Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Jon Stewart: The Archetypical Post-Modern Comedian/Pundit

Jon Stewart’s announcement that he is leaving the The Daily Show after 15 years has received lots of attention. I’ve watched his shows once in a while and find him somewhat amusing. Because of the occasional outages of my cable provider (who shall remain unnamed) my wife and I decided to watch some of his shows for amusement. While I do find him entertaining I also find him aggravating, not so much because of his blatant political agenda but his method. Yet when challenged by critics (yes, he has some) as he was on Chris Wallace’s show Stewart conveniently hides behind the excuse of “Hey, I’m a comedian not a newscaster!” However, just as his show is a fake newscast of sorts so is his defense. For a detailed analysis of one his shows see this article by Kyle Smith, NY Post. (I’ve extracted some noncontiguous comments.)

Though Stewart has often claimed he does a “fake news show,” “The Daily Show” isn’t that. It’s a real news show punctuated with puns, jokes, asides and the occasional moment of staged sanctimony.

Stewart is a journalist: an irresponsible and unprofessional one.

Most other journalists aren’t allowed to swear or to slam powerful figures (lest they be denied chances to interview them in future). Their editors make them tone down their opinions and cloak them behind weasel words like “critics say.” Journalists have to dress up in neutrality drag every day, and it’s a bore.

Yet Stewart uses his funnyman status as a license to dispense with even the most minimal journalistic standards. Get both sides of the story?
Hey, I’m just a comedian, man. Try to be responsible about what the real issues are? Dude, that’s too heavy, we just want to set up the next d- -k joke.

Lest I be accused of picking just an example from the right here is one from the left by Jamelle Bouie, a staff writer for Slate.

For liberals in particular, the idea that government is only hypocrisy and dysfunction is self-defeating and nihilistic.

The natural response to all of this is a version of Stewart’s protest—He’s just a comedian—and a refrain from The Dark Knight: Why so serious? The answer is easy: He’s influential. And for a generation of young liberals, his chief influence has been to make outrage, cynicism, and condescension the language of the left. As a comedian and talk show host, Jon Stewart has been pretty funny. But as a pundit and player in our politics, he’s been a problem.

In a similar vein Bill Maher uses similar ploys although Maher doesn’t try to hide its agenda or hide behind the veil of “I’m only a comedian.” Like Stewart, Maher picks an easy target on the right, finds an inconsistency in what a Republican or conservative politician says in one venue then finds a case where they contradict themselves later. That’s fine. What bothers me more is that find both of them to be intellectually sloppy, lazy or dishonest.

In one show during Maher’s ending monologue/diatribe he labors to prove that the prosperity the middle class enjoyed during the 1950s was due to – are you ready? – socialism! He trots out the GI Bill in which veterans received various benefits like paid college tuition as a primary example. He should check the definition of socialism which is “a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.” Naturally the adoring audience rewarded Maher with hoots and raucous applause. They miss the fact that his “argument” (such that it is) relies on the misuse of terminology.

Was this an accident? I don’t think so. Maher is a bright guy so I find it hard to believe he doesn’t know what socialism means and that his example would be more accurately be considered some kind of welfarism. I think his mission, like Stewart’s, is to influence those in his main demographic group: 18 – 34 year olds.

Getting back to Stewart in one of his shows he cites a Republican who bemoans the regulations businesses have to bear. Stewart digs out a case where this politician is asked if Starbucks employees should be required by law to wash their hands after going to the bathroom. He says (if I recall correctly) that it should be optional and better handled by the free market. Well, this is fresh fodder for Stewart to show how stupid free market advocates are. To be fair, in another segment he takes on the measles outbreak and quotes a liberal Californian who justifies why she didn’t get her kids vaccinated. Of course, he then trots out NJ governor Chris Christie who says the decision should be the parents’. I won’t get into the argument whether mandatory vaccinations is a valid function of government. What Stewart ignores is the overall effect of regulations on businesses and the economy. By implication and his use of the hand-washing example Stewart leads his viewers to believe that ALL regulations are justified and anyone who thinks otherwise is stupid. He doesn’t come right out and say it. He doesn’t have to.

I read a paper recently that shows that the number of Federal regulations have increased by seven-fold since 1950 and tries to quantify the drag these regulations have had on the economy. I also read an interview recently of someone who works for one of the large financial investment companies on the beneficial effects the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act had on their business. Why? Because smaller institutions or potential start ups don’t have the resources to comply with the new rules and regulations imposed by the act. It has helped this large investment company fend off competition. I wonder what Stewart and Maher think of that? Something I’m sure they supported actually helping a big business thrive. That is the ultimate joke on them and us, isn’t it?

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