A friend of mine never watched TV network news. Instead he watched Jon Stewart’s Daily Show on Comedy Central, because Stewart said things that the network commentators wouldn’t.
I give Stewart due credit, but I hardly ever watched his show. I don’t think I would have watched it much even if I still watched TV regularly.
There was something about his self-satisfied smirk that turned me off. I can’t abide knowing smiles.
Stewart’s accomplishment was pointing out the ridiculousness of so much of American politics and journalism. The problem with that is that treating everything as a joke is a way of maintaining the status quo. If you take things seriously, people think you fail to get the job.
Now Stewart might justly reply that he is a comedian, and to criticize a comedian for treating everything as a joke is like criticizing the Pope for treating everything as a matter of faith and morals. Stewart also might reply that it is not his fault that the mainstream news is so lacking in substance that people turn to comedians.
Stewart’s role was as a court jester, who is allowed to say things that others can’t precisely because people don’t take him seriously. His basic political position was the defense of moderation against extremism, which at the end of the day is also a defense of the status quo.
His basic harmlessness is shown by the fact that celebrities as disparate as Bruce Springsteen, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, John Kerry and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly all took part in his farewell program. He was a member of an elite club whose members have more in common with each other than any of them do with me or anybody I know.
The Daily Show in the Age of Irony by Johann Neem for The Hedgehog Review. (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)