Jon Stewart used to be funny.
I don’t mean on MTV. I mean on HBO. He played a slightly fictionalized version of himself during the last season or two of The Larry Sanders Show—as of 2014, the second-best television show ever made—and he was very good.
Of course, he’s most known for The Daily Show today. Stewart’s shtick now is anything but sophisticated. Wear a nice suit. Rock once in a while, maybe with a rehearsed wince or deliberate pause. (See David Letterman, ca. 1987.) Tell variations of the same four or five jokes. Flirt with substance once in a while, but when faced with any serious rhetorical return fire, quickly retreat to that hey-this-is-all-in-good-fun place.
Kevin Williamson just wrote one of the funniest, most dead-on pieces I’ve read in months. It is a viciously accurate deconstruction of Jon Stewart, and his audience, called The Destroyer Cometh. Read. Enjoy.
Now if you enjoy The Daily Show and have your head on straight and know what you’re viewing, then fantastic. My observation is that there are a whole lot of you who don’t know what you’re viewing. You see, Stewart’s program looks enough like a news show that many of his viewers take it as just that (or enough of it to partially check that mental box). Huge swaths of his audience are being “kept comfortable” and don’t even realize it.
A bit back, the great Jay Nordlinger actually quoted me in a column (though anonymously). He had solicited his readership for their “go-to lefty,” i.e. who did they read/listen to/watch to get the other side(s) of something? Here is the part of the email I sent him that he quoted:
I look at CNN and listen to NPR to see what the liberal who believes he is getting political variety is being fed. I read The Nation to see what the current liberal red meat is, and also because Katrina vanden Heuvel is gorgeous.
Now I know many, many more right-leaning folks with such habits—regularly and deliberately exposing themselves to opposing views—than I do left-leaning ones. In my experience, if a liberal even bothers to consider the value of such, s/he will do something like name three sources, all left of center, as evidence that s/he is consuming a balanced diet of ideas. Anything any further starboard than CNN is right-wing propaganda and instantly dismissed as valueless (or worse, inciting the ignorant passions of the knuckle-dragging racist misogynist chicken-hawk elitist gay-hating hypocritical conservatives).
(Throw in a “Faux News” as if you wrote it and invite us to enjoy that ceaselessly hilarious witticism while you’re at it.)
Here it is: I can discuss The Daily Show, The Nation, NPR, and any number of other left-of-center outlets intelligently, because I actually consume them. I almost never encounter a liberal who can demonstrate even passing familiarity with Fox News programming, National Review, or The Rush Limbaugh Show. They parrot what they’ve heard from people ideologically identical to themselves. They utterly implode when I invite them off script.
Is it Stewart’s occasional Obama joke that head-fakes his audience into thinking they’re getting anything but leftist pap? Is it just a desire to cement that with which they’re initially proceeding? I wrote several years ago about the ease with which you can validate anything. If you think x is true, then for practically any value of x, you’ll be able to find a web page, or a show, or a book that agrees. Is that as far as some people go?
Is that what keeps this smirking jackass on television?