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The Necessity of Mocking Our Leaders: Genius of Jon Stewart

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Michael Kalin of The Boston Globe, and Harvard alumn, published what can only be described as the embodiment of liberal ignorance last week when he attacked Jon Stewart. The piece, entitled “Why Jon Stewart isn’t Funny” proposes and, without common sense, concludes that political parody hurts democracy. Mockery of our politicians — Stewart focuses on the Bush administration — supposedly prevents the recruitment of a new generation from heading to Washington. The article follows a fictional college student and Daily Show fan who, influenced by negative portrayals of politicians, refrains from becoming one himself out of a sense of superiority. The conclusion is that Stewart’s humor hurts America because it makes politicians look bad.

Stewart’s daily dose of political parody characterized by asinine alliteration leads to a ”holier than art thou” attitude toward our national leaders. People who possess the wit, intelligence, and self-awareness of viewers of ”The Daily Show” would never choose to enter the political fray full of ”buffoons and idiots.” Content to remain perched atop their Olympian ivory towers, these bright leaders head straight for the private sector.

Only an Ivy League grad would consider the removal of pretension from politics to be a “bad thing.” You don’t get respect just because you’re a politician; in fact, you better be busting your ass to earn it — every single second you are getting paid.

I realize that Democrats need someone to blame, but I think Kalin is going after the wrong guy. If anything, Stewart lobs softballs at liberals and crucifies Republicans. So what though? I’m not going to sit here and act like we don’t deserve it. Bush gets nailed every night because he makes himself an easy target. We have ourselves a President who likes to pretend he’s infallible; if that’s not an invitation for mockery then I’m not sure I know what is.

The idea that our politicians are somehow sacred or are off limits from criticism is what has gotten us into this mess. That Nixon thought he could define legality or that FDR could simply pack the Supreme Court is directly tied to public mistrust. Rightfully so, when you start to act untouchable, people start to resent it.

As biased as the media is–and I do think that–they give politicians a pass when it comes to shameful self-righteousness. Why? They share the same affliction. The motivation that led Dan Rather to use obviously false documents in his story is the same that led Bush to rush into Iraq. Our politicians, our media, and our CEO’s are so certain of their superiority that they alter reality to prove it. It’s a bad case of finding facts that support your opinion instead of finding an opinion that matches the facts. The connection between Rather, Bush, and Lay (Enron) is rather simple. So assured of their own abilities and so ingrained was their sense of entitlement that they had no qualms about bending the rules or letting ethics lapse.

This is exactly where the new media, specifically Stewart, comes in. They are the People’s equalizer. They knock our leaders down a notch, remind them who’s really in charge, and keep them on their toes. The premise that this hurts America is so absurd it hurts. Since when has holding office meant you got a free pass when it comes to bullshitting?

When Stewart mocks John Ashcroft for singing “Let the Eagles Soar,” he’s doing everyone a favor. Someone needs to get in their face and scream, “Who the fuck do you think you are?” “Is your ego so large that you thought you could pull this off?” “Are you so isolated that not a single staff person said you looked like a fool?” “What of your dignity?”

Claiming that Stewart shouldn’t make our politicians look like “buffoons and idiots” is like saying an umpire shouldn’t call a strike a strike. Delusion, unlike honesty, is not a virtue. Just because you don’t like seeing a train wreck doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Washington, like Hollywood, is out of touch with reality and it’s about time someone made that clear.

Although Stewart’s comedic shticks may thus earn him some laughs Sunday at the Oscars, his routine will certainly not match the impact of his greatest irony: Jon Stewart undermines any remaining earnestness that liberals in America might still possess.

Undermines the earnestness of liberals? That is the perfect example of the self-righteous crap that pervades the American left. The fact of the matter is that you can’t get mocked if you haven’t done anything stupid. You can throw stones at a brick wall but they’ll bounce off; a house of cards on the other hand… If the earnestness was there, we wouldn’t be having this talk. Jon Stewart wouldn’t have a show if his humor wasn’t striking a nerve. Great humor comes from great pain, and there is no pain deeper than in the heart of any thinking American. The realization that our leaders throw us crap and hope it will stick, that they look at their constituents as a burden, and that they think the truth is secondary is heartbreaking, but necessary. The Daily Show makes light of what can only be described as a crushing despair: our government is out of control.

