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Give Us This Day Our ‘Daily Show’
Posted on Nov 2, 2010
Jokes, like any other form of magic, can take a truth, usually a horrible one, and convert it into a satirical concept that, because it is an opinion and no longer tethered to fact, is malleable and, therefore, capable of either rising above or nestling beneath, like a whoopee cushion, those truisms that the joke teller hopes to subvert. Humor, then, like any other form of mollification, can often dislodge the disease of hopelessness from any situation that appears hopeless and invigorate the joker’s chosen audience with hopeful optimism. But, of course, on the other hand, when such a distraction is allowed to divert attention away from a situation that may in fact be truly hopeless and really dangerous then the diversion can prove disastrous.
In other words, readying a slide whistle and a pair of cymbals for the consequences of a safe that is being pushed from a 10-story window above a crowded sidewalk will not alter the physics of gravity sufficiently to temper the tragic consequences.
And that is precisely what I believe makes Stewart and Colbert, particularly in the context of a political rally staged at the nation’s capital in obvious response to Beck’s event, ultimately ineffective as either saviors of our collective cultural sanity or inspirational martyrs maligned unjustly by our savage indifference to our own fate. After all, when a clown is chosen by a society’s pandemic fear of the dark to lead us all into the light, we can’t be certain that the clown will think to move us all beyond the circle of his own spotlight. But why should he? A comedian’s ultimate obligation is to a society’s funny bone, all other bones be, perhaps not damned, but at least razzberried and machine-gunned by the fury of a seltzer bottle.
Thusly, when an average of 2 million viewers, myself included, tune in every weeknight to see “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” they are there to jeer and hoot and ridicule the despicability and ineptness and sometimes criminality of both our elected officials and the media outlets that leech off their troubling antics and sell us our soap. They are there to see powerful men and women clobbered by their own exposed hypocrisies. Viewers of “The Daily Show” are there to have their anxiety alleviated, to have their mistrust of politicians justified and to have the pain and humiliation of their being continuously shat upon by oppressive forces from the upper echelons of government and industry and social pedigree lessened. Indeed, these are the noble tasks of the satirist: to help not only maintain but also to promote the concept that the power we invest in authority is power that we can also divest, to prove that laughter is much more likely than sorrow to inspire our desire to congregate as a democratic society and to shake the fear from our natural instinct to retreat from psychological hardship and to cower in isolation.
But, of course, enlightening people to the reality of bullshit is only half the task of the satirist and by no means an end unto itself. After all, it is not the diagnosis of a disease that cures the patient.
So, minus the existence of a well-organized, well-informed, deeply passionate and viable peace and anti-establishmentarian movement in this country, what will usually end up happening is that contemporary satire will often convert our rage at the dominant culture into whimsy and transform us from a threat to the social structures that berate us to complacent idiots. Political comedy, without practical application within a political strategy, will merely satiate our hunger for real change with a punch line and rob us of our sensitivity to any number of social and political injustices. Remember that levity provides a biochemical relief to our physiologies. It tells our insides that all is well and that there is happiness in our lives and that being buoyed by this temporary joy is justified by its own ends. Only when a wound is allowed to remain open and some measure of discomfort is permitted to pester our morality will we act to seek a solution to eliminating our pain and the pain that we empathetically feel in others.
“I’m sure a lot of you were just here to have a nice time, and I hope you did,” intoned Stewart from the stage at the end of his rally, groping comedically for a reason why the event was organized and also why the overwhelming majority of his audience showed up to watch it. Such a banal and grandmotherly adieu left me to wonder if Americans shouldn’t be looking for a more profound reason to stand shoulder to shoulder in a crowd of 250,000, in their nation’s capital, carrying signs and wearing T-shirts demanding peace, love and understanding in every way possible, than just to have a nice time.
Contrary to the mood of those surrounding me, those who were continuously waving at themselves on the immense monitors set up all over the Mall, I refused to fool myself into thinking, even for a historical moment, that we were just too big to fail.
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