The Rally To Do Something Or Other is over, and with it, a few days in which The Daily Show and its spinoff (or the Stewartverse) have topped the list of TV-related things to write about. You can read the full text of Stewart’s closing speech here.
I can’t say I really enjoyed watching most of the rally, though it got more fun as it went on, but then these things are tricky to watch on television or, in this case, live-streaming. They’re not shows performed with an audience for the benefit of the viewer at home, they’re done for the people who are there — even if many of them have trouble seeing or hearing anything if they’re standing too far way from the stage — and the people at home are peripheral.
So this wasn’t exactly a TV show, except for a few bits that were clearly aimed at the home viewer, like Tim Meadows’ return appearance as P.K. Winsome. (Colbert has tried to create a few recurring characters who parody established pundit-show figures, but Winsome is the one who’s lasted the longest. He’s a combination of two typical characters from pundit shows: the black Republican who gets on cable news a lot because there aren’t many black Republicans, and the guy who uses his news appearances as a thinly-disguised excuse to advertise his business.) Otherwise, it was, like any rally, a news event as much as a show. And that’s the source of the weirdness and the questions about how to respond to this thing, because it is simultaneously a parody of a rally and a straight-up, actual event, complete with questions about how many people showed up and whether it was a politicized rally.
Personally, I wish it had been more politicized, not because I think it would change minds, but just because it would have given the event more bite than the message Stewart was actually trying to convey. His belief that the media is making things worse by blowing everything out of proportion, and that people would have an easier time getting along if it weren’t for the 24-hour news culture, has been pretty consistent over the years; what he said in his final speech is similar to what he said in his famous appearance on Crossfire all those years ago. I think there’s an argument that it’s really a dodge to keep from really outright taking a partisan political side and giving up the “only sane man” pose.
If you read the speech, it’s a nice statement of his belief that people are people no matter where they are, and that they are not partisan attack machines in their everyday lives. Which is true, but a bit irrelevant to the message and mission of news, and of politics. There’s not much conflict between saying that people of opposing views can get along and work together in everyday life and that people of opposing views can’t get along and work together in politics. So the media’s picture of a world where nobody can get along is probably more accurate than Stewart’s rosier picture — at least when it comes to politics. Stewart does a good job of ripping the way 24-hour news views politics — a vicious sporting event where the game is the only thing that matters, and nothing has any real consequences for real people’s lives. But that could be closer to the truth than his view that reasonable people can come together to solve problems if the pundits just stop shouting.
Update: My collague Luiza Ch. Savage was there in person, and has a report on the live experience of the rally and its attendees.
Elsewhere, Christine Becker, who was there live, has a post on the experience of the rally, how it differed from the televised experience, and the “visceral feeling of unity” it gave to the participants.