The only thing worse is Kalin’s article. Here we have a journalist, a supposed member of the 4th estate — a final check against tyranny — and he’s telling us to lay off. Political satire is important to this country for the same reason the 2nd Amendment is important; if leaders do not fear the voters, they will do them wrong. They will continue to act like idiots, embarrass our nation, and makes fools of themselves if not made aware that we will be laughing at them. It forces them to be genuine and dignified, something it’s fairly clear they’d do less often if they weren’t held accountable.

To say that parody and humor discourages earnest politicians is just incorrect. It does exactly the opposite, weeding out the two-faces, the incompetent and the weak hearted. We ought not get in the business of deciding what political criticism helps or hurts this country because in the end it’s a relative. In terms of what is allowed and what is not, Stewart’s style is clearly legal and well intentioned. If a politician can’t withstand the observations of a late-night host, he’s not qualified to lead. If the “liberal earnestness” can’t survive a few jokes, then it’s not worth having.

So yes, in a sense Kalin is right, Jon Stewart isn’t funny — in that his importance is deadly serious. Anyone who holds our leaders accountable keeps their egos in check and gets the public interested in politics does this nation a great service. Ideology aside, the Daily Show stands as a deterrent from the self-righteousness and condescension that so regularly comes with power. To think that we should bite our tongues and hold back from poking fun at our politicians is to contradict every thing that is great about America.

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  • http://jpsgoddamnblog.blogspot.com JP

    Nice summary! Actually I think what Stewart does is great, both for the objective reasons you list as well as because he’s a good voice for progressives. He’s what Bill O’Reilly suggests Air America should be – relevent AND entertaining. I hope we see more like him.

  • http://donbaiocchi.blogspot.com/ Don Baiocchi

    Great article.

  • http://www.ryanclarkholiday.com ryan

    Well thank you.

    If only conservatives could have a self-deprecating and funny version too.

  • http://weeklyedition.blogspot.com bharath

    Yep. When he had that bit about the Rep. Jean Schmidt from Ohio, refering to Sen. Murtha, she said “cowards cut and run, Marines never do,” on the senate floor.

    He promptly pieced it with a footage of her speaking: “I pledge to walk in the shoes of my colleagues and refrain from name calling or the questioning of character. It is easy to sink to the lowest form of political debate.”

    I thought that was a really well-done job. To hunt down the video of her oath of induction.

    Jon did a great job of showing all the bush references linking AlQaeeda and Sadam.

    Satire is the mark of a free society.

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com/ Michael J. West

    Brilliant.

  • mike

    john steward may be a lefty but he is funny, the person who criticizes him is an idiot who had no understanding of what democracy is. there are no holy things in a democracy, fire away john

  • http://www.ryanclarkholiday.com ryan

    “Satire is the mark of a free society”– I like that.

    It is not to say that Jon is in anyway flawless, but he is incredibily talented. Its a shame that his correspondants are for the most part deadfully unfunny.

    The Colbert Report, however, makes up for that tenfold.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    I’m 100% in favor of mocking Bush and all politicians generally. I’ve done it, SNL often does so brilliantly.

    Jon Stewart, on the other hand, just really sucks big smelly donkey nuts. He’s not the tenth part as witty as he obviously thinks that he is- while coquetteishly enunciating otherwise. In fact though, there’s little anywhere in his work that shows any kind of wit or insight. I’d be happy with some of either, but he’s got neither.

    In short, he’s a smug little idiot who seems to largely get worshipped in certain corners because he takes just the smirking tone of unearned condescension that gets modern liberals hard.

    The only really funny thing I’ve seen from Stewart was his famous appearance on CNN where he drops his dumb little mask and comes out waving his supposed moral and intellectual superiority over actual journalists. Puh-lease.

  • http://alienboy.wordpress.com/ Christopher Rose

    Al is totally correct on this.

