Monday, November 1, 2010


Imagine this if you will: Crooner Tony Bennett sharing a stage with rocker Kid Rock, The Ojays, Cat Stevens (yes, Cat Stevens) Ozzie Osbourne Sheryl Crow, Sam Waterston and wrestler Mike Foley. Who could bring this disparate, diverse band of brothers and sisters together, but one Jon Stewart? And who else would be there to bolster the whole thing since it occurs in front of approximately 215,000 people, with the U.S. Capitol Building as a backdrop? Stephen Colbert, of course.

Stewart, in 2009, was named by TIME Magazine as the most trusted newsman in America. Not Brian Willliams (he was second), not Charles Gibson, not Katie Couric. Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart got 44 percent of the vote, with Williams a distance second at 29 percent. That being said, there were still a lot of skeptics offering up their cynical take on Stewart’s and Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the Washington Mall. Stewart, who helms Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” calls his brand of infotainment “fake news.” I beg to differ. If it were all so fake, why would actors and authors, pundits and politicians and even presidents fight the good fight to guest on his show?
Stewart is a pied piper of news, and at a time when citizens are collectively “over it,” as it relates to the current state of affairs in the U.S., Stewart is getting us to pay attention and raise our collective current events consciousness.

I was at the Stewart/Colbert Rally and I can tell you this: The people in the crowd were not there just for a good laugh. They were there to give voice to a desire for some sense of order in Washington, at a time when political candidates are dressing up in Nazi uniforms, denying their association with witchcraft, threatening to “take out” reporters who say the wrong thing, and telling rape victims to “make lemonade out of lemons” if they get raped by their own fathers. The crowd told the real story: Although largely white, there were young and old, gay and straight, able-bodied and disabled. There was not one reported incident of civil disobedience, violence or aggressive protest.

Best of all, the attendees smartly satirized the current political divisiveness with their own brand of satire. Many carried signs that said things such as “I will not tolerate lactose,” or “I’m ambivalent as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore…I don’t think,” or “I may disagree with you but I probably won’t step on your head,” or “I masturbate to Christine O’Donnell,” or "Moderate women are hot,” or “Palin/Snooki 2012!” or “God hates figs,” or “Hitler Called – he wants his hyperbole back.” And this being the day before Halloween there were costumes…men dressed as Christine O’Donnell were common. I saw a sexy illegal alien nanny, a guy wearing mirrors that said “I’m You,” lots of mama grizzlies, Ann Coulter Skeletor, Hispanic Arizonans, Uncle Samantha, a male soldier in high heels, and…well, you get the picture.

Jon Stewart enabled us to lighten up, and yet have full awareness of all that is not so light right now in our country. Grownups got to dress up, laugh, jump, dance, sing and celebrate being Americans, rather than question our dedication to our own form of government. Not until the end of the three-hour rally did Stewart get serious for a few minutes. Watch and listen to what he said:

After listening to that, you start to get the real idea of why Jon Stewart matters. Pundits and talking heads had a judgmental field day before this rally, collectively asking, “Why should we pay attention to two comedians who decide to hold a rally?” Well, that’s a valid question, but let me ask a few questions here. Would you rather listen to Stewart say things like “We live now in hard times, not end times,” or Glen Beck, who back in 2007 said, “It feels like cataclysmic events of 9/11, Katrina, tsunami, famine and the threat of global pandemic are signs we're living in the end times.” Would you rather hear Stewart say, “We can have animus and not be enemies,” or tune in to Ann Coulter saying, “Enraging liberals is simply one of the more enjoyable side effects of my wisdom.” What makes more sense – listening to Stewart’s “The inability to distinguish between terrorists and Muslims makes us less safe, not more,” or to fear-mongering political candidates that would have us believe that all Muslims are terrorists?

I’ll take Stewart. If you see the world through a lens that only distinguishes humans as conservative or liberal, I suppose you see Stewart as a liberal. Listening to him at the rally, I see him as a moderate. And if there is one thing sorely missing in our current political climate, it is moderation, or as Stewart called it, “reason.” It was energizing and encouraging to see hundreds of thousands of Americans gather without politically extremist rhetoric, without an undercurrent of hate, without a racist agenda and without boiling anger. So, if the satirical signs and costumes seem to compromise the credibility of the message, think again. At this rally, Americans regained some of their wit, their humor and their lightheartedness, while still demonstrating an awareness of the troubled state of the nation.

That troubled state may have best been summarized by one attendee whose big yellow sign said, “It’s a sad day when our politicians are comical, and I have to take our comedians seriously.” Amen to that.

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