One of the reasons I've been posting periodic dispatches on the "Roots of the Rally To Restore Sanity" is because I wanted to demonstrate that the event that's going to be staged here in Washington, DC this weekend is not something that exists in a vacuum or a daft attempt at exploiting the recent craziness of the election season. Rather, it is part of a body of work upon which "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" have long labored. It was important to me to demonstrate this, because I anticipated correctly that there'd be a slew of fusty cultural critics -- crushing bores all -- who would clutch their pearls and frantically decry Stewart/Colbert's efforts as "unserious."
Lighting up these critics today is Ryan Kearney of TBD, who, in presenting "A guide to the misguided criticism of the Stewart/Colbert rally," absolutely nails it. (Jack Stuef's takedown of Slate's Tim Noah on the same subject is also recommended reading.) Kearney runs down all of the drab concerns of the anti-Rally set, and there are a lot of similar themes: Stewart/Colbert have "crossed a line separating entertainment from political activism" or they failed to "know [their] place" or they have suddenly become too serious while simultaneously not treating the matter of sanity seriously enough.
(That last one is a bit of a sad joke, as it implies that somewhere out there in the media, there's someone tirelessly working to enforce "sanity," when in actuality everyone is chomping at the bit to get teevee cameras in front of the latest Qu'ran burning loon-poodle.)
There's two common themes running throughout the criticism. One is a generic mistrust/dislike/misunderstanding of comedy itself. The argument seems to be that comedy is a lesser genre of expression that comes freighted in advance with a lack of dutiful seriousness. And so, this attempt to turn comedic attention to a serious matter only undermines the honest, earnest efforts of those who -- well, again, it's not like there are a whole lot of people in the media willing to address the lack of sanity in our discourse, frankly. But in this fantasy, where people are addressing the matter, it is surely being done so with such an exquisite level of pathos that it doesn't deserve to be outshone by a more lowbrow form of expression.
But these biases aren't anything that hasn't been faced already by Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Congreve, Wycherley, and Moliere. The criticism and resistance to Stewart and Colbert in particular has an added dimension, firmly rooted in the fact that over a long period of time, they've moved far beyond the "Weekend Update" model of "fake-news-with-funny-one-liners" to a broad critique of media excess with an activist bent. The two hosts have taken their act on the road before, and committed the sin of not being reliable, fawning kiss-asses. Stewart's destruction of Crossfire, along with Colbert's torch-the-room performance at the always appalling White House Correspondents' Dinner are both largely seen by media elites as unforgivable crimes -- and ever since, there's been an effort to put the hosts within strictly defined boundaries.
So the rally criticism is just a rehash of the same old resentments -- Stewart and Colbert are seen as replacement-journalists, and they get to play by their own rules, and that's not fair! (Those resentments were never more firmly on display than that time Colbert testified before Congress, after which touts by the metric ton came on teevee to report that the host had never "broken character" during the testimony That is what's known as "lying," and it's this contempt for ordinary people who consume the news is probably why many have more respect for these comedians.)
There comes a point in Kearney's guide where he writes: "Certain arguments cause my fingers to freeze over my keyboard; I am rendered digitally speechless." I can sympathize. Reading the body of work presented by the Rally-critics is like being brutally taken back in time to undergraduate English-lit classes of yore and forced to relive the desperate hand-waving and faddish pretentions of any number of clueless, sophomore ponces -- endlessly spouting byzantine bullshit in the belief that the intellectual laurels are handed out to whoever can pointlessly mystify the mundane the best.
At any rate, Kearney is fully in the "read the whole thing" zone, so hop to it, if for no other reason then the fact that you get ample reminder of how magnificent Jack "I'd gladly take a shit on that line" Shafer is on a daily basis.
A guide to the misguided criticism of the Stewart/Colbert rally [TBD]
Slate: Stewart/Colbert Rally Is 'Bad For Democracy,' Or Something [Wonkette]
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