    Let’s face it, we’re looking at one of the most deluded, deceptive and downright dangerous governments of recent times and the best anyone can come up with is Jon Stewart?

    Frankly, one hears sharper wit on any street corner and let’s face it, Bush2’s government is such an easy target. Stewart is seriously not at all funny in exactly the way Al so pointedly describes.

  • jackie

    The real importance of jon stewart,,pardon no caps’0, is he presents facts in such a way that they can’t really shut him up.. and as it is parody, if they tried, they would being;
    1. proving the point of the already informed
    and
    2. being seen as not being able to take a joke by those whom are less informed.
    the more the actions and words of our ‘leaders’ are shown together, in a so-called funny way, the more people will see it..the politicans will be seen as shallow and ‘funny’ and their actions very serious…
    the point is to get the facts out there, this way will be far harder for them to shut down..
    and he is funny too.
    peace

  • http://jpsgoddamnblog.blogspot.com JP

    Al, I strongly disagree – in fact I don’t know how you can be referring to the same Jon Stewart we are.

    Mike, “john steward may be a lefty but he is funny, ” – is being “a lefty” a bad thing?

  • http://weeklyedition.blogspot.com bharath

    christopher: Stewart cannot be a reposnse to Bush, unless he wins ratings in the mid-west, the heartland. He is probably like the band player in the army :)

    though, he is not funny all the time.

  • jasmine

    Michael Kalin = douche

  • gonzo marx

    Stewart does the job of Jester that so many in our Nation have done before him…

    Twain, Will Rogers, Lenny Bruce, Carlin, Pryor…

    those and more performed the same political function, each ripped the festering scab off our politics and made us giggle at the pus underneath

    of course, there are those who will honestly not find it “funny”, and there are others who might bristle at the content (being emotionally invested in the partisanship involved)…the good part is…

    it just doesn’t fucking matter

    i tend ot find a half hour of the Daily show at least as informative and insightful as any hour of most MSM…and i get a few laughs as well…

    your mileage may vary

    Excelsior!

  • http://www.ryanclarkholiday.com ryan

    You think SNL is funny but not Stewart? Why don’t you save yourself the time and just admit you have no idea what you’re talking about?

    Honestly, I can’t remember a good SNL skit any time in the last 4 years but I can remember something funny from Stewart each and every week.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    “The Daily Show” was better in the 70’s when it was “The Weekend Update” by the real cast of SNL. Present day SNL blows and so does “The Daily Show.”

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    snl: perhaps true, but tina fey is hot. and funny.

  • http://www.ryanclarkholiday.com ryan

    I don’t know what you’ve been smoking, but Tina Fey isn’t hot

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Oh Gonzo, you so crazy: “Stewart does the job of Jester that so many in our Nation have done before him… Twain, Will Rogers, Lenny Bruce, Carlin, Pryor…” You’re putting this guy in with MARK TWAIN, GEORGE CARLIN, and RICHARD F’ING PRYOR? Are you out yo mind?

    Some of you seem to be talking yourselves into thinking Stewart’s somebody just because you hate Bush so bad. Brother Rose has exactly the right point. Bush SHOULD be a pretty easy target, but if Jon Stewart’s lame crap is the best the left can come up with, then y’all need to step up your game.

    Look, I listen to Rush Limbaugh once in a while. He sometimes gets a decent funny slap in at some deserving pinkos. But I would never, ever say he was humorist in a league with George Carlin. I mean, c’mon.

    As an aside, in the spirit of being fair and balanced like Fox News, I will put in a plug for the God reports from The Daily Show. Those are usually pretty good- definitely their best regular feature.

  • http://www.ryanclarkholiday.com ryan

    HOLD EVERYTHING.

    Al, I just read your article where you orgasm all over Reese Witherspoon, so how about you bow of any discussions dealing with the judgment of talent. Christ, I dignified the response of a Legally Blonde fan.

  • http://leoniceno.journalspace.com Sam Jack

    I think Stewart is funny, and I know a lot of other people do. How can you be the final arbiter on that point, Al?

