The importance of Jon Stewart - Macleans.ca
 

The importance of Jon Stewart


 

When you ask the twentysomething crowd where they get their news, few will mention the daily newspaper or the mainstream nightly news anchors. Most get their information from a laptop or a phone, and many will admit The Colbert Report and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart accounts for much of their take on what’s up and what’s down in U.S. politics these days.

Given my new vantage point in New York City, I decided to see for myself what the fuss is all about. To be perfectly honest, I am a little behind the curve here—Stewart’s popularity steadily rising over the past decade and Colbert’s success alone as a spinoff from The Daily Show says a lot about the latter’s strength in the marketplace. So about a week ago, courtesy of a friend who is a writer on the show, I attended a taping of Jon Stewart’s show.

Hilarious pre-show banter set the mood as we awaited the headliner. Then, about 15 minutes before the taping began, Stewart walked on stage for a question and answer period with the audience. It was a no-holds-barred exchange that showcased Stewart at his best, explaining, for instance, why he is afraid of Dick Cheney, and offering up his take on Joe Biden’s loose lips.

When the show began, the gloves came off. The theme that day was immigration reform and here Stewart showed his liberal bias by taking on Senator John McCain’s recent flip-flops on the subject. Flashing back to a time when McCain favoured an approach close to that of Senator Teddy Kennedy, Stewart contrasted McCain’s “pre-insane” positions with his more recent pronouncements, which are now closer to the far-right positions of his opponent in Arizona. Very funny, but at the same time, very devastating. Even though McCain will most likely beat the challenge from his right-wing opponent, J.D. Hayworth, a segment like this reduces his stature as a national political figure.

The next segment featured an interview with a local Arizona politician sponsoring the state’s controversial measures on illegal immigration. By highlighting the inconsistencies and contradictions of the guest, the interview undermined Arizona’s methods in its crusade against illegal immigration and made the politician look foolish. In all, it was a half-hour of fabulous entertainment with a message.

Outside the mainstream media, serious sites like Politico, RealClearPolitics, the Drudge Report and The Huffington Post have come to dominate the political blogosphere. Meanwhile, cable stations like FOX News, MSNBC, and CNN, with their opinionated news reporting, have remained vital contributors to the daily television news cycle. But even if the comedy shows present things in a lighthearted way, they at times provide an equally factual account of significant trends in the news. And since humour has long been a driver of television audiences, it is not surprising to find prominent politicians positioning themselves to be invited on these shows. Make no mistake, these shows are taken seriously by leading political operatives in U.S. politics.

The Daily Show is certainly worth a spin for the uninitiated. And having seen Stewart live in action, easily interacting with his staff and the audience, he is not a passing fad. There was a certain magic in the air—the feeling it is possible to treat otherwise serious subjects with humour while still allowing the messages to get through. These twentysomethings are definitely on to something.

[John Parisella is currently serving as Quebec’s Delegate General in New York City]


 

The importance of Jon Stewart

  1. Welcome to five years ago. Jon Stewart has been the voice of the 'twentysomething' crowd since (at least) the back half of Mr. Bush's presidency.

    Nothing in this article is new, or noteworthy.

  2. heh Running Gag which you have proven ! Not too smart . His name is spelt -Jon not John !
    Now that is something new after 5 years .Negative for the sake of negative .

    • Indeed. Although, I would suggest that misspelling a name, which can be spelled multiple ways, is more forgivable than the random punctuation in your post.

      Thank you for pointing out my mistake so that I could correct it.

  3. Geez Mr. Parisella. Thank you for enlightening us on what all the kids are doing. I will have to see for my self on my televisual box what this young Mr. Stewart is doing on this Daily Show of which you speak.

  4. Not really a fan of Stewart but I do appreciate that he at least is funny because most liberals/progressives are humourless earnest scolds.

    " …. Stewart contrasted McCain's “pre-insane” positions with his more recent pronouncements, which are now closer to the far-right positions of his opponent in Arizona."

    Welcome back, Parisella. I hope things are going well for you in New York. I missed your scare mongering, where mainstream = far right when it's some policy you don't agree with.

    "Concerned Democrats will lose their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives this fall, as Democrat governors are second-guessing the Obama administration's decision to sue the state of Arizona over its controversial immigration law instead of focusing on job creation ………

    Recent poll numbers suggest the nation stands firmly with Arizona on the immigration law. Fifty-six percent of the public opposes a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department challenging the state law, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll.

    Even further, 61 percent support the passage of a similar law in their own state." The Bulletin, July 19, 2010

    • "…most liberals/progressives are humourless earnest scolds."

      Ironically, bergkamp continues from here with a post in his customary style: a humourless, scolding HARRUMPH!

    • Yeah, unlike those side splitting funnypeople Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Ann Coulter who think slanderous ignorance should be worthy of a few guffaws.

      You've proven to us that comedy is subjective. Except you lack the required sense of humour to know what's funny or not.

  5. What would be the Canadian equivalent of those websites (politico and hufington post and realclearpolitics)?

    • Canada lacks a professional political blogosphere in the same sense that the US has, although Pundits' Guide and ThreeHundredEight.com are good for a lot of federal political info. In terms of news, BC seems to have a heads up on the rest of the country with Public Eye Online and The Tyee.

  6. I'll have to watch the show myself, but was the interview with the Arizona politician done live, or was it a pre-taped segment with one of the DS correspondents? If it was the latter, then it's no surprise that the politician came off looking bad. The subjects of those pieces always do, except when Colbert does them.

  7. Excuse me, but Stewart has had a show for well over 10 years. His audience may be 20 something – which could mean 20 – 29.

    The point is that via humour he points out the hypocracy. No one is left out by the way, the Democrats get it too.

    You know, people remember humour more than straight dry facts.

    • He's better now than he was last year. For awhile neither he nor Colbert could be sufficiently stirred to criticize what the Democrats are doing, and kept beating on the Republicans while they were down and out. Fair enough I suppose, but it made for boring television.

      There is no question however that it is always going to be a left-leaning show, with the primary targets being ideological and political opponents. He did however tear a bigger strip off Obama in one episode I watched for continuing Bush's policies on prisoner detention, wire tapping, and foreign policy. Certainly it was harsher than anything that Fox News could ever do.

  8. I hate to pile on given that you admit in the piece that you're "a little behind the curve here", but still.

    You think that Stewart is maybe "not a passing fad" as he heads in to his TWELFTH season hosting The Daily Show?

    In other news, I think maybe this "CSI" show I keep hearing about may just end up having some legs…

    (Oh, and the twenty somethings who started watching when Stewart premiered? We're still watching, but we're thirty somethings now).

    • I think that "we're thirty somethings now" is kinda part of the point. The same of us who became fans of him for bashing the right-wing (and lets not pretend theres no bias there), aren't the same 20 year-olds today. I think the point is that the younger end of the audience, ie. more twenty, than something, probably aren't flocking to the show like back in the day, because it represents more status quo than any kind of new or interesting thought.

  9. Hey Parisella, where have you've been. Miss reading you!!!!!!

  10. I look forward to Mr. Parisella's next piece: "Hey, this Google thing is good for finding things on the world wide web!"

    • Wait till he see's an iPhone for the first time!

  11. Not fair guys, pre IBS bergy was an absolute riot. (course, you have to back quite a ways)

  12. Stewart is great, Jon's not bad either!

    Somewhat serious, the past few decades have seen the emergence of the regular usage of an odd political approach, the bald-faced lie ( i.e. a lie faced with conflicting factual evidence and expert commentary). Not that politicians have not lied in the past, however in a less polarized environment getting caught in a lie meant scurrying around doing damage control.

    Now it seems with increasing frequency politicians just dig in, like defiant cockroaches standing midfloor in bright daylight and profess that no 1+1 is 3 and black is white. Facts are smudged, mangled arguments presented, the best of the mangled arguments are expanded artfully by partisan commentators, the worst are repeated endlessly by internet trolls. The partisans who support the liar, see it all as a contrived trap and rally, the partisans who hate the liar continue to do so, the nonpartisans look at the mess and decide never to vote.

    It seems that within such an environment, presenting a clear, reasoned argument against the liar plays into the liar's hands because it legitimizes the entire faux debate. Stewart and his ilk have tapped into the an approach with some effect at least in the short term, i.e. to laugh at the absurdity of it all. It is in no way a solution to the hyper-partisan mess we are in, but it is at least a coping strategy.

    • Long form census.

  13. I loved it when Jon took Cramer to task for the economic crisis. Called him a self proclaimed expert and then questioned why no one warned about the sub prime mortgages…it was brilliant and wonderful to see that loud mouthed schmuck Cramer squirm.

