He absolutely appears to be! My goodness, I'm so over Jon Stewart! What is with the arse kissing of Fox "news" types again and again on his show.
Where he's usually rude and irreverent with some guests he thinks deserve his scorn, he's actually almost reverential in his treatment of these Fox people - o'reilly the other time and tonight, the son of the old newscaster.

Wow. What's the real deal with Stewart, I wonder?

Things that make you go hmmmm...

5:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

I think it's probably just professional solidarity. They're both TV personalities, they live in basically the same world, so it's very easy for them to talk to each other. Kind of like how Clint Eastwood and Michael Moore can chat amiably at various events, despite having diametrically opposite political views.


11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

"Republicans (and many Democrats; let's not kid ourselves) want a corporate oligarchy. That's not what I want, or what any non-stupid/evil person wants. Really."

That sword swings both ways. Democrats just want a centralized collectivist-totalitarianism where big brother government can tell everybody what they are and aren't allowed to do/say/eat/watch/listen to/read/think.

Let's not kid ourselves.

6:03 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

Sorry, dude, but as much as I dislike Democrats, that's a very silly comment made of right-wing talking points with no relation to reality.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Dede pontificated to the effect that...

"And my experience with Jon Stewart is that’s exactly what he has done to his writers. He’s, you know, a very anti-union guy. He gives the illusion of being a liberal. But then if you look at that big rally he held in Washington, DC, in 201...
0; boy did he miss the boat on Occupy Wall Street, didn’t he? You know, a year later, what was the real message that America needed to hear? That message was about the wealthy 1% and the stranglehold they have on our lives. Instead, Jon Stewart held this big rally a year before in Washington, DC telling his followers to calm down. That’s who he is, you know? And he’s…so he’s a bad guy, John Stewart."-David Feldman

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

Jon Stewart had failed at standup, failed as an actor and had e comedy central show land in his lap. He eventually fired everyone on set that was not a leftist. Why do people get their political views from this miserable hack?

2:57 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

Just looking over these old things I wrote, it appears that several of the anti-Stewart people above are right-wing douchebags, not explicitly identifying as such presumably because they were aware it would discredit them. But still...

12:39 AM  

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