Monday, January 9, 2017

Jon Stewart on the Election and the "Daily Show"

Jon Stewart did not start the Daily Show, the news satire and late night talk show program. The show premiered on July 21, 1996, and Stewart took over on January 11, 1999. Under Stewart's leadership the show was strongly focused on politics and the national media. By the time Stewart stepped down (August 6, 2015) the show enjoyed 2.5 million nightly viewers. The show was a cultural phenomenon. Between 2001 and 2015 it garnered 21 Prime Time Emmy Awards.

Two weeks after the election Stewart sat down with Charlie Rose to reflect on the Daily Show and on the election. Stewart brings an unusual level of introspection and thoughtfulness to this interview. It's worth watching in its entirety.

Here are some highlights.

The Election did not Fundamentally Alter the Country

"This  election represents the extension of a long argument we've had from our founding: what are we? Are we an ideal or some form of ethno-state? .... [Trump's] candidacy has animated the thought that multi-ethnic democracy is impossible. ... [But, of course a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural state is] what America is by its founding, and constitutionally."  

Because of the long arc of this struggle for our identity, "We have a resilience to [it] but we have to continue to fight." 

"There is now this idea that anyone who voted for Donald Trump has to be defined by the worst of his rhetoric. I think this is a big mistake. I think our relationship status with our own worst impulses is complicated. We have to remember that the most progressive president in our history, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, also interned Asian Americans during World Ware II. We are a complicated and real people. .... This idea that [Trump voters] have given tacit approval to a dictator and a madman (is folly)." 

Controlling Culture is not Power

"This election could be a great lesson in that controlling the culture is not the same thing as power. And a viral video eviscerating racists is not the same as a grass-roots movement that seeks to have common ground with the people and create a multi-ethnic coalition that understands that other people's hierarchy of needs is not necessarily your hierarchy of needs." 

The Joys and Frustrations of Satirical Comedy

"The crux of The Daily Show paradox is in that moment you hold to account a senator whose entire identity is based on a hypocritical behavior ('I'm against this type of pork barrel politics, unless it somehow benefits me') At that moment when we nailed you, what do we have to do at that point? We let you go. It's catch and release. We have to undercut it with a laugh." 

"One of the difficulties with all this is that satire began to take the place of reality. It's been given a greater place in the discussion, and a larger role in the discourse than is warranted. And once this began to happen, you begin to wonder if it's a good thing or a bad thing. And I know it's not black and white." 

Controlling the Culture is not Political Power Redux

"For as much fun we had making fun of the Tea Party... while we were up there passing around viral videos of eviscerations, they (were busy) taking over school boards." 

"There is a comforting culture that can be mistaken for real power." 

"You have to meet force with force. [And that's not the Daily Show] We were in the subway, yelling at dead people (Patrick Swayzey in "Ghost"), raging, and noone could hear us. But if we focused everything we had, at just the right moment, we could move the can just a little bit...." 

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles.

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