Steve Almond vs. Jon Stewart and Colbert
July 18, 2012 9:34 PM   Subscribe

"Our lazy embrace of Stewart and Colbert is a testament to our own impoverished comic standards. We have come to accept coy mockery as genuine subversion and snarky mimesis as originality. It would be more accurate to describe our golden age of political comedy as the peak output of a lucrative corporate plantation whose chief export is a cheap and powerful opiate for progressive angst and rage." -- Steve Almond, in The Baffler
posted by Miss T.Horn (219 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
they congratulate viewers for their fine habits of thought and feeling while remaining careful never to question the corrupt precepts of the status quo too vigorously.

Yeah, the heck with comedy! And aren't they awful to espouse moderation instead of extremism!

Sorry, dude, but left wing extremism is not funnier, which is what Stewart and Colbert are about, nor terribly appealing to all of us who think the big missing ingredient in American politics today is the willingness to talk to and listen to the enemy.
posted by bearwife at 9:43 PM on July 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


This guy is mad because John Stewart wasn't acerbic enough on 9/11. He's mad because Stephen Colbert did some segments with members of the U.S. Military instead of just humiliating them all. OK, noted thanks
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:45 PM on July 18, 2012 [30 favorites]


The author, by the way, is evidently himself a humorist, whose "essays typically are brilliant exemplars of take-no-prisoners irreverence and gut-busting, usually self-effacing, humor."
posted by XMLicious at 9:45 PM on July 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Stewart and Colbert, in particular, have assumed the role of secular saints whose nightly shtick restores sanity to a world gone mad.

See, that's the thing. We, in Australia, start our day with Stewart and Colbert. Our world doesn't go mad in the first place. Priorities, America!
posted by vidur at 9:50 PM on July 18, 2012 [27 favorites]


I only watch Colbert, but for that show to bleep out profanity, in 2012, is bull----.
posted by Ardiril at 9:50 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


What an absolutely humorless dude and I disagree with him on just about everything. One thing really stuck out though, and that was the praise of South Park. That show has some classic episodes, but I don't get his love for Trey and Matt's topical political episodes. Those are often their most lazy where they tell one joke over and over and in the end each side are assholes or hey libertarianism! I hate those episodes.
posted by boubelium at 9:51 PM on July 18, 2012 [32 favorites]


The Day After Tomorrow/Katrina episode was bloody brilliant.
posted by maryr at 9:53 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


----. ---- --- - advertising -- --- self-censorship --- -------- ---- --- - ---- comedy -- ----- on television ... ... ...... .... .. . .....!
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:53 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


This argument basically boils down to "these people are failures because they are successful." You might as well claim Krugman's economic analysis is functionally useless because he's being paid to do it. But the medium is not the message entire: there are huge and real differences between say, Stewart and O'Reilly.
posted by mek at 9:53 PM on July 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Stewart's superhero like destruction of Crossfire alone, is enough to grant him an honored place in Valhalla.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:59 PM on July 18, 2012 [64 favorites]


I liked Steve Almond's book about candy. It seems like everyone wants to get on the Jonathan Franzen bandwagon of being a cranky contrarian about innocuous things people like.

In unrelated news, my new book, Puppies and Kittens Are Giant Assholes is coming out soon. Enjoy the chapter about how butterflies are racist and don't courtesy flush.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:01 PM on July 18, 2012 [91 favorites]


I got to the bottom and saw that it was page one of four. Even if he did have some kind of great argument waiting for me, I'm not sure how much more of that awful writing I could take.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:02 PM on July 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I do think there are valid critiques to be made about both programs. However, the opportunity was missed almost entirely in this piece.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:02 PM on July 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


This argument basically boils down to "these people are failures because they are successful."

Exactly. This guy wants a world in which all left-wing comics are authentic Bill Hicks types, and thereby lack mainstream appeal. Such a world features John McCain as US president
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:03 PM on July 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


So first Stewart and Colbert are excoriated for not being journalists despite being comedians, now they're being excoriated for being comedians with jobs rather than yelling "No, fuck you, dad!" on...whatever network that kind of show would run on. Cable access, maybe.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:03 PM on July 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


I am also upset with Stewart and Colbert for not completely overthrowing our culture. Sure they did those three or four totally cool things he lists, but most of the time, they're just, like, entertainers, man. I'm sure if they were shrill partisans all the time they could totally make a real difference!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:04 PM on July 18, 2012 [13 favorites]


Yeah, some kernels here, but this felt remarkably like being cornered by the most tedious person in the room at a party.
posted by chinston at 10:04 PM on July 18, 2012 [22 favorites]


Steve Almond is smart and writes well. He's smarter than me and is definitely a better writer. But ya gotta wonder if the guy ever lets loose and just laughs like a maniac at a Colbert show sometimes.
posted by vverse23 at 10:04 PM on July 18, 2012


Wait, I thought Colbert was a serious Conservative talk show host?!
posted by b1tr0t at 10:05 PM on July 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


Okay, whatever, I made it to page 2:
You got that? In times of national crisis, the proper role of the comedian is not to challenge the prevailing jingoistic hysteria, but to induce smiles.
Are you fucking kidding me? At all times, the job of a comedian is absolutely to make people smile and laugh. And also, this was the first show after 9/11 right, before Bush went completely crazy and tried to whip the country up for war -- which I'm fairly certain (I wasn't a Daily Show watcher at the time) Stewart would have railed against.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:05 PM on July 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


what is the baffler
posted by the theory of revolution at 10:07 PM on July 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


Yeah, some kernels here, but this felt remarkably like being cornered by the most tedious person in the room at a party.

After he finishes this diatribe, he starts talking about copyright law.
posted by maryr at 10:07 PM on July 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


vverse23: "Steve Almond is smart and writes well. He's smarter than me and is definitely a better writer. But ya gotta wonder if the guy ever lets loose and just laughs like a maniac at a Colbert show sometimes."

If he was really smart, he'd know that it's easier to convince someone of your argument if you don't make them feel that they're dumber than you.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:07 PM on July 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Pushing buttons is Steve Almond's thing, but it's always pretty inept. It's like somebody who enjoys throwing firebombs but is too lazy to ever fill them properly.

Look up his tantrum resignation from Boston College. (If adjuncts can really "resign.")
posted by red clover at 10:07 PM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


But...Stewart/Colbert aren't at the height of thier influence or power, that was back in like 05 when they kept hitting homeruns every week, yeah the Katrina disaster was the high point, now, oh more than half a decade later, they're more established and " and oh I may check them out if there is something people talk about" and not a nightly event.
posted by The Whelk at 10:07 PM on July 18, 2012


I mean it also feels like you're complaining about like ..Franz Ferdindand not rocking the charts and reinventing pop radio or something, that was years and years ago! We've moved on! Please try to catch up.
posted by The Whelk at 10:09 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


what is the baffler

Consistently interesting, I've found.
posted by mediareport at 10:09 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh bullshit. Who the fuck is Steve Almond?

I credit Stewart and Colbert with my sanity.
posted by spitbull at 10:09 PM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'll bet Steve Almond's new late night comedy show is gonna kill 'em.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:11 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean you can get into some WACKY conspiracy theories with Jon Stewart and the financial meltdown if you like, if you enjoy fun old timey anti-semetism in your face but this is....not even like interesting crazy just boring. And dated. And dull.
posted by The Whelk at 10:12 PM on July 18, 2012


I think this is a relatively strong criticism:

Stewart spoke of his comedic mission as though it were an upscale antidepressant: “It’s a wonderful feeling to have this toxin in your body in the morning, that little cup of sadness, and feel by 7 or 7:30 that night, you’ve released it in sweat equity and can move on to the next day.” What’s missing from this formulation is the idea that comedy might, you know, change something other than your mood.
posted by mediareport at 10:15 PM on July 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


Stephen Colbert is a man who goes on TV, most nights, and tells funny jokes about campaign finance law. How can that be something to complain about?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:15 PM on July 18, 2012 [29 favorites]


(and say that as someone who remembers loving Horace while remembering very little of Juvenal)
posted by mediareport at 10:16 PM on July 18, 2012


I think that Stewart and Colbert are trying to reach people who would never watch the kind of acidic, Bill Hicksian satire Almond is looking for. Through the medium of nightly entertainment they get younger viewers interested in current events, and kind of stealth inoculate the audience against falling for the usual bullshit that everyone else is peddling as truth. That's a worthwhile public service.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:17 PM on July 18, 2012 [16 favorites]


"A century-old ideological movement, Liberalism: once devoted to impossible causes like ending racism and inequality, empowering the powerless, fighting against militarism, and all that silly hippie shit—now it’s been reduced to besting the other side at one-liners…and to the Liberals’ credit, they’re clearly on top. Sure there are a lot of problems out there, a lot of pressing needs—but the main thing is, the Liberals don’t look nearly as stupid as the other guys do. And if you don’t know how important that is to this generation, then you won’t understand what’s so wrong and so deeply depressing about the Jon Stewart Rally to Restore Sanity."
posted by eurypteris at 10:19 PM on July 18, 2012 [24 favorites]


Steve Almond writes about heavy metal and candy, and is angry that others aren't keepin' it real.

Am I going to end up sorry that The Baffler rebooted?
posted by benito.strauss at 10:20 PM on July 18, 2012


And I know a lot of people, usually from areas without a wealth of political debate who got all radicalized back by the Daily Show and such cause it was like, concrete proof that you weren't alone and you can use the data from there to go search things yourself and pull out direct bill and law names and speech quotes and the like. I mean I know the Rally To Restore Sanity had the figleaf of "we're just trying to deal with problem of politics in the media and how they are reported" but I thought the whole thing was a symptom of the growing need for something, ANYTHING, other than rapacious militant neocon capitalism that wasn't drop-out-ism or angry apathy. And those people are still there, and so is the need.
posted by The Whelk at 10:27 PM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


benito, this is exactly the kind of piece The Baffler used to print regularly. I don't know what Baffler you're remembering, but poking at Mainstream Sanctifiers of Normal who use Rebel Attacks to gain credibility as Outsiders has pretty much been the magazine's modus operandi forever.
posted by mediareport at 10:28 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Soldiers, by Colbert’s reckoning, aren’t moral actors who choose to brandish weapons, but paragons of manly virtue whose sole function is to carry out their orders—in this case “bringing democracy” to a hellish Arab backwater.

There isn't an army in the world with broad, open mandates like "bring democracy". It is actually more like "transport this cargo safely from A to B" or "search this town for any weapons cache". The soldiers aren't the ones to blame for the mess, really.

Coming from India, with neighbours with armies that have decided every once in a while that their sole function is not to carry out the orders of their democratically-elected bosses, I would strongly recommend that Mr. Almond thank his stars that soldiers fighting on his behalf carry out their orders for most part. He really, really, wouldn't like the alternative (Hint: the alternative is not soldiers-as-moral-actors in a just world).
posted by vidur at 10:29 PM on July 18, 2012 [27 favorites]


They represent a quantum improvement over the aphoristic pabulum of the thirties satirist Will Rogers

There aren't many people around anymore who can defend Will Rogers, but I, for one, wish that Stewart and Colbert were more like Rogers, not less.

These kids today have no idea what Depression-era comedy - really good comedy, the kind of comedy that kept peoples' hopes alive - was like. Calling it "aphoristic pabulum" is rude when you have no idea what you're talking about.

Here's a Will Rogers "aphorism": Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke. That was part of a larger monologue. And he did those monologues while doing rope tricks. It wasn't just an aphorism. Just because you took the time to Google "Will Rogers" and found a bunch of aphorisms doesn't mean he only spoke in "aphoristic pabulum."

This author has no sense of political comedy. And worse, his article isn't funny.

I bet he can't even do rope tricks.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:30 PM on July 18, 2012 [29 favorites]


As chinston said, there are some kernels of truth in this piece, but it goes way, way overboard, to the point that Stewart and Colbert are being criticized simply for having different beliefs than Almond. He should just stick with saying that they aren't nearly as edgy as some people imagine, and they both pass up plenty of opportunities to be more critical of the targets of their satire.
posted by Edgewise at 10:30 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The worst part about this piece in my mind isn't that it is right or wrong, it's that the author neglects to follow up any of his own major theses.

Our lazy embrace of Stewart and Colbert is a testament to our own impoverished comic standards. We have come to accept coy mockery as genuine subversion and snarky mimesis as originality.

He doesn't make any case that we (whoever "we" are supposed to be) have impoverished comic standards, just because he wishes that Stewart and Colbert were more directly political. He doesn't bother to make any case that "we" confuse or accept coy mockery as a direct replacement for "genuine subversion" or even as to why "genuine subversion" is superior to "coy mockery" in comedy (I'm not saying it isn't, I'm saying he doesn't bother to support that assertion). And he doesn't say anything at all about why he claims this is a less "original" form of comedy than direct political activism or what role he thinks originality must play in a superior political commentary (is truth original?).

So... yeah. I don't see him making his point here, really, unless his point is "maybe if I neg on someone really popular I can get some extra publicity." In which case, I guess: congratulations?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:34 PM on July 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


How can someone write an article that is so right in some premises but so wrong in all conclusions?

Almond's understanding of what makes something revolutionary or not seems to be on very Marxist; perhaps Maoist? (not an expert on non-European Marxisms) Anything that does not directly attack the state is complicit with it. He seems to only acknowledge a comedian that speaks from a position completely outside of the state, or at least in direct opposition to it. This is the limit of Marxism -- it often ignores that it's vision of the world omits many important realities and deals with a fantasy version of reality (as does every ideology).

He's right that the Rally was milquetoast pablum.
He's right that Stewart and Colbert directly profit from the industries and systems they mock.
But he's wrong that this completely invalidates their work. It's comically unperceptive to just declare that they are opiates of the masses in toto. And who better than those in the media to expose the media?
And he's wrong that Parker and Stone are more progressive. Waaaaaaaaaay wrong.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:35 PM on July 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


they aren't nearly as edgy as some people imagine

Heresy!
posted by mediareport at 10:36 PM on July 18, 2012


"they aren't nearly as edgy as some people imagine"

I can't imagine anyone thinking either of them are edgy. Hell, my 72 yo father's criticism of Stewart is that he tries too hard to be sophisticated.
posted by Ardiril at 10:37 PM on July 18, 2012


Yeah that Parker Stone thing, god the laziest Libertarian Drop-Out is more progressive? Please. Yes, making fun of anti-smoking ads cause people are fat is so much more radical.

And they're both owned by the same company and and I maintain the only reason all of them got away with it was cause Viacom has no military/defense contracts.
posted by The Whelk at 10:38 PM on July 18, 2012


I think any article that ends with the tag, "Did you enjoy this salvo?", is far too self-satisfied and masturbatory to be taken very seriously.
posted by Errant at 10:39 PM on July 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Almond understands that what progressives need is not voices like Colbert and Stewart that help expose the foolishness of reactionary ideas and highlight the common sense decency of progressive ones.

Nope, trying to drag the Overton Window to the left is foolishness. What progressives need is to more vigorously attack and alienate allies who aren't sufficiently progressive.
posted by straight at 10:43 PM on July 18, 2012 [15 favorites]


I mean it also feels like you're complaining about like ..Franz Ferdindand not rocking the charts and reinventing pop radio or something, that was years and years ago! We've moved on! Please try to catch up.

