Monday, February 16, 2015

A Salute to a Walking Talking American Institution

To be a blogger, it seems, usually means being a social critic.  There’s always someone out there – or some group out there – worthy of ridicule.   And even if your blog is called The Empathic Rationalist, it’s hard not to take the bait and fire away, rhetorically that is, when people behave badly.

Every now and then, though, someone steps up and distinguishes themselves in a positive way.   And toasting their accomplishments is every bit as important as criticizing others for their shortcomings.  

So with that in mind, I must take this opportunity to give a huge round of applause to one, Jon Stewart, for a job incredibly well done … and a decision to leave when he’s on top of his game.   I realize that Stewart has assembled a gifted team of comedy writers who are no doubt responsible for most of the laughs he provides us.   But Stewart himself needed to be one hell of a comedic actor to pull off the lines night after night.  Stewart himself needed to be one bright, quick-witted guy to eviscerate guests like my former classmate, Jim “Mad Money” Kramer.   Stewart himself needed the wisdom and even-handedness to mock his fellow progressives almost as much as the conservatives, unlike his counterparts on Fox News or MSNBC who clearly have consumed one type of Kool-Aid or another.  And Stewart himself needed the kind of secure ego to laugh at himself and take responsibility whenever he went too far.   Let’s face it: he’s just a talented, likeable guy, who has turned a half-hour comedy act on an obscure cable television network into arguably the best source of news in America.  That’s quite a tour de force.  

At a time when the American media is treating with respect certain European “satirists” who are truly just pornographers and hate mongers, Stewart has been a true satirist.  He’s handled himself with class, meaning that he’s used more than a modicum of restraint.  But that’s not to say he has pulled his punches.  If a public figure in America was being hypocritical, there’s a pretty good chance that Jon Stewart called him or her to task in a fun-loving, but also damning, way.  There will be a whole lot of people in politics and in television “journalism” who will be thrilled to see Jon Stewart go.

Has Stewart made a difference?   I mean a real difference?  Well, he almost single-handedly destroyed the CNN show Crossfire, in the process pointing out just how obnoxious and dangerous it is to live in a society that is completely ideologically polarized.  That may have been his single most concrete accomplishment, but he should be remembered more for simply educating the American people, for many years, about the major news stories of the day.  In a day when most Americans don’t read the newspapers, Jon Stewart has become one of our best windows to the world.

But therein lies the problem.  He only has a half hour on Comedy Central.  Roughly a third of that ime could be devoted to, oh I don’t know, flirting with Maggie Gyllenhall or listening to Brian Williams spin some yarns.  And the remaining time, as Stewart admits, needed to include the mandatory masturbation and fart jokes.  That doesn’t leave much time for hard news – especially when it takes so long to imitate a turtle who runs the Senate.  

Seriously though, the real problem with this society is that there is only so much that satirists can accomplish, when business leaders, statesmen, and mainstream journalists have all collectively decided that they are most comfortable when they are NOT rocking the boat.   Satirists provide a momentary break from the status quo, but what they do, while it can be cathartic and even insightful, is not enough to overshadow the folks who run the economy, the government, and the mainstream media.   

So, what does that mean?   Jon Stewart is going to have to (a) run for Governor of New Jersey when Chris Christie’s term is over, and (b) run for President when Hillary Clinton’s terms are over.  If a former B-movie dramatic actor like Ronald Reagan can become a transformative conservative President, then surely a former B-movie comedic actor like Jon Stewart can become a transformative progressive President.  And that is no joke.

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