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Yeah there Ryan, nice try. I haven’t seen nor did I mention or care about Legally Blond. Freeway is MY big Reece movie, and that is about 100 times more artistically substantive than the entire worthless career of Jon Stewart. That’s not all due to Reese personally, but there’s a lot more talent there than anything Stewart’s doing.

    Ol Sam: I lay no claim to be the final arbiter. I’m right, as almost always, but you have the right to be wrong. Hell, we allowed you to vote for Al Gore, and y’all idiots almost elected the fool if God hadn’t intervened. I’m just sayin’.

    But I recognize your constitutional right to spend your time on the utter mediocrity of Jon Stewart if you wish, though you could just as easily be watching Freeway or Robert Mitchum flicks. Whatever works for you.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    i STILL say that tina fey is hot (in a geeky kinda way)

    and what’s wrong with big al likin’ reese?

    sheesh.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Really, being interested in Reese is unusually appropriate behavior for me. Plus, she’s now the big screen embodiment of June Carter- who was one of the hottest chicks ever for an uppercrust hillbilly such as myself. Reese partly benefits from borrowed karma there. But she’s a very good actress in her own right.

    As to Tina Fey, though- she’s a dirty, dirty whore of Babylon. Jesus hates her worse than nearly any other harlot in the debauched history of SNL, and he wishes to rebuke her and her smart mouth repeatedly.

  • http://blog.toddyarling.com todd Yarling

    For once, I got to agree with Al.

    The Daily Show falls flat the same way Air America and Rush and the other thinly seperated partisan shill “comics/entertainers” fall flat, in their smugness and their lack of saliency due to the inherent inability to truthfully and honestly confront anything without spinning it towards the party line.

    And that suit, and that hair, and that attempt at gravitas just turn me off. He was funnier back when he was on (MTV, was it?) on that show that got cancelled.

    He wasn’t so serious and self important back then.

    WTH does Reese Witherspoon have to do with this?

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Jon Stewart schtick during the first segment:

    1. Stewart leads into video.

    2. Video clip, perhaps taken out of context, is shown.

    3. Stewart, bewildered, looks into the camera.

    4. Audience laughs, cheers, eating up more time than canned laughter in a rerun of Just Shoot Me.

    The show’s good but not great, it’s more institutionalized than it is spontaneous. The audience makes the show more liberal than it seems, I think the prereq to be a guest is “you just wrote a book,” and Lewis Black, not This Week in God, is the best segment.

  • http://www.ryanclarkholiday.com ryan

    Al wrote a piece on how amazing Reese Witherspoon is, complete with fascinating research on her legal birthname, and then tried to weigh in as a judge of quality.

  • nugget

    Tina Fey is definitely not hot.

  • http://blog.toddyarling.com todd Yarling

    Well, I’ll take Reese Witherspoon over Jon Stewert anyday, as long as she doesn’t expect me to call her, “Reese”.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Thing is Ryan, now you’re just being a prick, hateful and derogatory but with absolutely no legitimate point. “The Truth About Reese Witherspoon” is a news story, not a review. If you want to judge my merits as a critic, perhaps you could read my REVIEW of Walk the Line, for example.

    I don’t claim that everything I write is PROFOUND, though I have my more transcendental moments. But sometimes, just getting the simple facts straight is the more profound achievement.

    It’s certainly more meaningful than saying I’m a big dumby for liking Reese. What is your basis for presuming to talk down about this Oscar winning actress? But perhaps such comments would be better amended to my Reese column.

  • nugget

    Reese is ok and Jon Stewart is goodlooking for a jew.

    Jon is sometimes funny. Reese is funny in a cute “I wouldn’t mind bending her over” type of way, and Tina Fey is fugly and unfunny.

    Comedians have always been attention whores. Tyrants in their own right. Sometimes they are forgivable because their desperation is estimable. I view them as puppies with insight. They have a playful and overbearing resolution. They are demagogues who put on a smile and only appeal to the demographic that happens to be a smidget more dumb than themselves.

  • nugget

    gonzo sayz:

    “those and more performed the same political function, each ripped the festering scab off our politics and made us giggle at the pus underneath”

    I’m not sure if I just threw up because my imagined response to the word”pus” was strom thurmond popping a zit on his forehead, or if it was because of how lame that comment was.

