“Should Jon Stewart Have Called the President ‘Dude’?”
Question posed by WSJ.com, the website of the Wall Street Journal
It was extraordinary. With only six days left till the mid-term elections, the President of the United States, POTUS to his friends, appeared live on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. The “Fake News” program has risen in the ranks of media to this lofty position. And, Stewart did, indeed, call the President “dude”. Personally, I think “His Dudeness” would have been more appropriate. But, that title was taken by the Big Lebowski and I would hate to have the image of Jeff Bridges in his boxers and robe in my head when thinking of the President.
But, the grand finale of his week of live TV in DC was not his chat with the President; it was the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” held on the Washington Mall on Saturday. The event was also broadcast live on the Comedy Channel. It was mostly music and typical Comedy Channel stuff – a few laugh out loud jokes interspersed with a few hundred not funny jokes. But, Stewart had a serious intent as well. Not wanting to take sides in the culture war, he went after the press.
“The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous flaming ant epidemic.”
That was one of the LOL moments. It’s funnier when you hear it than when you read it.
That 200,000 people showed up is not just a measure of Stewart’s impact as a comedian but rather a measure of how he has become an arbiter of, well, sanity.
It wasn’t always this way. Mark Twain is often given credit for being America’s first “humorist”. He had a way with a one liner. But, his comments were not personal in nature. In a sense, his lines were simply proverbs with a barb. Proverbs have been around for centuries. “A fool and his money are soon parted” was written by Thomas Tusser in the 16th Century.
In the century before Twain, Ben Franklin was prolific in the same form:
“Well done is better than well said.”
So, while Twain added politics to the form, he didn’t change the form itself:
“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.”
Even Will Rogers, who sounds funnier to our more modern ears, didn’t really get personal:
“A fool and his money are soon elected.”
It wasn’t until after WW II that things started to turn personal. Here’s Bob Hope:
“I don’t know what people have against Jimmy Carter. He’s done nothing.”
More contemporary is Jay Leno:
“According to New York publishers, Bill Clinton will get more money for his book than Hillary Clinton got for hers. Well, duh. At least his book has some sex in it.”
But, Stewart has taken the form to a whole new level. His event, in some part, might have been called a “Rally from the Back of the Classroom”. All that was missing was the spitballs. However, the underlying thrust was quite serious. The country has serious problems and the numbskulls in government enabled by the media are not addressing those problems.
“Not being able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Partiers or real bigots and Juan Williams… is an insult, not only to those people but to the racists themselves who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate…”
Post event, Stewart and his partner in crime, Steven Colbert, denied any intent besides pure entertainment. Smart move! If they had expressed a grander goal, they would no doubt be excoriated for their ambition. The better tactic is to sit back and let the message sink in. We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore. But, to maintain our own sanity, we know you have to laugh or you’d cry.
In a sense, Stewart has become a LEADER. By filling an obvious void, he has demonstrated that there is an appetite for something other than the insanity that our political parties – or the Tea Party – offer us. He has shown us an opportunity. Who will step into the breach? Or to put it another way, WHO WILL LEAD?