Thursday, October 28, 2010

Where to Watch Jon Stewart’s Daily Show Rally Live

The hour is nigh. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear is upon us this Saturday in Washington. The pundits have weighed in— treating it as Stewart’s coronation from lampooner to pundit—which, coupled with his coup of getting a sitting President of the United States to appear on a late-night show, let alone (wait for it) a comedy show, makes sense in a chaotic kind of way.
It’s pretty clear the media has no idea. CNN is

Slate is doing their usual bet-hedging by writing op-eds which basically take no particular stand (is it comedy? Is it politics? Is it insulting to democracy?). The Drudge Report, with its usual brilliantly infuriating economy of words, paints a devastating picture of Stewart as left-wing lackey by framing a screencap of President Obama from his appearance with Stewart over the following headlines: “JUST JOKING…” “CAN COMEDIAN SAVE THE VOTE?” “Paper: Obama’s dumb ‘DAILY SHOW’ appearance; President’s diminishing brand…” thereby damning President Obama as foolhardy and delegitimizing any claims that Stewart could make for validity. NPR has even forbidden its employees from attending the rally, claiming it would violate their hallowed standards of impartiality by endorsing a political viewpoint.

But here’s the thing. The only person who is calling Jon Stewart pure comedy is…Jon Stewart. For a man with an ability to raise an army of disaffected “moderates” (and I’ll get to that term in a second), the guy projects a comedian’s ego—which is to say, he’s ridiculously self-deprecating. On Larry King, he called the rally a satirical event in the format of a political rally. On NPR a month ago, he said the same thing (here’s the interview, it’s brilliant). The man does not want to become a demagogue at all—see his NPR interview, where he briefly touches upon a horrifying vision of himself at the front of a mass populist movement. If it means underselling the rally, Stewart is fine with it.

So is it political theatre, performance art, entertainment, or earnestness? Stewart’s afraid to give it meaning—but I think this is taking on new meaning outside of the usual definitions. Sure, it’s comedy. But to simply call it a free comedy show would cheapen the significance of this to many attendees. And to call it ironic, or parodic, or satirical, is to detach the rally from any meaning. Yet to call it Political gives a new dynamic to what most likely will be ideologically unfocused and more fun than unifying. I think in the end, attendees are coming because they trust Stewart more than anyone else out there and they want to hear him put reality — scary, ridiculous, absurd reality –into perspective. Stewart might not be comfortable with that, but he better take advantage of it. And here we come to the crux.

The Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear is essentially the most brilliant get-out-the-vote campaign ever initiated. Stewart has not said anything to that extent, but to advertise it as such would put a big “LAME” sticker on those awesome Restoring Sanity posters. It’s a huge gathering of young people taking place the weekend before Election Day—if nobody says anything about voting, it would be an embarrassment.
Here’s what I’m nervous about. I am a self-described moderate. Stewart’s a liberal—there are things he says I agree with, and things I disagree with. I’m fine with that—that’s what makes me a moderate. But what I don’t want to see is liberal politics being renamed as moderate politics. I will not tolerate a redefinition of terms—if anyone tells me that Stewart is a moderate this weekend, there’s going to be some pleasant but firm debate. I don’t want to hear that “moderates = Democrats,” or that “crazies = Republicans.” This is a shrilly reductionist viewpoint that only satisfies a party agenda and doesn’t make anybody more enlightened. Clearly, there are moderates and extremist nutcases among both parties. I hope Stewart understands this — I think he does — but how about the rest of us?

by Ari Lipsitz

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