Thursday, September 30, 2010

Behind the Comic Mask

I have spent enough time in New York to have a lot of respect for the 92nd Street Y.  There were times when I would attend several concerts there in the course of a single week, and that would involve taking the train down from where I lived in Stamford, Connecticut.  I knew that the stage of the Y was also a major platform for leading intellects of the world;  and my only reason for not attending those events was that my schedule was already packed to the gills with work and my interest in music.

With this as context I was more than a little curious when Jon Stewart was invited to that venue for an on-stage interview;  and I found it more than a little ironic that my curiosity was satisfied by a report filed by Georg Szalai for The Hollywood Reporter.  However, in light of how open Stewart was in talking about how he sees what he does, I suspect that this paper may have provided the most accurate and dispassionate account of his appearance.  Most important is the punch line that it is all about the satire, which was nicely captured by Szalai in a single sentence:
Asked about the real reasons for Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity" and Colbert's "March to Keep Fear Alive" at the end of October, Stewart explained that they are not a reaction to Beck specifically, but just another way to poke fun at the political process and news coverage of it.
Indeed, Stewart was more interested in ridiculing the current state of news coverage by the media than he was in taking on what they cover.  Here is how Szalai addressed this point:
But discussing what he sees as his main job, he said it is holding the media accountable. "I'm less upset about politicians than the media," he said, explaining that the former can be expected to behave a certain way, like a monkey, but the latter should play zookeeper and say "bad monkey."
This throws a new light on my own interest in Stewart's use of that noun "sanity."  First of all, when I cited Reuters for calling the rally "an apparent spoof of the recent Tea Party rally in Washington," I no longer have to accuse their establishment of using "weasel words."  It is clear that there is no need to fudge with "apparent;"  but the target of the spoof is flat-out wrong.  On the other hand my opinion that Stewart's sense of sanity was aimed primarily at our government's lack of productivity was also off the mark.  The question of sanity has more to do with both producers and consumers of news being so deluded that the Comedy Channel is often selected as the most reliable source of news.  This is a world turned on its head where the gag writers are more trusted than the policy makers.  From this point of view, it is worth noting that Stewart emphasized that fact-checking is an important part of his work, not because the Comedy Channel is committed to "journalistic integrity" but because "jokes don't work if they are lies."

Stewart thus shifted his target from Fox to his own establishment.  Doing this was certainly true to the "mission" of the Comedy Channel;  but it was also a bold act of biting the hand that feeds him.  Indeed, reducing the whole process to the question of whether or not a joke works amounts to an act of chutzpah when you are in the business of telling those jokes.  So, while the Stewart/Colbert plans for Washington might not have escalated to Chutzpah of the Week status, the approach Stewart took to disclosing his motive is more worthy.  Using the 92nd Street Y as the platform for the disclosure adds a bit of emphasis to the chutzpah, so it is a pleasure to give him the Chutzpah of the Week award for his efforts!

No comments: