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Arts and Culture

Give Us This Day Our ‘Daily Show’

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Posted on Nov 2, 2010
YouTube

By Mr. Fish

(Page 2)

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.


Mr. Fish goes to Washington. Photo credit: Jeff Booth


New and Improved Comments

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By balkas, November 4, 2010 at 11:31 am Link to this comment

?all scribes, finkels, frankels, hertzlers, schinkels, naomis, noams and uncles:
pedro, peter, pierre, pyotr, giovanni, joshua, sam, tom, deepak+ many ants—
oops, aunts deceive us.
and party one again—oops, won again; as always before. and always will as long
as pie is large enough! tnx

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By Berynice, November 4, 2010 at 1:48 am Link to this comment

I enjoyed the rally but agree with Mr. Fish. It was not audacious at all. It was UNaudacious: timid..“Non-partisan”... timorous… trepid ...diffident ...shy… unsure and fainthearted at best and jolly. And it tried to pretend that the right and left were equally insane. I disagree with this false construct, that everything has an equal balance.

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By pastol, November 3, 2010 at 5:47 pm Link to this comment

There is the possibility that some (Mr. Fish maybe?) are over-thinking this whole thing. It was nothing more than it was sold to be. Pure honest and face value. Nothing more, nothing less. Might I most respectfully advise that giving it a rest might be in order?

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By DHFabian, November 3, 2010 at 12:55 pm Link to this comment

On the possibilities of building an active progressive movement: Throughout our history, it was the poor (working class, and those worse off) who were the dedicated foot-soldiers of significant political/social movements, working in unity with the progressives of the era, whether it was slavery or labor rights or civil rights. These were the masses that filled the streets to be heard over the monied interests.  Today is different, as US progressives have largely turned their backs on the poor. The poor noticed. Should we expect them to put themselves at risk today to help the middle class in hopes that the old trickle down economics might actually work this time?  As America said to the poor, “You’re On Your Own.”

Consider how many Americans are poor right now. This will only increase because US corporations continue to get annual “tax breaks” to cover the costs of moving our jobs to foreign countries.  Small businesses can employ only a handful of people, but we have millions out of work and without a safety net.I don’t see how it’s possible for Democrats and progressive to change much of anything without this huge mass of poor/near-poor people.

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By DHFabian, November 3, 2010 at 12:30 pm Link to this comment

If “sanity” in politics means continued passivity, maybe that’s not the answer.  Maybe the extremes of the TP really needs a left-wing counter-balance, a faction willing to go beyond politely nodding our heads.

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By OldUncleDave, November 3, 2010 at 12:18 pm Link to this comment

A crowd of working class people were told by a comedian who makes over ten million dollars a year: “Things aren’t all that bad.”

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By JeffKamen, November 3, 2010 at 10:42 am Link to this comment

I have reported on mass demonstrations in America and Europe since 1963.
When I attended the Glenn Beck, “Rally to Restore Honor,” I found many of the
attendees thoughtful and pleasant until pushed even gently on their Tea Party
ideology which relies on a separate set of facts on many issues—especially those
that go to the legitimacy of Mr. Obama as President.  I have covered every
president since Kennedy and never before had any chief executive’s bona fides
been so challenged.  Undoubtedly, it was that loathing of Obama, the embracing
of the smear of the President (Nazi, Socialist, Communist, Muslim) that resulted
in making Beck’s emotional/political orgasm on the steps of the Lincoln
Memorial an event that looked as though only whites were welcome.  No, I do
not think the 200 thousand Beckites on the National Mall that day are racists. 
But the stuff they believe to be true about Obama is utterly insulting to Obama
supporters and especially to blacks.  Then came the Comedy Central lads’ gag-
turned-event-turned-gift-to-the-nation.  Other than a handful of stoners with
mean-spirited signs outside a Fox News live remote vehicle, there were no mean
words or vibes anywhere among the 220 thousand Obama supporters of every
imaginable color and gender variety who had clearly come to relax among like-
minded folks. “KIss me I’m a Muslim,”  “Come meet your friendly neighborhood
average American Muslim family!” and “I disagree with you completely, but I am
pretty sure that you are not Hitler.” were some of the signs that marked the
Stewart-Colbert rally’s zeitgeist. Alas, I fear that Mr. Fish and others who agree
with him, fail to understand the potential; power of such an aggregation of
kindness.For the Glenn Beck event, some 900 large busses were chartered from
across the nation.  Many from churches.  There was no such number available
for the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” but my conversations with dozens
of participants painted a picture of smaller groups and individuals making
journeys from dozens to thousands of miles to be a part of an historic moment
in a time of raging blood-in-the-face politics. I wish that you had been with me
at both rallies.  What
was most clear to me is that neither of them would have taken place had the
economy been healthy. 
jeff kamen in washington, DC

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By Johnny America, November 3, 2010 at 10:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Americans need to wake up the fact that Beck is simply another opinion pushing charlatan who is a product of mormon cult theology that he mixes with parts of Catholicism and his personal core as a dry alcoholic.  And for the record, he is a Mormon and not a Christian.  The two are not the same.  The religion of Islam has more in common with Christianity than the mormon cult.  We live in a period of history where it has become very socially acceptable to be stupid and follow extremist idiots like Glenn Beck, Adolph Hitler, Sarah Palin, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Christine O Donnell and Rush Limbaugh. Chicanery and lies are their middle names as these people have no ounce of integrity and are masters at perverting truth, facts and history.

