Saturday, September 18, 2010

Apparent Spoof?

I find it interesting that the Reuters report filed last night (without explicitly naming a reporter) about the rallies on the National Mall planned for October 30 by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, both of the Comedy Channel, respectively, describes the event as "an apparent spoof of the recent Tea Party rally in Washington." As I see it, Reuters decided to resort to these "weasel words" because they could not make up their collective minds whether or not to take this as serious news. Like it or not, such language could have an impact on how many people actually plan to attend the event; and, since I sympathize with Stewart for his seriousness of purpose and with the irony behind Colbert's deflation of that seriousness, I figure that it is worth taking the time to sort out the serious from the frivolous to compensate for Reuters' failure to do so.

First of all I would like to establish my own position by repeating a sentence from one of my posts about the decision of the Dove World Outreach Center to escalate Quran-burning to a ritual of sacrament:

Thus, we may need to take a page from the French court of Louis XVI, where it was widely recognized that, if one cannot achieve shame and disgrace through truth, one would do better to resort to ridicule.

Joseph Welch may have been able to undo Joseph McCarthy on nationally-broadcast television with his impassioned delivery of a sentence whose meaning descended no deeper than its surface:

Have you no sense of decency, sir?

Exposing the full extent to which the Tea Party is undermining just about every principle of governance that our Founding Fathers envisaged, however, is a far more challenging task that requires more weaponry than the rhetorical eloquence of one sensible lawyer.

As I see it, the significance of Stewart's proposal amounts to an attempt to leverage the degree to which the general public prefers The Daily Show to any of the network nightly news broadcasts as a credible source for the news of the day. Yesterday I suggested that this is because The Daily Show has no ideological bias other than a mission to attack extremes on the right and left "with the same dosage level of satire, irony, and other forms of wit." By establishing a broad base for ridicule, The Daily Show has become more committed to providing its viewers with a "fair and balanced" examination of news than the network that adopted that particular quoted conjunction. One might say that The Daily Show establishes credibility because all actions and the agents who enact them are "fair" game for the arsenal of ridicule.

Thus, however wild his performance technique may be, there is nothing wild about Stewart's decision to call his event "The Rally to Restore Sanity." Ultimately, his goal is no different from Welch's. One needed a minimal share of common sense to recognize that McCarthyism was as mentally unstable as it was vicious. Welch called out McCarthy on the vicious element and helped the entire country recover its sanity. Stewart sees the Tea Party through the same glasses that we once viewed McCarthy and has decided to migrate his own bully pulpit from the airwaves to the seat (which will probably become a source for much of the humor at his event) of our Federal Government.

Colbert's approach is different. His is the strategy of the enlarging mirror. In other words his rhetoric depends primarily on hyperbole, with which he gets more laughs than Friedrich Nietzsche and is less convoluted and rambling than Slavoj Žižek. However, those who saw his two shows to welcome home the troops from service in Iraq know that he is as serious about national sanity as Stewart is. (This was particularly evident in whom he chose to interview and how those interviews unfolded.) From this point of view, I find it hard to see just how his planned "March to Keep Fear Alive" will fit into the October 30 events. My guess is that this one is the publicity stunt, providing a foil to draw attention to Stewart's rally and its mission. As we get closer to the end of October, I predict that the plans for the march will run out of steam; and Colbert will become one of the participants in Stewart's rally, reflecting back on his original role on The Daily Show. In other words the two of them will join forces in a common desire to restore sanity, perhaps with enough success to have an impact on Election Day.

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