THE JOKER AND THE THIEF
Jon Stewart and Barack Obama. A comedian and the President of the United States. The fact that I'm pairing the two I'm sure has Hollywood execs reeling from the possibilities. "Add a zany First Dog, an attractive but professional Press Secretary who's icy demeanor is melted by the comedian's warmth and a slew of sexual misunderstandings, and we've got a hit!" Hollywood's stagnation aside, these two are the subject of my latest article for two reasons, I'm an admirer of both, and both have received undue criticism as of late.
President Obama's election was historic to say the least. An African American President, a mere fifty years out of civil rights. Truly, this is the triumph of the baby boomers. This is their V.J. Day. They raised a generation of color-blind individuals who turned up in droves and put Obama over the top. This historic paradigm shift did not go unnoticed at Talon magazine. You may have noticed my lack of articles lately. Well, I've been busy and for the two of you that read these articles, I apologize.
Even more striking to me about Obama's victory than his color was his ability to win despite the torrential storm of political indifference that seemed to grip our society for the past eight-plus years. And for those who were active politically, "hope" seemed like the last thing the fear obsessed America wanted. For some reason, my cynical mind couldn't wrap around this air of optimism. Yet election day seemed to sparkle with energy and genuine enthusiasm. I didn't get it. The nation who had trivialized and marketed a national tragedy, who generalized and simplified the complex issues of an entire region of the world and who's indifference to anything of substance drove culture into a pit of rehashed trite artistic ventures and forced celebrity banality to the forefront of social discourse, suddenly gave a damn about the issues?
I was baffled but content. I smiled as I flipped through channel after channel of jubilant people in the street, reporters giving heartfelt soliloquys about the historical significance, and joyful tears rolling down the cheeks of the once oppressed. "I can't believe this is happening. My people finally care." I thought. Yet, as Inauguration Day loomed, the proverbial boyfriend of American society whom I had dumped then taken back thinking it had changed, began to show signs of it's former self.
Barack Obama collector's plates, stories of Michelle Obama's fashion sense and respected journalists having in depth discussions about dog breeds suitable for the White House flooded my television and web news sources in the following months. Here was the nation I knew, finding the one trivial kernel of an event and sensationalizing it to the point of absurdity. Ah... home. The breaking point for me was watching an entertainment news show that was looking for celebrities at the inauguration. Only we could treat a watermark in our history with the dignity of the VMA's. Then, my disgust reached an apex as I watched Justin Timberlake in a promo for an election-related show declare, "America... we're cool again."
Really? We're cool again? Do you think Belgium will go to prom with us now? Of all the trivializations of a national triumph, this was the worst. The country elects a member of a race it once enslaved... we elect a Jewish Pharaoh... and you are focusing on an ambiguous high school caste system?! What the hell is wrong with you?! I know that no one over a ninth grade reading level listens to your music but come on! When asked to speak on politics, you could try to salvage some dignity out of the rainbow colored dung heap you call a career.
I'm sure you , the reader, is thinking, "trashing Justin Timberlake is all well and good, but what does it have to do with Obama's critics?" The answer is "everything." Justin Timberlake is not the problem, he is a model I'm using to illustrate the mindset of the average American. This easily distracted high school mentality did not leave us during the last election, in fact it was the driving force behind it. But now, two months into his presidency, Obama is being increasingly ostracized over his economic plan. As the months go on and the jobless people suffer, their frustrations are slowly shifted from one administration to the next. And the rest of America is looking to it's next shiny object, leaving politics and support of Obama in the dust. The latest Gallup poll puts him above 60 percent but it's dropped considerably. Allow me to say something to those of you still listening...
It's been two months. The economy took years to ruin, it will take years to fix. Mr. Obama has, if nothing else, shown a willingness to act and an openness to find new methods. Give him time, give him support, give him a break. But most importantly, please stop calling him a socialist. I grow tired of hearing how the thief Obama is stealing from the rich to give to the poor. One pundit literally called him "Robin Hood." (Which, by the way, if you are trying to defame someone, using the most beloved thief in history, may not be the wisest analogy.) Look, I know you want a free market, but free market isn't always the answer. It's not magic fairy dust that will solve all financial problems. No one wants Soviet Russia, but no one wants Victorian England, either.
So America, I implore you to return to the all too brief time when we were looking for answers instead of scapegoats, when we retreated to logic instead of dogmatic theories, and when American citizens paid attention to the Republic they are responsible for. If that takes a shameless fad, then okay, pop your collar of social awareness, turn backwards your cap of fiscal discourse and put on your shades of participation in the political process, because we need politics to be cool again.