  • RogerMDillon

    Not that gonzo needs defending but are you really one to talk about how lame comments are when you write, “Jon Stewart is goodlooking for a jew”? what the fuck does that even mean? Although after your comments about Brokeback Mountain, it does make sense.

    Ryan, snl has had some funny moments recently. the digital shorts floating around, “the chronic-cles of narnia” and natalie portman’s rap video, should be viewed although NBC is trying to stop it.

    “The Truth About Reese Witherspoon” is NOT a news story. telling people her real name and birthplace isn’t news. it’s sidebar filler in a celebrity magazine.

    and save the political nonsense. “if Jon Stewart’s lame crap is the best the left can come up with” as if the DNC is writing for the daily show. were the talk show monlogues during the clinton years, the best the right could come up with? Stewart like all other comedians are taking on those in power and Bush is the main guy and the one making the most news to make fun of. Would anyone give a shit if he made jokes about random democratic senator from Michigan?

    btw, when did Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson become actual journalists?

  • nugget

    touchy touchy. If I had said “Reese Witherspoon is pretty good-looking for a WASP,” would you had commented at all? I can allow some oversensitivity given the plight of the Jew in human civilization, but you need to relax. I was joking. It’s funny that people like you have this love affair with good side-splitting comedy and subtle irony as long as it facilitates your prejudices regarding someone else’s political affiliation.

    And, what are you referencing as far as my Brokeback comments are concerned? Link or quote me, but don’t throw out an arbitrary and implied “nugget hates gays”.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    Stewarts alright…for a Jersey boy.

  • gonzo marx

    first…to big Al….
    i didn’t say Stewart’s talent was in the same league as those other Jesters….just that he is/was performing the same function…work on that reading comprehension bro…

    nugget….glad i made ya puke a bit…bigtime joygasm right there….

    Roger…profound appreciation for your Thought…

    and Andy…yer point is?

    heh

    did i miss anything?

    Excelsior!

  • RogerMDillon

    “If I had said ‘Reese Witherspoon is pretty good-looking for a WASP,’ would you had commented at all?”

    I would have said that was lame as well, but don’t worry, I’m not going to make a habit of pointing out every time you say something lame because there’s not enough hours in the day.

    Funny is funny regardless of someone’s political affliation. I have no idea how you vote, so my reaction is to your humorless “jokes” not your position on farm subsidy bills.

    Ansd who exactly are people like me? I mean other than people who know your sense of humor sucks.

  • http://www.ryanclarkholiday.com ryan

    “try to breath through the contractions America, cuz this baby of truth is coming out head first”

  • Hunter

    Listen, Al Barger thought that the “Arrested Development” finale sucked. No matter what you think of his politics, he’s not really a comedy critic. Calm down. Treat him just like I do my friend Eddie who is convinced that Denis Leary didn’t steal material from Bill Hicks. Just shake your head and change the subject, the dude has interesting and relevant knowledge about other subjects.

  • Scott Butki

    Great piece. Stewart’s humor is way better than anything I’ve seen on SNL.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Again Mr Butki, it’s just plain SILLY to claim that even the best of Stewart’s lame monologues are in a comedic league with even mid-level SNL. I can’t read your mind, but I have to deduce that your attraction to Stewart is primarily ideological rather than artistic. That’s ok, but you should learn to separate the two.

    And Hunter, those final episodes of Arrested Development were lame as hell. They just were. I know it, you know it, and the American people know it.

  • IgnatiusReilly

    Are you joking? When was the last time SNL was good enough to be mid-level? You probably think Garfield is still funny. I have to deduce this, you smoke pot and never leave your house on Saturday nights because that show sucks.

  • http://www.ryanclarkholiday.com ryan

    hahahaha.

  • Joan B. Rickey

    I can’t stay up late enough to watch The Daily Show (I’m 75 years old, and I get really sleepy around 11 P.M.) So I tape it – religiously. I never miss a single episode. I even watch the reruns. I watched the Academy Awards for the first time this year – just because Jon Stewart was hosting it. If Jon Stewart were to run for president, I would vote for him in a New York minute (seriously). He couldn’t possibly harm our country any more than our current president has. And he’s a lefty (like me) which only goes to prove his superior intelligence.