  14. I've been watching Stewart's show for years. Not only is it very funny, it's also a great way for a Right-winger to get some perspective. As far as that goes, nothing beats seeing your favorite politicians and ideas cut down to size with some well-aimed mockery. A little negative feedback, as it were, to keep one's personal leanings from amplifying all the way to the rail.

    My only concern is that there doesn't seem to be any counterpart for the Left (i.e. a good comedian who cuts left-leaning politicians down to size on a regular basis – Stewart does this from time to time, but as Parisella says, he has a pretty clear preference). And even if there were, would left-leaners bother to watch it rather than sticking to their comfort zone and amplifying their own partisanship to a fever pitch?

    • In my opinion, the "left-wing" bias attributed to Jon Stewart is a result of the apparent "right-wing" slant in the American government. And as the man himself said, he goes to the source. American politicians (and ours in some cases) are so ridiculous, and so absurd that they can be mined for comedic purposes ad infinitum. The fact that up to 2008 the Americans had a Republican executive branch and, for the most part, a Republican legislature makes Stewart appear "left-wing" in the minds of people who, I think, have a childishly reductive view of policy. There's no bias, there's really no left or right wing either. There are plenty of people, however, who feel most comfortable in reducing politics to us vs. them.

      • Yes, he concentrated on the right wing controlled house and executive before 2008, which is fair enough. However, he splits his time equally (or slightly favours) mocking the right even though the house and executive branches are dominated by the left. His bias shows through strongly, unless you believe that the left simply doesn't have as many sleazebags or loons.

    • I think part of the issue is that over the past few decades, the right has split their contribution to the debate into two distinct fractions. There are very serious deep thinkers that give thoughtful analysis and are great reading but hardly fodder for comedy. Then there are a loud, populist group that typically argues on an emotional basis. This group can get pushed into making arguments that are easy to ridicule. Of course, some of these arguments are truly ridiculous, others just apparently so….my experience is that comedians don't really distinguish the two.

      The left is seldom good at exploiting people's emotional response to an issue. Usually they don't even try and when they do try, they overplay their hand and are reduced to irritating bleating. Pathetic perhaps, but not really funny.

      Personally I try to read people from the right to gain some perspective on where others are coming from. Somehow it does not seem fair that I have to fight my way through Ayn Rand and you get to enjoy a half-hour of comedy for the same purpose.

      • Good observations.

        If you want a good perspective on the right that's easier to read than Ayn Rand, I recommend Tom Sowell. His essays are regularly posted at Townhall. I would also strongly recommend the three guys at Powerline.

  15. Oh, and Parisella, please…a little modernity. The Yanks already think we're a bunch of snow encrusted rubes, please don't perpetuate the stereotype.

  16. *sigh* Parisella is back. Oh well, I guess if we're going to have Steyn…

  17. i think he is the only guy on the left who has a sense of humor . The right is just funny . beck makes me laugh . Hannity is drole . The right may be DUMB , that is certain . But they are funny . I laugh at them everyday .

    • Well I can understand that. I'd find Hannity and Beck funny too if I was on the other side. As it is I find it incredibly frustrating whenever I have to endure their irrational pedantry and it occurs to me that nominally they're on my side.

      But surely you find some others on the Left funny? Who doesn't enjoy laughing at Olbermann? Or Moore? Or every single nut in Hollywood? There are plenty of (unintentionally) funny characters on the Left.

  18. Le Daily Show a inspiré Stépane Laporte pour la création de "La fin du monde est à 7h". Même pour des jeunes du Québec, Stewart est une source d'information satyrique incroyable.

  19. Jon Stewart is not the voice of anyone
    I used to enjoy him until he started this entire illegal immigration support cause….
    mostly because I know he lives in some rich estate somewhere with not one illegal immigrant in sight….
    and that is the problem, too many rich, wealthy individuals in their white areas, in their big homes, telling the rest of us that illegal immigration is ok, when we have to live with them….

  20. I was listening to a segment on NPR where two guest journalists made the assumption that Jon Stewart's and Steve Colbert's sensibilities are representive of the viewpoint of everyone except the right and left wingnuts. In other words, their assertion is that the Daily Show appeals to 70% of the population because the views expressed on these shows are in line with nearly everyone. Of course, that isn't true. I can find the humor in these entertainers' schtick, but that doesn't mean that I agree with their point of view. What was telling was the fact that these journalists assumed that because they agree with Stewart and Colbert, thus everyone else (other than the wignuts) must, too