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By Sir Winthrop Hall, November 3, 2010 at 5:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Spot on Mr. Fish! I too was squeemish about this rally. I went to the rally to support
... umm… what did I support?.. I guess it was satire.
Perhaps the real problem is the simple fact that it was the only rally to choose
from.

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By exploitedtimes, November 2, 2010 at 5:25 pm Link to this comment

Thanks Mr. Fish. Your toons are great and this is a damn good article too.

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By mdgr, November 2, 2010 at 5:22 pm Link to this comment

DavidByron:

>A pretty good attempt to identify what exactly was wrong with that rally, and yet the attempts need to go on until they get it right. Something fucked up about it ; that’s for sure.


What “f*cked up” about it was that the attempt at humor was inane and adolescent (Captain America in diapers), and the message itself was commensurately innocuous and out of context with reality.

As Mr. Fish and Mr. Hedges pointed out, what was at stake had much more to do with the sanity involved in being able to own our own rage—of integrating it—while not losing its edge or its message. Sanity is not to be achieved by a denial of that rage.

Sanity had nothing to do with dancing around like twelve year olds, giggling knowingly while pretending this was street theater.

I know something about street theater. Fact is that the street theater of the 60’s was simultaneously humorous and as edgy as a light saber. It wasn’t cutesy or effete, and it didn’t ask everyone to “just get along.”

In fact, it more often than not was radically polarizing. It was intended to be nakedly inflammatory, and not at all conflict-aversive.

Rather than this team trying to do another variety show where all the opposites are melded together into one happy bowl of politically-neutral pablum, why doesn’t Stewart actually call it like it is? 

And while he’s at it, why doesn’t he ask Colbert to take a flying f*ck? Colbert’s version of comic relief has an appeal now and then, true, but it can’t even be called adolescent. He’s prepubescent, monotonal, a one trick pony at best.

Better yet, I’d stop with any further attempt at humor at all except by the likes of Mr. Fish and others who are not afraid of conflict.

The issue is about integrating and then channeling our rage—not denying it or getting a weekend vacation from it.

I’m afraid that Jon Stewart had his one bite of the apple.

What’s next up as an act, like it or not, is probably much more like the Rolling Stones at Altamont.

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By DavidByron, November 2, 2010 at 4:31 pm Link to this comment

A pretty good attempt to identify what exactly was wrong with that rally, and yet the attempts need to go on until they get it right.

Something fucked up about it ; that’s for sure.

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By mdgr, November 2, 2010 at 2:07 pm Link to this comment

>And by the way, it wasn’t exactly “clowning”—more like the King’s fool on steroids. Alas, Poor Yorick.

Actually, it was more like the King’s fool in diapers and the Matrix on steroids.

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By Lloyd English, November 2, 2010 at 2:06 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

All this is just scary.  It seems that reality is now a choice, a sort of subjective decision based on emotion.  The most important thing is that we all just feel good.  We don’t need to think about the homeless, the destitute, the impoverished and starving and sick in our own country, what we really need is a good show and a laugh.
Let’s just ignore the fact that we are voiceless in a democracy, nameless in our society and powerless in our position.  Give me a good show and a little bit of shopping and some beer and a car and whoever it is can have all the rest, who cares. 
The Germans cheering for Hitler at least had passion.  Has it dawned on anyone at this rally that ultimately the jokes are on them and the joke is that they are all standing as players in a tragic and ironic comedy while their country disintegrates.  Standing and watching and laughing and stupefied and helpless.
Yes We Can.  Really?

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By gerard, November 2, 2010 at 1:34 pm Link to this comment

What, exactly, did Jon Stewart say in addition to the banal “grandmotherly” (and by the way, all grandmothers are not banal!) adieu?  I distinctly remember something about “hard times, not end times” which was very therapeutic under present circumstances, and something about “working together as we always have, and are now doing every day”—also helpful in view of all the >“f….ing, a…..”  divisiveness the Republicans and disgruntled Democrats have been hyperventilating about for a year—among the Democrats mostly for the purpose of avoiding DOING anything.
  The show was a massive, nonthreatening display of a subtler kind of “force” than is characteristic of typical “demonstrations.”  It could not do much more, considering who did it and who attended and why. It also gave police a taste of nonagressive public communion.
  At this point the Left (Behind?) could scarcely be expected to do more, right?  It very well might have done a lot less!  Thank your lucky stars.
  And by the way, it wasn’t exactly “clowning”—more like the King’s fool on steroids. Alas, Poor Yorick.
  Is it the lack of political action which is driving the ceaseless self-criticism on the Left, or is it the ceaseless self-criticism that is undermining our ability to act?  Or both?  Or neither?

