Monday, November 01, 2010

An embarrassment of riches

Well, it doesn't rain but it does something else. Basically I'm absent from this blog for nearly a month and a half, and then two post topics suggest themselves to me with great insistence.

Incidentally, the problem I was having with my Google account? Gone. I still have no idea what was going on, but it seems to have resolved itself. Also, I can finally compose posts in Firefox again, after months of Google Analytics not letting me access Blogger, and forcing me to do it in Explorer--which always sucked, because for some reason Explorer introduces random formatting changes while Firefox was a lot more sensible.

But it's all good again.

ANYWAY ... yes, long absence, and a critical mass of great posting topics. I was going to write my thoughts on The Walking Dead, which premiered last night, but will save that for tomorrow. Today, I want to comment on the weird and somewhat haughty criticism this past weekend's "Rally to Restore Sanity" has received in the press. This of course was The Daily Show's response to the hysterical rhetoric on both the left and the right that has reached absurd proportions. Deliberately lampooning Glenn Beck's August 28 rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, though Beck claimed that did not figure in on him choosing that day), Jon Stewart et al encouraged people to come out and be reasonable.

From the start, I thought this was a brilliant idea, and it was encouragingly well-received. The turnout apparently peaked at a quarter million, which nearly tripled that of Beck's. But it seemed as though the balance of those journalists passing comment on the event -- before and after -- were irked at Stewart's presumption, and wondered if this was the moment The Daily Show was jumping the shark (for a good roundup of the criticism, see the NYT Opinionator here).

I'm honestly at a bit of a loss to understand the almost uniform hostility to Stewart's rally. It is slightly reminiscent of his notorious turn on Crossfire, when he refused to play the role of funny man for Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala and instead enjoined them to "stop hurting America." Though that was at the time almost universally celebrated, six-odd years on, the press seems to have cooled on Stewart (and Stephen Colbert) stepping outside the strictly delimited comedy box.

I'm not entirely certain why, though if I had to guess I would say that "real" journalists have gotten touchy about the extent to which a large number of people look to The Daily Show for their news. A significant audience has become so thoroughly jaded by political journalism that satire is their truth; I think the angry, disappointed, and haughty dismissals of the Rally to Restore Sanity reflect more tellingly on a profession that is deeply aware of how much it has had to trade off in order to stay on life support, and does not much like being reminded of that fact.

Interestingly, in all the cases where I've read one of these critiques online, the comments have been almost uniform in their disagreement: this representative piece by Timothy Noah at Slate excited over six hundred responses, and I haven't found one that agrees with his argument.

Such a sampling does not of course prove anything, but at a moment when politics in the U.S. seems obsessed with a sort of faux-populism, it does suggest whose message does excite a populist response.

Also, the signs at the rally were hilarious:

Other favourites I read about: "All we are saying is give cheese some pants"; "Christine O'Donnell turned me into a newt"; and my personal favourite, "My wife thinks I'm hiking the Appalachian Trail."

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