I'll take your simile one step further and say that it's like a Big Star-inspired power pop band deriding Franz Ferdinand for being too popular without revolutionizing music. Franz Ferdinand might not be high art, but it's not as if you're crafting the modern day equivalent of The Rite of Spring, either.

Stewart and Colbert are not above criticism, but Almond can only dream that he could be as incisive and as influential as they are. This article comes off as an attempt to troll for readers, as well as a serious case of sour grapes.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:48 PM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


A few days ago there was a GQ profile of Joseph Gordon Levitt posted here. At one point in the article Levitt was saying that the dominant art form of the 21st century is not going to be creation, it's going to be curation. And that statement, while overall debateable, is true at least in part. To start off, there's mainstream zeitgeisty artists like Kanye or Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson who wear their influences on their sleeve. And yes, there's Girl Talk and supercuts and all sorts of other distractions that are literally predicated on the idea of using nothing but influences to create something new.

But it goes deeper than that, I think, because there are a lot of very successful media personalities whose merit stems in large part from the fact that we live in overstimulated times and they can present a clear, logical distillation of whats literally/metaphorically going on in the world, and having those people around greatly enables us to cut out a lot of the other distracting noise. Colbert and Stewart's humor is great, and I do find them funny, but what I find helpful is that like Andrew Sullivan or some other interesting blog (or even this blog), they present a decent size chunk of information in a compact, clear way that renders watching a full 24 hours of news seem not just unnecessary but downright painful. They are the guys who tell you a story in a paragraph, CNN is the drunk guy who tells it to you in ten minutes.

Let's be honest: they are curators as much as they are anything else. They pick and choose what stories they want to cover and don't even attempt to discuss all the main issues of any given day. And then they pick and choose how they cover it: whether to treat it straight up politically, whether to do a meta-story about how the media covered it, or to skip most of the information and just lampoon it. But beyond that, they also function like a memory bank, the way actual news should, culling things from CSPAN that are available to anyone, but which no one with a non-cursed life would know is there, and pulling things from the past that most of us have forgotten were there. The same way Criterion's DVD releases show a certain form of taste by blending things you have heard of and maybe didn't see with things you've never heard of but should see, the Daily Show and Colbert present public information on our political leaders that we might want to know but aren't ever going to track down on our own. I'm not going to watch Fox News, but it's good to have a sense of what their narrative is, and I get just enough of that on the Daily Show to be satisfied yet sane.

Are Colbert and Stewart as funny as people make them out to be? Are they that revolutionary? Enh, it's in the eye of the beholder. But whether or not they are truly charging full tilt at the world's giants with their sharpest lance they have merit, the same way a well curated art gallery has merit, whether or not the art on the walls is all-hype B.S. or something deeper. They're presenting something interesting with specific taste and that's a valuable good. If I never laughed at one of their jokes again, I'd still think they were doing something helpful by saving me from watching C-Span.
posted by Kiablokirk at 10:55 PM on July 18, 2012 [44 favorites]


I don't agree with Almond's positive comments about Bill Maher and South Park -- the former is just as guilty as pro-American, militaristic, anti-Arab and misogynistic bullshit as Stewart and the latter is a fairly inane, if occasionally clever, cartoon. But he's right about Stewart and Colbert.

First: many have argued that Stewart is a comedian and thus bears no journalistic-style responsibility -- Stewart himself has made this defence. Yet this is rarely offered without reference to the factoid that most young people get their news from it. Stewart wears his comedian claim as armour while he earns his success from acting like a journalist and, yes, a parasite on the carnival that is American news media.

Second: for those who wish to pursue a social program of equality, justice and community and an alternative to the imperialist, neoliberal and capitalist model which daily puts those concepts under threat, Stewart's repeated appeals to the mythology of "moderation" are offensive. Occupy, this century's largest sustained attack on an economical system which overtly privileges the wealthiest and most powerful at the immiserating expense of the poor and even middle classes, earned Stewart's special ire and vitriol. His "comedy" on that issue repeated the usual class divisions we expect from stenographers of power, not allies in social justice.

Third: there is some fantasy on the liberal-left of the United States that while Stewart's show is entertainment or comedy, the Fox News circus is some attempt at real journalism rather than its own special spectacle which gives an entirely different kind of pleasure to its particularly targeted audience. Almond is quite right that Stewart/Colbert and O'Reilly/Limbaugh aren't just two sides of the same Big Top, they're the same damn show. They both disrupt solidarity between their viewers and hold up the status quo. They buy into and distribute hegemonic narratives while ridiculing alternatives. They believe in cheap electoral politics and dismiss or deflect (real) grassroots action. They are curators of the spectacle, not of people and their movements.

It's not unfair to say that Stewart and Colbert are even less relevant and subversive than they used to be. How people who consider themselves progressive and wish to change the way things are (newsflash: things is broken now) can still consider them heroes to the cause is continually, well, baffling to me.
posted by Catchfire at 10:59 PM on July 18, 2012 [29 favorites]


If anything, what Almond claims Stewart and Colbert are guilty of is doubly true of Bill Maher and South Park, so his argument dies and decomposes right there.

We all the remember the Summer of "The Rally to Restore Sanity"... that led to the big 2010 electoral wins for the Tea Party Republicans. Then again, having batshit crazy right-wingers in power gives them more material!
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:05 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


In my opinion, one of the biggest problems with the media in America right now is the nearly complete triumph of tone and style over substance and meaning. Facts are not nearly as important as manners, and the mantra of "both sides do it" is a constant source of comfort to gutless pundits everywhere.

One thing I really like about The Daily Show is how much of the humor is derived from mocking that status quo by bringing the conflict between someone's tone and substance into sharp relief. "Hey", Stewart says, "look at this guy with his fancy suit and his calm platitudes. But think about what he's actually saying for five fucking seconds. Yeah, I thought so too: What an asshole."

Which leads me into something that bothers me quite a bit about Stewart: His insistence that he's just a comedian, therefore he doesn't need to defend anything he says. His defense basically boils down to "I tell a ton of dick jokes, so obviously you can't take what I say seriously."

I mean, yes, of course he is a comedian, and yeah, obviously, I shouldn't expect some sort of deep, hard-hitting analysis every show. But I don't think you can watch the show for any length of time and not see that the jokes are quite often motivated by things that Jon and the writers seriously believe. Tonally and stylistically, it's swears and dicks. But the substance is, occasionally, completely serious.

So it kind of annoys me when after Stewart makes so much hay out of public figures (and hell, entire cable news channels) trying to have it both ways, he does the same fucking thing himself. He gets to make his serious points, quite clear to anybody who has ever watched any comedy ever, but then chooses to completely avoid any responsibility for what he says by flashing a shit-eating grin and saying "hey, don't you get it? I was joking!".

To me, it seems like that excuse undermines the whole show. After spending years pointing out again and again how subtext can be used to quite clearly send certain messages, to turn around and deny the possibility of any sort of subtext on his show is, in my view, hypocritical.

And yes, I'm probably overthinking this, and yes, Stewart's done some good stuff, and I'd much rather have him on the air than not. But I believe our national discourse is greatly harmed by our fact-free media and I think that when Stewart says that he was only joking, he contributes to that culture.
posted by jcreigh at 11:06 PM on July 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


Almond is quite right that Stewart/Colbert and O'Reilly/Limbaugh aren't just two sides of the same Big Top, they're the same damn show.

