By now, I’m sure you’re at least vaguely familiar with The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. By now, I’m sure you’ve watched at least a handful of Jon’s incredibly written monologue that skewers the latest public figure to make an ass of their self in public view. By now, I’m sure you know that they have become the go-to source for political satire these days.
My love affair with this show, however, goes beyond simple fangirldom. As someone who has gotten a degree in media, I’ve also studied Jon and his show from an academic standpoint. I’ve written at least five papers on this show. Typically, any time I analyze anything in an academic setting, it kind of kills my love of it as a fan. With The Daily Show, however, my analysis has only deepened my love and appreciation for the show, which might explain why I’ve studied it so much as a student, and why I’m writing about it now.
Some of you may be old enough to remember when the show first made its way to the airwaves in 1999 (at least the Jon Stewart version, that is). This was in the pre-911 era, before we even had that clusterfuck election that gave “Dubya” his first term. This was when the freshest political scandal on everyone’s minds involved oral sex in the oval office (is it sad that I long to have an era like this again?). The show emerged as a kind of political “court jester” that no one really took seriously. Sure, it was able to make the most of comedic gems like the 2000 election, which gave birth to its fantastic “Indecision” election segments, but it wasn’t considered, at the time, to be a worthwhile voice in the political sphere.
In the almost eleven years since then, the once-fearful masses have now moved towards a sharply divided electorate peppered with talking heads arguing over different versions of the so-called “truth”. We now live in a country controlled by Baby Boomers, who are so married to their ideals that the thought of compromise is on-par with Japanese ritual suicide. In this era of larger-than-life personalities, the jester has now become king. I’m not just speaking in metaphors, either. If you poll most 18 to 30 year olds on where they go to for news on TV, a majority will answer The Daily Show. At first, this might seem worrisome. When I first read this statistic in 2008, I started to worry for my generation. I then started looking deeper into the actual content of the show, and my fear turned to pride. Look at any episode of The Daily Show, and you’ll see that it contains about as much news content as any other talking-head news show. So viewers of Jon Stewart are just as if not more informed than viewers who watch, say, Bill O’Reilly. What’s even better is that Jon and his staff don’t just cover the news, they cover what everyone is saying about the news. Perhaps even better than that, the show takes various talking heads and completely dissects their arguments. They don’t just remark on what these people say, but also why they say it. Furthermore, while the show does tend to skewer those who are right-wing, they are not afraid of skewering any incompetence on the left. Thus, you walk away from each episode with a list of major talking points for that day, along with a few fart, sex, and slapstick jokes peppered in for taste.Then 911 came along and changed everything. Suddenly the news went from sex scandals and murder trials to death tolls by the hundreds. Our population went from blissfully ignorant to shocked, and from shocked to afraid. Suddenly eyes were glued to TV’s, which were turned to 24 hour news channels. It was in this aftermath that Jon and The Daily Show really started to find their niche. The American people, as many fearful populations do, began falling prey to scare tactics and sensationalist mob mentalities. Our thirst for meaning and for justice and for retribution reached a fever pitch. In the fray of all this sensationalism, Jon became like the “fool” in any good Shakespeare tragedy, the unlikely voice of reason that no one pays mind until it is already too late.
|The Daily Show with Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Democalypse 2012 – The Science of Gaffe|
Nowadays, any time a bombastic blowhard emerges from Capitol Hill or TV Land spouting hollow statements in place of fact-supported arguments, Jon and his crew (which now includes Colbert and company) really get to flex their muscle. We first got a taste of it when Jon Stewart was a guest on the now-cancelled show “Crossfire”. Jon came on as a guest whom they clearly expected to just mug for the camera. What they got instead was an ambush, where Jon calls both hosts out live on air for “partisan hackery”. The show was so humiliated that it went off the air shortly thereafter. Then we have Stephen Colbert’s 2006 performance at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. In a stunning display of his chrome-plated balls, Colbert proceeded to eviscerate virtually every major player in the White House while standing just a few feet away from Bush, Jr. himself. Then we have Glenn Beck, who went from being Fox News’ biggest personality to spending his career exiled from television. Beck perhaps reached his egomaniacal peak with his “Rally to Restore Honor” on the National Mall. Stewart and Colbert announced a Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, which easily doubled the attendance of Beck’s rally. That, along, with The Daily Show’s continued mocking, helped turn Beck from a public figure to a laughing stock. So far, during this presidential campaign, Jon and his staff have had a field day burning virtually every candidate emerging from the Republican party, and I can only imagine what gems they’ll produce in the months leading up to the election. In short, they’ve become such a force, they are no longer sitting on the sidelines of politics. They are now massive power-players that are impossible to ignore.
So if you’re not already, you might want to add The Daily Show and such to your repertoire of shows to Tivo. At worst, you’ll be entertained, and at best, you’ll learn something. Either way, it’ll be time well spent.