Jamelle Bouie over at Slate.com wrote an article yesterday titled “Why Jon Stewart Was Bad for the Liberals Who Loved Him,” in which he states that Jon Stewart leaving The Daily Show was actually a good thing for politics. Bouie claims that “his chief influence has been to make outrage, cynicism, and condescension the language of the left” in order to attempt to try to drive his argument home. While I agree that outrage and condescension has become a huge part of the “language of the left,” Jon Stewart isn’t really to blame for this; it’s our own fault.
Let’s look at The Daily Show as a product, one of the greatest political products my generation has seen on television. Like the introduction of the smartphone, it made knowledge more accessible than ever before and introduced millennials to topics and authors that they might have otherwise missed. To quote one fan’s comment on my page:
“Stewart introduced to us authors, foreign compatriots, global knowledge of events untold, dignitaries and the undignified, glamorous movie stars stripped to their essence as humans, and many more wonderful things we may have never known of.” – Lisa Jones
What did we do with it? Like a smartphone, we ended up on Facebook watching cat videos, so to speak. Political discussion isn’t just Jon Stewart, or just Stephen Colbert, or just any single pundit or network. It is far more than the latest idiotic thing that was said on Fox News or Sarah Palin going off on some unintelligible rant that would have died out in the Alaskan wilderness had the media finally chosen to take her overspent fifteen minutes of infamy for a long walk in the back 40. I think too many of us made The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (along with condescension and cynicism) the only place we spent our time politically, and it shows.
On any given morning after a new episode of The Daily Show, you’ll see any website from NPR to Deadspin – including our own – recap that episode along with a video of the presumably best segment of the show. That segment is almost always of the part where Jon Stewart “DESTROYS” or “HAMMERS” some incredibly awful thing said on Fox News or an incredibly shitty move Republicans in Congress have pulled. What followed after the commercial break was often an intelligent, thoughtful interview with a variety of politicians, writers and diplomats – but you’ll almost never see anyone feature that.
Why? Because I think far too many people watched The Daily Show or The Colbert Report for the laughs, and little else. We wanted to be entertained more than educated. We wanted to be reminded once again why Fox News was stupid, Republicans were heartless fools and Democrats were well-meaning people who seemed to be the political equivalent of the Cowardly Lion. That’s not just on Comedy Central, the “liberal” media in general thrives on stories about how Fox is horrible, look what Sarah Palin did this time, etc. It’s not because that’s all they write about, it’s because that’s what gets web traffic and anyone who fails to do so had damn well better have a day job.
Jamelle Bouie is quite mistaken. Jon Stewart didn’t make my generation politically apathetic and cynical – we did that to ourselves. We, not Jon Stewart, are the ones who have to push back against the hatred and vitriol in our political system. We, not Jon Stewart, are responsible for getting to the voting booth in not only the general elections, but the primaries as well. We, not Jon Stewart, need to balance our viewing and reading habits to where we aren’t dependent on one source for our political news. After all, isn’t that what we make fun of Fox News viewers for? On the other hand, at least they know both parties aren’t the same and get out to vote. That’s a lot more than what can be said for a lot of people on the left.
We are going to miss Jon Stewart when he leaves and his snarky nightly takedowns of the stupidity in politics and media is an important part of our political process – but it’s not the only part and we would do well to remember that.
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