See, I can just throw out your entire argument.
posted by fleacircus at 11:06 PM on July 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


those who wish to pursue a social program of equality, justice and community and an alternative to the imperialist, neoliberal and capitalist model which daily puts those concepts under threat, Stewart's repeated appeals to the mythology of "moderation" are offensive

No true Scottsman could like Stewart or moderation, but that's beside the point, because no true Scottsman should be watching TV anyway. TV is owned by the man.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:15 PM on July 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


The problem with this line of criticism ("The Daily Show should take its role as INCISIVE POLITICAL/SOCIAL/ECONOMIC COMMENTARY more seriously!") is that it's misplaced. He says that the show is basically a parasite feeding on the insane cable news cycle and only aims to satisfy complacent liberal viewers with its cathartic mocking. And he's exactly right. That's what it is, and that's what I appreciate it for. Demanding it to be something else reminds me of when I was a teenager and I always bitched about how MTV never played 'good' music. People didn't watch MTV to hear whatever I considered to be 'good' music 15 years ago. And no one watches The Daily Show so they can tune in to Chomsky's Un-Comedy Half Hour, or whatever.
posted by palidor at 11:17 PM on July 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Steve Almond appears to be under the impression that comedy has, in some more enlightened past, played a much more substantial role in politics. He might be surprised to learn that social class and income inequality outlived Jonathan Swift.

Put another way, Steve Almond seems, perhaps willfully, to fail to comprehend that if you have not learned to work skilfully in the gray
margins of established power, you're simply not going to have your comedy beamed into hundreds of millions of homes each night.
posted by gompa at 11:17 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Journalist, comedian, whatever...Stewart does the best "real" interviews on television, when he's not talking about fart jokes with Louie C.K. That's not a compliment to Stewart so much as an implicit assault on normal press corp, which is basically impotent and incompetent today.

Examples that come to mind:

His interview (as I remember it) with the Iraqi PM shortly after the Virginia Tech massacre:
J.S.: "So you may have heard that this terrible thing happened here, but events on that scale are happening every day in Iraq right now...how do you handle any of that"
Iraqi PM: "Its really terrible beyond imagining, you really can't"

His two interviews with Mursareff [SP I imagine, but whatever]:
1. J.S.: "Here's some tea, where the fuck is Bin Laden"
2. (shortly after Bin Laden's killing). J.S.: "So you may have heard, we found BL, in your country...what do you have to say about that?"
posted by Chekhovian at 11:19 PM on July 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sure Stewart doesn't intend for his show to inspire any particular action on the part of his viewers--he pokes fun at stupidity and gets laughs. But his interviews take on a different structure. I rarely see him being confrontational. That's a good thing. I don't think he's required to throw hardballs at all his guests. For example, I was surprised when Dick Cheney's wife came on his show, and I was prepared to pity her. He treated her with courtesy, and interviewed her appropriately. I was glad. His interviews have not always gone well. The interview with Chris Matthews comes to mind.

His skits are often outrageous. Hooray for all his senior editors, and their willingness to step out on the end of the plank to deliver the messages.

During interviews, he does sometimes jab the pointed end of his questions into a guest, but for the most part he seems to try for a courteous exchange of views.

Get it?: courteous exchange of views.

I guess if he just wanted to rant, he could do like Almond does, put out a blog and just slog away at it. Or he could just orielly and beck the show until viewers fall to their knees and weep. I like his style better.
posted by mule98J at 11:22 PM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


A few years ago I was studying comedy in England, and my teacher remarked that the reason Britain hadn't had any real revolutions in so long was because we'd gotten so good at satire. He argued that comedy is a release-valve for national dissent, and that no real change could ever come about if populist anger kept getting dissipated by jokes.

It made me feel a little bad about wanting to be a comedian, the idea that I might be acting as an agent of stagnation and complacency. But not bad enough that I would give up the rush of people laughing at my stuff.

I wonder if Jon Stewart ever feels the same way.
posted by aedison at 11:22 PM on July 18, 2012 [17 favorites]


Does he not just mean that we're all snarking rather than getting our
Baader Meinhoff on. You want to make an omelette...
posted by Damienmce at 11:24 PM on July 18, 2012


After loving the Daily Show like everyone else for so many years, I've come around to the view that Jon Stewart is Part of the Problem. So I wanted to like this piece. And there is certainly some great stuff, like "civility at any cost, even in the face of moral atrocity," and the bit about upscale antidepressants.

But praising Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of Team America: World Police, as more radical? He praises them taking on "both the defensive bigotry of conservatives and the self-righteous entitlement of the left," but isn't that basically just another version of what Almond criticizes about Stewart?

Almond's criticisms seem to boil down to Stewart failing to challenge jingoism, but the real problem is opposite one. Stewart is stridently anti-war, and this makes him seem more to the left than he really is. How progressive is opposing war, when even Ron Paul says the same kinds of things? The mistake that everyone makes is thinking that if a person aggressively opposes Republican policies, it must be because the policies they favor are light-years away on the political spectrum.

In a sense, Stewart is right. As he loves to point out, Republicans and Democrats agree on a whole lot of things! So maybe there should be more civility in politics.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:25 PM on July 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Second: for those who wish to pursue a social program of equality, justice and community and an alternative to the imperialist, neoliberal and capitalist model which daily puts those concepts under threat, Stewart's repeated appeals to the mythology of "moderation" are offensive.

Pardon me, but bullshit.

A few years ago, I stumbled (pretty much literally) into a talk that Tom Hayden (60s "radical", one of the Chicago Eight, Jane Fonda's ex,) was giving in Vancouver. Long story short, it was a low key thing, part of a book tour as I recall. But he did touch on one point of maturity (I believe he used that exact word) that it took him many years to arrive at -- that the only meaningful long term resolution of extreme conflicts comes from the moderates on both sides of a given divisive issue finding a way to work together.
posted by philip-random at 11:25 PM on July 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I hope your comedy teacher was making a joke! I find it kind of depressing that we've come to a point where we're blaming comedy for being an impediment to or failing to bring about social change.
posted by palidor at 11:26 PM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


During interviews, he does sometimes jab the pointed end of his questions into a guest, but for the most part he seems to try for a courteous exchange of views.

With people that have book deals with Viacom properties. Like Lynne Cheney.
posted by junco at 11:26 PM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


We can't expect comedians to take the place of a political program. But I've said that before.
posted by wuwei at 11:31 PM on July 18, 2012


During interviews, he does sometimes jab the pointed end of his questions into a guest, but for the most part he seems to try for a courteous exchange of views.

If he jabs too much, then they don't come on his show at all right? He has to balance some kid glove treatment for access, like all interviewers. The contrast is that he jabs at all, which no one else does anymore.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:32 PM on July 18, 2012


To me, it seems like that excuse undermines the whole show. After spending years pointing out again and again how subtext can be used to quite clearly send certain messages, to turn around and deny the possibility of any sort of subtext on his show is, in my view, hypocritical.
But that's why he's never claimed to be anything other than a comedian - we're not supposed to take Stewart seriously. He can be hypocritical or anything else because he's not a paragon of truth. There is truth in the humour, but his show isn't the nightly news. The fact that these guys who are looking to make you laugh end up being more honest than the Serious People who report on things for a living is part of the joke.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:33 PM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sorry, anarchists, but civility in the face of evil is not a flaw.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:34 PM on July 18, 2012 [14 favorites]


It's an example.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:35 PM on July 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


The queasy irony here is that Stewart and Colbert are parasites of the dysfunction they mock.

Another irony is that author is a parasite of the parasites he derides and seems to be pretty much be as dysfuctional as the dysfunction he seems to hate. Weird. By that standard, if he was poop he would be poopier that poop. I guess. Who knows? Who cares?

