Recently I decided -- for probably the third or fourth time -- to stop watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on the Comedy Central cable channel. But this time, I've stuck to the decision far longer than before. In the past, I've crawled back like a night owl news junkie needing my 11 p.m. fix. Probably like many of the show's viewers, I preferred to end my day laughing at cynical political jokes rather than being terrified by the 11 p.m. local news.
But the show's sarcastic world view has finally become like fingernails on a chalkboard. Oh, it must be so easy to be smart white boys who get to make everything a joke. From their privileged positions, they don't have to address racism, injustice or poverty; they deride black activists like Cynthia McKinney and they constantly give Israel a pass -- despite last year's genocidal invasion of Gaza -- or the June attack on the Gaza aid flotilla, which killed nine people. And how many conservatives and neo-cons can hawk their books on one show?
Now and then, like during the Wall Street meltdown, Stewart has hit one out of the park. But for the most part, the show feels like a slap in the face to any of us on the left who fought against invading Iraq, fought against the dangers of the Patriot Act, the imperial presidency, warrantless spying or increased corporate power. It is a slap in the face to any of us who believe in anything enough to get loud about it and not laugh at it.
My latest departure was finalized after the Oct. 30 Rally to Restore Sanity And/or Fear that Stewart co-hosted with fellow (and much more on point) comedian Stephen Colbert on the National Mall. Watching on TV, I caught the video played for the massive crowd at the end, which included snippets of the right-wing sound machine like Glenn Beck and the left-wing sound machine like Keith Olbermann and a Code Pink protester. It was obvious that the montage was designed to depict what the organizers considered to be the opposite of sane -- meaning the insanity of heated rhetoric.
As comedian Bill Maher so pointedly observed, whether Stewart considers it his intention or not, the video created a false equivalency between Code Pink anti-war protesters and last summer's corporate-funded town hall protesters intent on derailing national health care reform. Whether Stewart wants to admit it or not, the event painted these TV personalities and protesters as extreme voices on the right and left who need to "take it down a notch." He then positions himself as some sort of sane, wise centrist. who has the ability to hear all sides.
I've come to think of this false equivalency as especially dangerous to black people and other people of color. As Bill Maher said, Martin Luther King didn't have to say anything like, I may not agree with Bull Conner but, you know, he has a point. What about truth? What about who is fighting for what is right and true? Blacks are already ignored and disappeared from the type of media discourse seemingly only available to white men and some women, from one end of the political spectrum to the other. If we take it down a notch, we will totally disappear!
My sense of sociopolitical humor, from a black perspective -- from a place where we get to say and show what is funny to us -- never survives on TV. Maybe the closest we've come to that ideal is the wildly successful Chappelle's Show, which featured comedian Dave Chappelle on this same cable channel -- until reported differences between Chappelle and the channel made Chappelle walk away from $50 million rather than let them control his voice. I wonder what they wanted him to say instead? I can only guess. In deciding not to watch The Daily Show anymore, I realize that I am withdrawing whatever ratings count it might receive from my cable box. I am withdrawing my one ratings blip from a system that does not provide resources for more diverse voices.
In the new world of journalism and media, where there is often not time and resources to tell the truth while non-news on FOX gets all the time and resources to spew lies -- or, in the case of Stewart's "fake news," to say nothing at all -- we must press on. There is simply no other answer than to press on.
With such limited time why spend it listening to someone who thinks that people like me are a joke -- or insane? Hopefully, I can remember to still watch The Colbert Report. Right now The Daily Show is a much bigger turn-off than the mayhem on late, local news.
This commentary first appeared on SeeingBlack.com.
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