Jon Stewart Rally: Sane or Absurd?

I love Jon Stewart. And Stephen Colbert. But if this is sanity, we’re in trouble.

I don’t want to rain on anybody’s rally. Especially when the organizers and most of the people involved are progressively-minded. I wasn’t there, but I totally support the idea of getting together to critique fear-mongering, promote rational discourse, have fun, and foster political activity. These things enhance democracy and a healthy society.

But was this an afternoon of political activity? Or was it absurd?

Stewart and Colbert have probably been the country’s most important and visible critics of the corporate media in the last ten years. This is true even if their trenchant critiques are largely superficial and content-based. Their criticism lacks any real structural analysis of why, exactly, the corporate media is so destructive. Instead, they focus on the what and the how, not the why. The content rather than the form; the message, not the medium. So we don’t hear much from these intellectual comedians about how commercial institutions prioritize profit and market share over all other values, including having a well-informed citizenry. We don’t hear systemic critiques about corporate entanglements between media and other industries, or whether it’s intelligent or not to continue to let advertising provide the sustenance to news media, or about legal imperatives to maximize shareholder investments. But it’s smart television nonetheless, often irreverent and usually hilarious.

Like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report that spawned it, this rally was ultimately about entertainment—sponsored and broadcast by the megacorporation Viacom—and thus not meant to provoke too much discomfort about the status quo.

In August, Glenn Beck, the real-life Howard Beale, held a march on Washington. Lots of tea partiers, who incidentally make up only 2% of the population, came and waved hateful, irrational, and hysterical signs. So Stewart and Colbert, with mixed parts irony and sincerity, staged a counter-rally. A rally in favor of toning down the corporate media-led national discourse. A rally without issues or candidates. A “non-political” rally. A rally for liberal centrists.

In the end, this depoliticized political rally against extremism that broadly celebrated contentedness, without including issues or candidates, showed how absurd American politics has become.  

A political protest that’s largely against political engagement. Isn’t it ironic?

Interviews with participants by independent journalist Chase Whiteside show that many of the liberal protesters are only slightly less clueless than the average tea partier. Too many of those interviewed didn’t even know the names of the candidates running in their congressional elections.

This is sanity? It’s actually pretty embarrassing. And in a way, my fear has, unexpectedly, been slightly restored. At least temporarily.

May I make a suggestion? Now that the tea partiers—who amazingly manage to promote both selfish causes as well as ones that go completely against their own self-interest at the same time—and the liberal centrists—who love being reasonable but seem afraid or unwilling to take a stand against the status quo— have had their rallies, what about a true leftist rally? One that is not afraid to take a stand on issues and be reasonable at the same time?

Or is the American left dead? Have most principled progressives in America been replaced by contented consumers with a fetish for irony?

Through the eyes of Stewart, a leftist rally might seem a bit insane. But I say we get totally crazy and angrily demand some meaningful climate change legislation from Obama and the US Senate. Or would it be too unreasonable to try to prevent our species' demise? What if we went really nuts and cutback on our network of 700+ military bases around the globe and slashed military spending—which almost equals what the rest of the world combined spends on weapons and defense?  Totally flip out and fully subsidize a public media system like the BBC that can foster a calm, intelligent, rational, diverse, and non-commercial news media? And what if we went so far as to have an utter psychotic breakdown and actually restructured our entire economy so that it prioritized people’s lives (i.e. stakeholders) instead of maximized investor profit (i.e. shareholders)? So that it was no longer based on the unsustainable myth of unlimited growth and consumption in a world of finite natural resources?

If we really want to cure our insane, fearful society, this kind of economic restructuring is the rational therapy we need.  Unfortunately, this would also mean making enormous sacrifices to our lifestyles.  Just how crazy are we?

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