  • Doofus

    When Stewart reads comment #8 (which he’s sure to do) he’ll leave the Daily Show to live the life of a hermit somewhere in Utah.

  • http://www.ryanclarkholiday.com ryan

    For sure.

  • IgnatiusReilly

    Al, after you have a chance to peruse this morning’s hysterical Ziggy cartoon, please let us know what great SNL sketches we missed last night. To assist us in quantifying the laughs, please let us know if you were inhaling nitrous oxide or model airplane glue.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Ignatius, I’m somewhat partisan to SNL, but even I will admit that this is a lesser season. Last night’s show was so-so. Better than than The Daily Show- but that’s not saying much. There were a couple of good bits on the Weekend Update, and I will give good marks to the Vincent Price St Patrick’s Day special, though.

    Despite being a Ball State alumni, I’ve never had any use for Garfield. But I’d take even the very modestly amusing Ziggy over the lameness of Jon Stewart.

  • http://www.ryanclarkholiday.com ryan

    “Elain, To the archives!”

  • gonzo marx

    to big Al….

    the last time SNL was funny, or had any relevance, there were lines like the one i am going ot Quote aimed at you….

    “Jane, you ignorant slut…”

    whereas Stewart delivers the Funny 4 nights a week…for many folks, i do understand it’s either..
    a)not your taste
    or
    b) too much Jersey for a mid-westerner Prince fan such as yourself…

    so, i will just say that your own semi-addle-pated opinions into things comical are sorely lacking something…

    i know….

    you need more cowbell…

    nuff said?

    Excelsior!

  • http://www.ryanclarkholiday.com ryan

    My pornstar name is Caeser HoneyBee

  • bigred

    Why do people argue over whats funny and what isnt? It’s just a matter of opinion. I feel like i’m reading the writing on a junior high bathroom stall.

  • GWBush

    Just goes to show ya. Conservatives have no sense of humor.

  • Nancy

    Sorry I caught this article so late; it’s great, and right spot-on: no one is or should be above criticism & mockery, especially those that deliberately put themselves into the public spotlight, including polticians, entertainers, businesspersons, the media, or for that matter, doctors & lawyers. The more they squawk & bitch about it, the surer it is that the mocker has struck gold.

    So many good points in this article, I’m glad it came up again so I did catch it this time around.

  • Vapor&Dust

    Concerning the Article in question and not the dovetail discussion about resse witherspoon, SNL and god-knows-what-else, I have to say that I believe whole-heartedly that Ryan Holiday is absolutely correct.

    The original article in the Boston Globe referenced throuthout makes one absolutely critical error in the reasons why their theoretical ivy-leauge student chooses the private sector over the public sector. The posit of the Boston Globe article is that Jon Stewart’s comedy and satire against politicians paints them in such a negative light that politics ‘appears’ to become corrupt, illogical, and perhaps absurd.

    The reason this fictionalized Ivy Leauge kid would not go into politics is (shocker) Politics IS CORRUPT and CORRUPTING at this point in our society.

    Stewart reveals the absurdity of our political corruption, and he doesn’t aim his comments wholly at the Right. The right is in Power (Legislative, Judicial & Executive), they are the ones that need to be checked. I can recall Jon Stewart’s critique of Ralph Nader in 2000, which was evicerating, and you don’t get much more left than The Green Party.

    Jon Stewart’s function seems to me to be to contrast the irony and outright dishonesty in Washington with simple truth. Humor is the weapon that cuts through, allowing us to see reality rather than be confused by appearances.

  • Elizabeth Cloherty

    Wow.
    You all truly are morons- and might I add, for people who are crucifying a man for his writing skills, I’d brush up on my own if I were you.
    Michael Kalin makes a very valid point which I would have to believe few of you actually understand.
    Kalin’s an incredibly intelligent man- and I’m left to believe that the motive behind these sentiments is a lack of understanding, or perhaps a presence of denial. Either way, Kalin is brilliant.