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By kerryrose, November 2, 2010 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment

Mr Fish

The title ‘Give Us This Day Our Daily…...(Bread)?

I suppose The Daily Show is a communion of sorts for progressive/liberal types.

What could Fox be?  ‘Crazy like a ......? or ‘I love you a bushel and a (Beck)?

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By MeHere, November 2, 2010 at 11:26 am Link to this comment

Very good comments by Mr. Fish.  Regardless of the talent of the Stewart/Colbert
team, the rally in Washington was part of TV programming which is designed to
please sponsors and sell ads. But for many liberals it was a political statement
and, if you think about it, it was. It confirms where most liberals still stand in the
political spectrum—that lesser-of-two evils, comfortable zone where big
problems are avoided and a desire for meaningful change is not supported.

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By mdgr, November 2, 2010 at 10:50 am Link to this comment

Thank you, Mr. Fish. You are as good a writer as you are a political cartoonist.

The reasons why I like Jon Stewart on TV were precisely why I loathed him in the rally. On TV, he is mannered but reliably trenchant on matters of importance. In the rally, he was mannered and reliably nice on matters of importance.

I couldn’t even call what he did very funny. It had a somewhat prepubescent quality, at least with respect to Captain America’s one-trick-pony antics.

And its ultimate effect, I fear, was merely to reinforce the corporate view that the “liberals” are, in the end, a harmless bunch of ineffectual people.

You made an allusion to the Nuremburg Rally, shown in the film “Triumph of the Will.” Now, that was anything but harmless and ineffectual. Like it or not, however, that is where we’re going as a country.

Telling people to just be nice does not address unemployment and social injustice. And it doesn’t address the growing rage that’s circulating through our body-politic like a cancer of the blood.

The “sanity rally” served as a mere diversion. Far from empowering us, it was thoroughly conflict aversive in tone. In a word, it was a giggle, and a very self-satisfied and adolescent giggle at that.

I am glad you and Chris Hedges helped put it in context.

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By pheldespat, November 2, 2010 at 8:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There were many people at the rally who just went there to have a nice time. Didn’t Mr. Fish see the signs with slogans like “This sign is heavy” or “Look, Mom! I’m on TV”? Many others went there to have a nice time and also make a political/ethical stance. They carried signs like “I fought the Nazis and they don’t look like Obama” or “#1 threat to America: Gay Mexican Muslim bears!”

I think the rally was a good idea. Mr. Fish took it as a political rally made by a comedian in response to another political rally made by another “comedian”. What’s wrong with that? Politics right now is a joke, anyways. Stewart and Colbert are comedians, but they also make people think and they often talk about what mainstream media won’t.

“I refused to fool myself into thinking, even for a historical moment, that we were just too big to fail.” Where’s your sense of humor? Geez, dude! Chill down! “Too big to fail”, WTF? It’s a tongue-in-cheek rally! A tongue-in-cheek rally that gathered more people than many political rallies. That is an accomplishment in itself, and it should stir the conscience of politicians a bit (those few who still have it).

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By kerryrose, November 2, 2010 at 6:08 am Link to this comment

Thank you Mr Fish

So funny and so perceptive.  This is the best critique of Stewart’s rally that I have read.

After all, ‘Be nice and work together’ is a phrase that belies the emptiness of the void that Stewart gazed after trying to figure out why he had this rally.

Our country is overidden with a desire to ‘be nice’ ‘accept the consequences graciously,’  ‘To defer to authority.’  I can only assume this is the reason why we have millions of poor, working class, and middle class that have voted AGAINST workers interests for 30 years.  With unions destroyed by our complacency and good behavior, now we are being told the teacher’s unions are bad, teachers are lazy and selfish, and they should sweat it happily just like we have trained the rest of the workforce to do… sweat it JUST LIKE YOU DO, WHY SHOULD THEY HAVE A DECENT SALARY AND JOB PROTECTION.  YOU DON’T!  HATE THEM!  HATE THEM!

And so we all fall into line complacently, nicely, civilly, and put another nail into our collective coffin.

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By Stupid Git, November 2, 2010 at 5:25 am Link to this comment

“To name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments,
shape the world and stop it from going to sleep. And if rivers of blood flow
from the cuts his verses inflict, then they will nourish him. He is the satirist.” -
Salman Rushdie


Jon Stewart is a great comedic satirist (his interview on Crossfire is up there
with Colbert’s roast of Bush at the Correspondents Dinner) and I appreciate his
call for sanity. The history of our nation’s struggles shows that rational voices
tend to win out over irrational angry mobs (McCarthy/Murrow, Wallace/MLK).
That said, a rational satirist can cause just as much (if not more) of a wound to
the powers that be then the radical voices of beloved satirists like George Carlin
or Bill Hicks. I’ve seen it in my own family where my mother has stopped
watching Fox and started watching the Daily Show in the past year. Fear works
in the short term but after a while people don’t want to be scared and want to
be alive again - to hope for the best and having someone like Stewart to let
them know there is a light ahead (even if it is just New Jersey) helps them feel
it’s worth caring again.

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