I’ll be honest after a week (2/8-2/11) of The Daily Show viewing and a few days off I am having trouble remembering why I was so emotional about Jon Stewart in the first place. Truthfully when I decided to revisit the issue, it was several years removed from the conversation, which first sparked the idea. However, I think a few things occurred as a result of this project. First, I don’t think any of the things I’m going to observe are particularly overwhelming or so detrimental that it affects the integrity of the show. Second, there is a major value to the show’s function and a small pet peeve I did notice which I think I just took too seriously before. Last, I recommend we begin to address The Daily Show in a new way and hold it to a higher standard.
One of the minor things that still bugs me about the show, not enough to oppose it or waste time trying to convince everyone of this, is the way they approach the balance of funny vs. serious. Stewart seems to try to hide behind the curtain of comedy, making “late night monologue-style” jokes about politics, politicians and the media only to jump out from behind the curtain every so often and land an accurate, articulate criticism. I’m not sure if there’s an intent on the part of Stewart and the writers to remain judged by the low standard of late night and comedy shows rather than the higher standard (though waning) of This Week, Meet the Press and others. However, I think the show be viewed and understood as a major political force. It’s a fine line; I realize this. I’m not saying it’s going to alter the way most people understand or consume the show. But for me, Stewart makes an absurd joke to get the laugh (and admittedly the occasional cheap joke) only to follow it up with a serious and needed criticism of the mainstream. Leading to one of two results – viewers who believe everything on The Daily Show then tend to believe the absurd jokes as well and lose all respect for politics and the process OR viewers skeptical of any truth and looking just to laugh miss the value and need for the show’s function.
I’ll try to give you an example. Stewart had Newt Gingrich on the show as his guest on Tuesday night’s show. The show began by accurately mocking an Alabama Senator who selfishly hijacked debate in Congress lead into a hilarious semi-serious/semi-mockery by Jon Oliver of The Republican National Committee in Hawaii. They were definitely on a role. Gingrich opened with a joke and they began a serious and helpful debate regarding how the two parties are attempting to deal with “enemy combatants.” There’s a mutual respect and some sparring back and forth at which point Stewart comes in with the subtle comment, “Don’t let reality get in the way.” It was a cheap shot, got a big laugh and stalled what had been a great conversation. Like I said, these are not major observations and won’t change my viewing habits (and I don’t think should change anyone else’s).
The show relies on these cheap shots far more than it needs too. It’s a brilliant show with a genius host and I think can do just fine with mockery, sarcasm and tact. In another observation, The Daily Show serves a valuable and necessary function. It keeps media-types and politicians as honest as possible. The show is the contrarian voice representative of an often confused and disconcerted electorate. And that’s why my overall point is we need to let the show be funny and still take it seriously, very seriously. The media loves to take The Daily Show seriously when someone like Newt Gingrich misspeaks about the nationality and citizenship of Richard Reed (as he did on Tuesday). Stewart noted it at the end of the show but many other shows throughout this and last week noted the error without noting its venue. I think Jon Stewart and The Daily Show are a bit of an enigma because it’s tough to decide how much weight to give the show and it’s impact on our generation. I think it’s a serious role and a serious function for a hilarious show. It’s no longer accurate to say “it’s just a comedy show” and while they shouldn’t stop mocking and satirizing but should be fair.
NOTE: I, for one, will keep watching and probably more than I had before I embarked on this short-lived project.