Ok.....so this guy doesn't like CC and crew. He could have expressed that in a page but like so many angry writers, seems to love seeing his self absorbed, written panache on-screen. So we can't just get a decent concise statement, but are subjected to the drooling of keyboard acrobatics.

Gonna file this article straight into the Who_Pissed_In_My_Cornflakes_?_! folder. Gnite Mr Almond and hey...switch to decaf.
posted by lampshade at 11:36 PM on July 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


The fact that these guys who are looking to make you laugh end up being more honest than the Serious People who report on things for a living is part of the joke.

It shows how degraded American institutions are that so many people expect comedians to fill the roles of journalists, and journalists the role of political leaders, and political leaders the role of revolutionaries.
posted by wuwei at 11:37 PM on July 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


Sorry, anarchists, but civility in the face of evil is not a flaw.

Pretending to be the opposition but ruthlessly mocking real opposition while making nice with the evil is pretty goddamned flawed, though.

I like TDS. It's funny. But it's a horrible, horrible shame that it's one of the most progressive shows on TV; that just hows how far to the right the Overton Window has been pulled.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:47 PM on July 18, 2012 [28 favorites]


An interesting article, thanks for posting it. I'm not surprised at the avalanche of defensive comments in this thread. You all are supposed to be made uncomfortable. We're all too comfortable. Instead of trying to reassure us from your couch that the message of the article isn't to be taken seriously for one reason or another, embrace your discomfort and try to alleviate it by channeling it into action.
posted by Kwine at 11:47 PM on July 18, 2012 [12 favorites]


civility in the face of evil

That's really the question here isn't it? How does one be civil and yet not impotent? I understand the anarchist rage here, but bomb throwing doesn't do anything, unless a very large fraction of the population is doing it, witness Egypt. Until you have that level of support, other methods are needed.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:48 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


So it kind of annoys me when after Stewart makes so much hay out of public figures (and hell, entire cable news channels) trying to have it both ways, he does the same fucking thing himself. He gets to make his serious points, quite clear to anybody who has ever watched any comedy ever, but then chooses to completely avoid any responsibility for what he says by flashing a shit-eating grin and saying "hey, don't you get it? I was joking!".

Just once I'd like to see someone who thinks Stewart has some kind of responsibility to do something more than tell jokes and entertain people explain what exactly they think he should be doing and why they think it would be worthwhile and effective.

We all the remember the Summer of "The Rally to Restore Sanity"... that led to the big 2010 electoral wins for the Tea Party Republicans.

If you seriously believe that the Democrats might have re-taken the House if only John Stewart's rally had been all about defeating Republicans, I think you need another dose of Restoring Sanity.
posted by straight at 11:49 PM on July 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


That's really the question here isn't it? How does one be civil and yet not impotent? I understand the anarchist rage here, but bomb throwing doesn't do anything, unless a very large fraction of the population is doing it, witness Egypt. Until you have that level of support, other methods are needed.

Nobody in this thread, or in the article, is talking about "throwing bombs" or "anarchy", or anything close. The way that so many of the posters in this thread are conflating criticism of Stewart's complicity with neoliberal corporatism and actual, physical violence is deeply telling and really, really disappointing.
posted by junco at 11:52 PM on July 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


Nobody in this thread, or in the article, is talking about "throwing bombs" or "anarchy", or anything close. The way that so many of the posters in this thread are conflating criticism of Stewart's complicity with neoliberal corporatism and actual, physical violence is deeply telling and really, really disappointing.

"Pointed sarcasm isn't working and we're all out of ideas!"
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:53 PM on July 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


MeFi seems to have been posting a lot of self-important op-eds recently regarding this lawn I'm standing on, and about how their authors, presuming themselves the proprietors, would like me to make a hasty egress.

Having checked the permits, I have confirmed that I am, in fact, standing on my own lawn. I shall continue to do so, thanks very much.
posted by belarius at 11:54 PM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Civility never works in the face of evil. As uncomfortable as it is, real change only comes after angry mobs have smashed some shit up.

And there's a reason why companies like Fox keep jokers on their payroll. Every time The Simpsons tells us Murdoch is evil is a time when we're less likely to do anything about it ourself.

Comedians preserve the status quo. Counterintuitive, but true.
posted by zoo at 11:55 PM on July 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


You all are supposed to be made uncomfortable. We're all too comfortable. Instead of trying to reassure us from your couch that the message of the article isn't to be taken seriously for one reason or another, embrace your discomfort and try to alleviate it by channeling it into action.

It's possible to appreciate The Daily Show's role as relatively lighthearted humor and take serious action towards social change at the same time.
posted by palidor at 11:56 PM on July 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


conflating criticism of Stewart's complicity with neoliberal corporatism and actual, physical violence

Oh blah. Issue wise its hard to find anyone to the left of me, but personality wise ugh. I don't very much enjoy the killjoy stick in the mud literalist attitude that my nominal compatriots espouse. This Almond fellow considers himself a brilliant humorist. Please.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:57 PM on July 18, 2012


Colbert, Stephen, stop hurting America.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:58 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pretending to be the opposition but ruthlessly mocking real opposition while making nice with the evil is pretty goddamned flawed, though.

To accept this statement on its face is to presume that Stewart is required to agree with you on who the "real opposition" is. Perhaps he is opposed to those you are opposed to and still doesn't agree with you on who the real opposition is. (Okay - that just made me dizzy.)

embrace your discomfort and try to alleviate it by channeling it into action

The insinuation that those who enjoy TDS are not already politically active is frankly pretty offensive.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:58 PM on July 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


Comedians preserve the status quo. Counterintuitive, but true.

Yeah, Colbert making fun of Bush to his face at that press corp dinner was the reason why Bush's popularity immediately surged up afterward, and the entire nation grew to love and appreciate him.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:59 PM on July 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


Comedians preserve the status quo. Counterintuitive, but true.

I really don't think so. Most people go from knowledge to anger, then despair and then apathy. That's why so many young people don't vote. Comedy can be (but doesn't have to be) a way to get people thinking about things they'd usually dismiss, and thus keep apathy at bay for a while.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:00 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I liked Steve Almond's book about candy.

That's all I know him from too. That book was awesome.

I wish he'd just stuck to writing about candy. Chocolate in particular.
posted by discopolo at 12:04 AM on July 19, 2012


If you seriously believe that the Democrats might have re-taken the House if only John Stewart's rally had been all about defeating Republicans...

No, he had no obligation to do so, but somebody should have, because turnout at the polls in November went up for the GOP and down for everyone else. When the Already Sane restore their Sanity, the Batshit Insane win.

But IMO the gold standard for smart AND dangerous comedy was George Carlin, not Hicks. And he made this closing statement in his 2005 show (three minutes with no real laugh lines) that showed how much he had figured it all out before most of us.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:08 AM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I got this issue in the mail yesterday or the day before...there's some good stuff (I loved the article about Adam Wheeler, who lied his way into Harvard and won several awards via plagiarism). There's a lot of good stuff.

BUT the Stewart/Colbert ARTICLE bugged me so much, I've been ranting about it ever since (it's like they're my sacred cows or something--I can't help but be defensive). Ugh.
Stewart's Crossfire, Jim Cramer, and countless GOP skewers along with Colbert's Press Dinner speech--to Bush's face--are enough to earn them both Bill Hicks & Lenny Bruce cred for life.
posted by whatgorilla at 12:09 AM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh blah. Issue wise its hard to find anyone to the left of me, but personality wise ugh. I don't very much enjoy the killjoy stick in the mud literalist attitude that my nominal compatriots espouse. This Almond fellow considers himself a brilliant humorist. Please.