Jon Stewart rarely finds himself being discussed on the twenty-four hour news networks he berates on The Daily Show, but this past week he seems to have grabbed their attention. The following clip contains two of the attitudes about this story that I would like to address.
First, Mr. Cramer... the idea that the opinions of Jon Stewart ought to be taken lightly because he's a comedian is as short-sighted as it is irresponsible. The Daily Show has operated for years under the genius platform of Comedy with a serious side. It reaches about 2.3 million viewers nightly which is wildly successful for late night cable, and the majority of these viewers are young. As I discussed in the above section, the youth of this country have woken up and Washington knows it. Why else do you think GOP chair Michael Steele is saying he wants to give the Republican party a "hip-hop" vibe? Why else would Congressmen be "twittering" in the middle of an address from the president if not to seem relevant to the youthful voters? Why else would so much attention be paid to Stewart's criticism of a major news network? Jon Stewart is no longer the court jester, he is a power to be reckoned with.
In an interview some time ago, Bill O'Rilley referred to Stewart's viewers as "stoned slackers," showing yet again an arrogant, irresponsible, juvenile attitude of dismissiveness to a particular group of Americans. Yet now that these "stoned slackers" are hitting the voting booths, none of the major news networks seems to be laughing at this comedy show. In fact most of the press I heard on this was positive for Stewart. Some may argue it is because of the media's "liberal bias" but I believe it is because these networks know Stewart's true power and don't wish to be his next victim.
Secondly, Mr. Scarborough... thank you for recognizing that Jon Stewart's role is greater than people realize, however I have some objections with a few of the things you said. You said "When George Bush was President, he (Stewart) attacked the President every night." I agree. Stewart's show was ruthless to the former administration and is easier on Obama's. However, one must take into account that the current administration has only been in power for two months. I think given the time frame, any media outlet that has criticized the two equally ought to be considered biased. The Daily Show's criticism of the irresponsibility of the media didn't start with the Obama administration, it has been a staple of the show for years. Also I would advise you to watch Stewart's harsh comparison of Obama to Bush on the subject of the Iraq war on the March 4th show, then tell me if he is biased.
You are correct Mr. Scarborough, Jon Stewart cannot predict what the stock market is going to do, or what the outcome of Iraq will be, but I would go as far as to say, no one can. And Stewart never claimed he could, unlike the employees of your network, which I believe is how this started. Jon Stewart called you guys out over that very point. Also, if you would like to find the moments of Jon Stewart misspeaking, you don't need a transcript, they post all their shows on their website, but I'm sure you at MSNBC have 100 interns scouring the internet who could have told you that.
The two most hypocritical points made during the above tirade must be the accusation of "cherry-picking" and the accusation that Stewart is an idealogue... Mr. Scarborough, the media by nature cherry picks what they speak about and in today's world of sound-bytes and brief clips, you are in no position to question the context of Stewart's reports. Following the praise Stewart received for calling out CNBC, the Huffington post wrote an article about people calling for Stewart to report on other stories that slip through the cracks. The fact that the people are clamoring for him to pick up the ball you and you peers have dropped, demonstrates your ineptitude and justifies any criticism he gives you. The fact that he uses video clips to support his argument, that his perspective is comical and that any audience anywhere reacts in unison to something funny (the reaction you call "Pavlovian"), in no way invalidates what he says.
As for dismissing Stewart as an idealogue... Sir, when you were a congressman, you received a 95 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union... You are the definition of idealogue.
There was a time when this country's media was the fourth cog in the checks and balances system. If a politician stepped out of line, it was the media who informed the people and assured a difficult reelection. Now the media plays ball. This brings interviews, which bring ratings. Has Jon Stewart moved from comedy host to fifth cog in the checks and balances system? If you look at the attention this story gotten, he has. He called out CNBC for their complacency with the answers of the CEO's they interviewed. This in turn will keep the media more honest, which is a good thing. One day, we will need someone to keep Stewart and his ilk in line, but until then realize the power that satire has and own up to the mistakes you make. Your out lash against Stewart seems like the pouting of a teenager who has just been reprimanded by his parents.
In the same way politicians, particularly those on the right with their dismissive accusations of a biased media claim that those who challenge them, undermine them, you have shown your arrogance and hubris. If one who challenges undermines authority, than it is they who can be considered the keepers of freedom. You're right Joe, Jon Stewart is not just a comedian, but he is also not an idealogue. He is the watchdog for a media that has become increasingly more irresponsible, corrupt and irrelevant. Take a lesson from Jim Cramer, apologize for your misleading sensationalism and restore some dignity to your profession.
I'm John Pendragon, and this is a current event.
THE JOKER AND THE THIEF