Since Jon Stewart was a guest of Bill O’Reilly this week, he’s been quoted and talked about more than usual. Just prior to the O’Reilly appearance, I know he made headlines for a bit where he mocked the sincerity and style of Keith Olbermann who crossed a line when mocking Scott Brown. Trust me, it doesn’t bear repeating here. However, it sparked an internal, long-running debate that I’ve been having for years. I can’t figure Jon Stewart out.
He claims he’s a comedian and should only be seen as a political satirist (at most). Which I get because he’s really good at it and we need a contrarian to keep everyone honest. But I’m not convinced that he shouldn’t be taken more seriously. Granted, the opening segment of his show is devoted to mockery and comedy which is exactly what he delivers. But the later segments, the guest segment specifically, is generally a serious commentary or discussion (for the most part) on a given topic, book, or issue. In addition, Stewart makes appearances on Crossfire, NPR and O’Reilly where he comes across serious, measured and direct. He almost always appears somber and speaks directly to the issues.
He’s like that guy in high school who insults you with that one thing which is completely true and then says “just kidding,” as if that relieves all responsibility. This is what I think bothers me the most. Stewart will follow self-deprecating humor about The Daily Show or about himself with some true and accurate criticism of society, politics or culture. It’s like he hides behind a vale of comedy where he can safely influence his viewers without taking responsibility (or credit, I might add).
I know the right wing pundits hate him for his “liberal agenda,” but it’s not his politics which bother me. I don’t think there’s a secret agenda or message. I just think the show is in denial about its true impact and leverage in the market especially with the younger generation. He’s a figurehead in the political thought and culture of a generation but denies that role from the safety of comedy and satire.
Even in writing this I can acknowledge that objectively my response should be “what’s the big deal?” I know it doesn’t sound like anything I’ve said is that much of a problem. But the truth is, I think he knows it. I have this theory that he’s smart enough to know that our generation looks to him for commentary, political theory and impressions of public figures. He’s happy to infuse the true criticisms with the necessary satire and comedy bits to avoid projecting the image of an opinion show. He’s a comedy and political genius but I’m not sure everyone always sees the latter.
So, I’m going to make a commitment to watch every day next week at 11 PM in an effort to evaluate and reform my opinion of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. After Friday’s show, I’ll try to have a more articulate concept of what the show’s greater role is and perhaps have a new opinion of the show myself.