...ok? The article was rather poorly written (I was terribly irked by the misuse of "quantum", myself) -- so what? The main point -- that Stewart et al. have a vested interest in not pushing back very hard against their corporate masters and that much of his show serves as advertising for them isn't really debatable, although it's one that (evidence abounds in this thread) an awful lot of people really want to disbelieve. He's funny, sure -- at least he used to be when I watched him, and at any rate likely a much better comedian than the author of the Baffler piece -- but that's not really relevant to the discussion, except in the refrain of "He makes me laugh, so this obvious observation about his role in normalizing the current economic/political environment through soft satire becomes unthinkable" that we keep hearing here. Why is one who points out this troubling function of his humor a "killjoy literalist"? If it weren't true, or didn't matter, why would pointing it out affect anyone's appreciation of it, or cause such a defensive reaction?
posted by junco at 12:12 AM on July 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Second: for those who wish to pursue a social program of equality, justice and community and an alternative to the imperialist, neoliberal and capitalist model which daily puts those concepts under threat, Stewart's repeated appeals to the mythology of "moderation" are offensive.

BFD!

Seriously, I can't think of a cogent response to this, it's like a parody of itself.
posted by Snyder at 12:12 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


To accept this statement on its face is to presume that Stewart is required to agree with you on who the "real opposition" is.

That doesn't make a lick of sense. You are denying me the right to interpret reality as it appears to me. I believe things are one way; Stewart believes that they are another. This isn't "presuming" anything. It is valuing my own judgment over somebody else's, which is what pretty much everybody does.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:13 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Civility never works in the face of evil. As uncomfortable as it is, real change only comes after angry mobs have smashed some shit up.

Angry mobs are just as likely to be the evil as the solution. And not all change is progress. That's why we need civility too. A bit of revolution is necessary now and again. But neverending revolution never makes way for evolution.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:13 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I do appreciate that this is a higher quality of link bait than I typically read. It still did multiple pages for extra views, but it respected my intelligence by using big words and some concepts I learned in my freshman year world civ class.

I will still enjoy laughing at Stewart and Colbert, but will pine for the golden years of mainstream political comedy, like when Bob Hope would say things like "wow, politicians, they sure are dumb."
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:14 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The insinuation that those who enjoy TDS are not already politically active is frankly pretty offensive.

That you read this into what I said is pretty interesting in the context of what I said and what the article says, but neverthless I insinuated no such thing.
posted by Kwine at 12:15 AM on July 19, 2012


yyyyaaaaaaAAAAAWWWWWWWWwwwwnnnn

What a lame, tedious crank. It's not so complicated, Almond: if you don't see the comedy you want to see out there in the world, you fucking make it yourself, not scold others for failing to make it for you.
posted by EatTheWeak at 12:18 AM on July 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Stewart et al. have a vested interest in not pushing back very hard against their corporate masters and that much of his show serves as advertising for them isn't really debatable, although it's one that (evidence abounds in this thread) an awful lot of people really want to disbelieve.

WHAT? You're saying that Stewart and Colbert et al could unilaterally change the nation if just decided to? WTF? I think they do a pretty good job of pushing back, within the constraints of our general societal structure. They could be more extreme sure, like this Almond asshole, then 10 only 10 people on the web would ever hear about it.

I mean wtf, should they not have ads on their shows? Who pays for it then, the magical basic cable fairy?
posted by Chekhovian at 12:19 AM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Angry mobs are just as likely to be the evil as the solution. And not all change is progress. That's why we need civility too. A bit of revolution is necessary now and again. But neverending revolution never makes way for evolution.

Historically you need the peaceful people and the violent people, with the peaceful people offering the carrot of negotiation and the violent people the stick of, well, violence. With the stick in one hand, the carrot looks much more tempting.

Liberals have got it into their heads that the stick is immoral and abominable and even worse than the people it's for hitting, and that the only moral path is to hold out the carrot and beg the enemy to take it. They even lie to themselves about Indian independence and the Civil Rights Movement so that they can feel like the carrot without the stick is not only more moral and tasteful but more effective.

And that's a big part of why liberalism has become the hollow, sad shell that it has.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:19 AM on July 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


Comedians preserve the status quo. Counterintuitive, but true.

cite.

But IMO the gold standard for smart AND dangerous comedy was George Carlin, not Hicks. And he made this closing statement in his 2005 show (three minutes with no real laugh lines)

So, smart AND dangerous comedy isn't funny?
posted by philip-random at 12:21 AM on July 19, 2012


you're killing me
posted by philip-random at 12:22 AM on July 19, 2012


From Wikipedia:

Almond served as adjunct professor in creative writing at Boston College for five years until publishing an open letter of resignation in the The Boston Globe on May 12, 2006, in which he explained that his resignation was intended to protest the selection of Condoleezza Rice as the college's 2006 commencement guest speaker.


I think he wishes Jon Stewart would have quit his job too, and then they could have been best friends like they're supposed to be.

What was quitting his job supposed to achieve? I wonder who replaced him. Seems like a dream gig for someone with published works and an MFA.
posted by discopolo at 12:23 AM on July 19, 2012


Well, at least we can be comfortable knowing that as crazy as Steve Almond might sound while critiquing Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert, he isn't a real nut.
posted by Drumhellz at 12:25 AM on July 19, 2012


WHAT? You're saying that Stewart and Colbert et al could unilaterally change the nation if just decided to? WTF? I think they do a pretty good job of pushing back, within the constraints of our general societal structure. They could be more extreme sure, like this Almond asshole, then 10 only 10 people on the web would ever hear about it.

No, I didn't say anything like that, and I didn't mean to imply that I thought they could. First, when I said much of their show is advertising for their corporate parents, I meant specifically that the interview subjects are very often people who have published books / starred in productions / etc. with one of Viacom's companies -- not that they have interstitial ads during their shows.

Second, this isn't about Stewart or Colbert or whoever as an individual and their individual choices -- it's about the role of humor as catharsis for political frustrations and the way that power uses that to its own benefit. It's even more blatant on the network late night comedy shows too (Letterman is a good example, and I even think he's a better comedian than Stewart!)
posted by junco at 12:27 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


How does "power" use that to its own benefit? What is "power" in this context? I might be misunderstanding, but the idea that political comedy somehow dissipates frustration that would otherwise lead to some kind of positive action is, uh, problematic. The implication is that comedy is, like, hurting America. And honestly following that line of thought you might as well say that all entertainment is damaging to social progress. Which, actually, I'd be more willing to accept than if you're just singling out comedy. Television being the opiate of the masses and all. Not that I really accept that idea, though.
posted by palidor at 12:34 AM on July 19, 2012


junco: I meant specifically that the interview subjects are very often people who have published books / starred in productions / etc. with one of Viacom's companies -- not that they have interstitial ads during their shows.

This would be interesting to follow up on, but "very often" isn't a strong measurement when this is true simply because Viacom is a conglomerate with fingers in many pies. What is Stewart and Colbert's record on having people on who Viacom doesn't directly have a stake in?

I'd imagine that political guests are exempted from this, but not media ones -- we know that Brian Williams is a frequent guest but he works for a rival network, for instance, which is a point against your claim. Same goes for their shenanigans with Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Fallon. I have to say, a cursory examination puts your argument at a disadvantage.
posted by JHarris at 12:36 AM on July 19, 2012


I meant specifically that the interview subjects are very often people who have published books / starred in productions / etc. with one of Viacom's companies

BFD
it's about the role of humor as catharsis for political frustrations


Claiming this is true does not make it true
posted by Chekhovian at 12:36 AM on July 19, 2012


You are denying me the right to interpret reality as it appears to me.

Wasn't trying to deny you anything. I was pointing out that whether or not one of Stewart's flaws is mocking real opposition depends on who is defining "real opposition."

Historically you need the peaceful people and the violent people, with the peaceful people offering the carrot of negotiation and the violent people the stick of, well, violence. With the stick in one hand, the carrot looks much more tempting.

I agree, to a point. But I would go a little further and say that peace has to be more than a carrot, it has to be the end goal. Otherwise you wind up with nothing more than endless violent regime change. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, etc. Without peace as thehonest end goal, even when things change, they never change.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:37 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's possible to appreciate The Daily Show's role as relatively lighthearted humor and take serious action towards social change at the same time.

but earlier in the thread you said,

He says that the show is basically a parasite feeding on the insane cable news cycle and only aims to satisfy complacent liberal viewers with its cathartic mocking. And he's exactly right. That's what it is, and that's what I appreciate it for.

Those views are incompatible. If you are serious about social change, and you think that TDS only aims to satisfy complacent liberal viewers with its cathartic mocking, then TDS is your enemy. Right? You have to take on the view of the complacent liberal viewer to make your point make sense later in the thread. Isn't that troubling?
posted by Kwine at 12:40 AM on July 19, 2012


And there's a reason why companies like Fox keep jokers on their payroll. Every time The Simpsons tells us Murdoch is evil is a time when we're less likely to do anything about it ourself.

I don't think that's true; The Simpsons, to my knowledge, have always worked hard at puncturing anything they find stupid, which might be part of Matt Groening's influence. But there is something that's bothered me about another of Fox's shows, Family Guy. There is an episode where they have Rush Limbaugh, that rancid blowhard, on, and the whole thing is just an excuse to legitimize the guy. Not that they don't get their tame jokes in at his expense, but just doing it, having a whole show about Limbaugh, is unspeakable. The smoking gun is none of the jokes really had a serious danger of puncturing the man -- not a word about his Oxycontin abuse for example.

Basically, the show bent over backwards to make him seem like a necessary weight on a seesaw, which of course is just another step in moving the Overton window over. And then they did it again in an episode on Fox News.
posted by JHarris at 12:48 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Kwine: If you did not intend to suggest that those defending TDS are not already politically active, please explain what you mean by "Instead of trying to reassure us from your couch that the message of the article isn't to be taken seriously for one reason or another, embrace your discomfort and try to alleviate it by channeling it into action."

What action are you referring to, then, if not action not already... actively active? Honestly maybe not understanding what you are trying to say if not that.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:51 AM on July 19, 2012


Maybe it's impossible to be compassionate and funny at the same time. Or maybe it's possible. The Dalai Lama is pretty funny. There should be a Dalai Show.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:53 AM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I was excited about the premise of this piece; after reading the comments here, it seems it was poorly executed at best.

STILL,

Nothing's perfect. Criticize everything. The Daily Show is one of the best things that's happened to TV in my life and was a shining light in dark times. BUT it's been around for a while and it's not gonna kill anyone (or make us enjoy the show any less) to ask ourselves how we could do better.
posted by victory_laser at 12:56 AM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


There should be a Dalai Show.

*Pacific Rimshot*
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:59 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Guys, stop with the wordplay and let's get back to the pundits.
posted by victory_laser at 1:02 AM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


What action are you referring to, then, if not action not already... actively active?

Man - even I can't parse that. It's getting late, and I can't even make sense of my own comments anymore, let alone give any of your comments the careful reading they deserve. Gonna call it a night. Sorry if I pissed in anybody's cornflakes.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:07 AM on July 19, 2012


Kwine: An interesting article, thanks for posting it. I'm not surprised at the avalanche of defensive comments in this thread. You all are supposed to be made uncomfortable. We're all too comfortable. Instead of trying to reassure us from your couch that the message of the article isn't to be taken seriously for one reason or another, embrace your discomfort and try to alleviate it by channeling it into action.
This. A thousand times. The response here so far reminds me of the crowds of denialists who turn up on AskMe whenever someone dares to suggest that spending 18 hours of every day surfing for p0rn and playing X-Box in a bong-strewn apartment while "ironically" listening to T.I. might not be the pinnacle of human achievement for a 38-year-old.

It's not exactly an edifying sight, guys.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:19 AM on July 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


I find Colbert to be great satire. There were fucking Republicans that thought he was one for a long time. Stewart, not so much, although I do get a chuckle from the show, thanks to its supporting cast (of which Colbert was once a member).
posted by readyfreddy at 1:40 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find it troubling that what often passes as a political discussion is to rehash the latest Stewart/Colbert episode.

They are product pure and simple. Multi-millionaires working for billionaires.
posted by pianomover at 1:44 AM on July 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is a terrible essay, both from a humor standpoint and from a basic "supporting points with evidence" standpoint.

Lines like, "They prefer Horatian satire to Juvenalian, and thus treat the ills of modern media and politics as matters of folly, not concerted evil," are things that sound smart but are idiotic statements to make, especially without any direct support.

Points worth making just off that bit of inanity: Juvenal is actually wildly conservative, not radical — his satires almost always focus on the decline of moral norms, with hyperbolic outrage toward things like women's immodesty or the risk of foreign actors corrupting the youth. He's got a real hate-on for Greeks that just reads like current anti-immigrant dross, with repeated complaints about laziness and taking jobs, along with the repeated fear that because of a loss of tradition, Rome was no longer Roman. Further, Roman satires aren't necessarily funny, per se, and Juvenal is certainly less funny than Horace (unless my terrible schoolboy Latin and dodgy translations are to blame). Horace has allegory and subtlety that Juvenal never touches.

He's equally off on Horace, in large part because Horace generally eschewed political satire — something that can't be said honestly about Colbert or Stewart without looking like a ripe idiot. Horace's satires are almost entirely aimed at daily life — a good analogue is Mark Twain. Now, would it be fair to excoriate Mark Twain for his failure to attack every contemporary robber baron, instead writing about Connecticut Yankees in King Arthur's Court or frog contests? So, if it's not that, what is it about Horace that annoys him? Where he may have had a point is Horace's epicurean and Aristotelian exalting of the moderate life, but even that's often a comic pose with Horace — Horace's argument for not fucking married noblewomen is sex with anyone is as good as sex with anyone else, so why risk it.

Likewise, Almond cherry-picks complaints about Colbert and Stewart while conversely lauding South Park to such an extent that I wonder if he's watched more than a handful of episodes. For every insightful barb they have, Parker and Stone let loose twenty lazy smug jabs at anyone not libertarian — which is just an easy proxy for idealized remove as Colbert and Stewart's "moderation."

Combine that with an unfocused adherence to incoherent hyperbole like calling Colbert's trip to the troops "flag fellating" makes this come across like Almond was more concerned with being clever than being smart. It's a trap that critics fall into frequently, and it's a hard one to avoid, but that doesn't mean this wasn't a crappy essay.
posted by klangklangston at 2:12 AM on July 19, 2012 [23 favorites]


Rachel Maddow Interviews Jon Stewart

Stewart and Maddow: Civilly Warring
posted by homunculus at 2:16 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seems like everyone wants to get on the Jonathan Franzen bandwagon of being a cranky contrarian about innocuous things people like.

That seemed to be one of the key points of Almond's rant.
posted by fairmettle at 2:26 AM on July 19, 2012


Finally, an answer to the age-old riddle, "what is the sound of one hand wanking?"
posted by Red Loop at 2:58 AM on July 19, 2012


I liked him better when he was with Soft Cell.
posted by kcds at 3:03 AM on July 19, 2012


More like Steve Almons White, amirite?

Me, I like Bill Hicks. I think that America doesn't appreciate Bill Jicks is a flaw that borders on criminal. But if you go around acting like everything has to be be Bill Hicks then you become a ridiculous bore.
posted by Artw at 3:05 AM on July 19, 2012


I liked Bill Hicks a lot better before I went back and listened to him again and noticed all the misogyny, homophobia, and stupid hippie-ass "drugs will set you free!" nonsense. Dude had some funny jokes but really, not a horse I want to attach a cart to.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:11 AM on July 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


The role of the court jester is not to rally the king. The role of the jester is to make the king think about things by presenting alternate viewpoints.

And since, in a republic democracy like America putatively is, the people are the king, both Stewart and Colbert are doing the right thing as our court jesters.

They are making us think.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:18 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read this a few days ago and thought it was a rather good critique of both shows. The problem with them is that a large portion of the public in the USA believes they present a very Left point of view. - when in fact they don't and they specifically shy away from anything too provocatively Left. Hence further pushing the perceived width political spectrum towards the right.

(as the Rights media presence is actually dominated by extremists.)

There really is not Left presence in the Mainstream Media - and I think understanding the interplay of economic interests concerning Cobert and Stewart explain why they may be.
posted by mary8nne at 3:50 AM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I haven't had cable since 2007 (and I stopped watching The Daily Show a year or two before that), so I don't have any in-depth experience with Stewart. I do remember, however, the False Equivalency March on Washington that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert put together in 2010, and I went with some friends. The turnout was pretty huge.

And it was followed in very short order by the Teabagger Revolution in Congress. Now, if Stewart would have turned his comedy on his own operation, he'd probably have found it sadly funny that his explicit endorsement of centrist politics would have been repudiated so decisively so shortly after he did it.
posted by jhandey at 3:59 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


What progressives need is to more vigorously attack and alienate allies who aren't sufficiently progressive.

Why?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:00 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


They are product pure and simple. Multi-millionaires working for billionaires.

But that's not really accurate, is it? That they're just product. I don't think so many people here would be defending them if that is all they were.

As for how much money they have, well, that's just a smokescreen. The fact that a lot of really evil people are rich doesn't mean that good people can't sometimes have money, with some skill and some luck, at least not as things currently stand.
posted by JHarris at 4:20 AM on July 19, 2012


That was sarcasm I believe.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:22 AM on July 19, 2012


^to ECs "why?"
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:23 AM on July 19, 2012


Anyway, I love Steve Almond and think he is very very funny when he tries to be. Listen to his interview on Marc Marons WTF for a better picture of his point of view. I don't agree with his premise here (that comedy SHOULD challange the status quo) but I do agree that this form of comedic satire is designed for pleasure more than for changing perspectives.

If you want to see what an actual anarchist talk show would look like check out the Eric Andre show. Hurry, before they bury it in the samw unmarked grave where Mr. Show, Wondershowzen and the Chris Rock talk show were tossed.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:28 AM on July 19, 2012


The role of the court jester is not to rally the king.

No, it was to criticize the king in a sociably acceptable way. But if the fool's barbs got too pointed he would be whipped, or worse.

There is a long tradition of people in power trying to show they can take a joke. Generally, they can, up to a point. I have much appreciation for TDS and Colbert, but there is some value in remembering that humor can be a safety valve that allows us to let off steam, and that dictators often cloak themselves in a disguise of self-effacing good humor. There is a reason Stewart is squarely centrist like his is -- because anybody else would be off the air.

This wasn't a great essay. But it is useful to know the limitations of our comics, and one of Stewart's is that he's sort of the middle child of comedy, trying to make peace. Which is not unusually liberal, but does seem naive when you consider that one side has declared all out war against the other, and benefits from that war, and calls for centrism don't do much to forward any liberal agenda, but do a great, if accidental, job of setting it up for attack.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:36 AM on July 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Me and Steve Almond exchanged candy bars once. He was a nice guy.
posted by jonmc at 4:44 AM on July 19, 2012


I send Daily Show clips to my extremely conservative mother from time to time. It has had an observable impact on her beliefs.

Some comedy is edgy, and it has a fantastic ability to push the boundaries. That's not the only way for comedy to effect social change, though.

Stewart and Colbert are gateways. They provide cover for liberal viewpoints by presenting them in a context that's less likely to cause a knee-jerk rejection among conservatives. They may or may not actually agree with your particular blend of left-leaning views, but they don't have to because they're bringing others closer to you who might.

I think the Overton Window is a real and insidious thing, but it's not the only sociological phenomenon at play. I think Stewart and Colbert (and Stone and Parker, and Groening in his time) are effective at shifting people leftward within the window.

Also, they're funny.
posted by Riki tiki at 5:02 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


This. A thousand times. The response here so far reminds me of the crowds of denialists who turn up on AskMe whenever someone dares to suggest that spending 18 hours of every day surfing for p0rn and playing X-Box in a bong-strewn apartment while "ironically" listening to T.I. might not be the pinnacle of human achievement for a 38-year-old.

It's not exactly an edifying sight, guys.
posted by Sonny Jim at 10:19 PM on July 18 [2 favorites +] [!]


That's a very defensive reaction, Sonny Jim. Does the quality of Colbert and TDS make you feel uncomfortable?
posted by Sebmojo at 5:08 AM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


From the Chris Wallace interview last year:
STEWART: I think you're right. I think we should have more full context and more of the types of things that you're talking about. But I don't understand how that's purely a liberal or conservative bias. That's, like I said, sensationalist and somewhat lazy. But I don't understand how that's partisan.

The embarrassment is that I'm given credibility in this world because of the disappointment that the public has in what the news media does.
Anyone who blames Jon Stewart or Colbert for finding a way to sneak at least a little more reality into American culture has the cart and doesn't know what a horse is. Colbert and Stewart aren't going to risk losing their voice (and their jobs) overreaching to (allegedly) legitimize themselves for a handful of critics that won't be pleased with anything but some stoic on-air career suicide that would make headlines for a few days before they disappeared from our memory.

Stewart and Colbert never claimed to be part of the fourth estate, but they are serving America better in that post than any other news organization right now, perhaps with the exception of Democracy Now. What needs to happen next is journalists need to take that as a sign that they are failing at their profession and straighten up and start doing their jobs again. We need to stop monetizing crap news. But it's a lot easier to sell an article that blames the only two saints in the situation, because the truth involves the writer and his audience actually doing something, and how well is that going to sell?
posted by deanklear at 5:09 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


What progressives need is to more vigorously attack and alienate allies who aren't sufficiently progressive.

This is obviously sarcasm, but the thing of it is that progressives need to think long and hard about who they're making common cause with. Yes, it's nice to have allies, but if those allies are dragging you to the right and thereby diluting your cause, you need to stop and ask yourself what having those allies is doing for you. Having "allies" generically means nothing if they aren't getting you what you want. If you're compromising to make allies but aren't getting anything for yourself, you're not compromising- you're just giving away the things you want to gain, which is stupid and counterproductive.

Possibly the absolute stupidest fucking thing the Democrats have done over the past twenty years has been the cheerful welcoming of RINOs chased out of the GOP for being insufficiently left; while yes, it's nice to have numbers, over the same period the Democratic Party has drifted inexorably to right as Republican castoffs come in. A Democratic Party that stands for what the GOP used to stand for is of no use to anybody I care to acknowledge; a Democratic Party that increasingly caters to business while throwing out the occasional socially liberal bone is nothing more than an engine for pulling otherwise decent people to the right.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:23 AM on July 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


It is the desired result of a sustained campaign waged by corporations, lobbyists, politicians, and demagogues who have placed private gain over the common good.

Or, more accurately, it is the desired result of a sustained campaign waged by people who have a different concept of the common good than you do.

Almond seems to believe that his moral persuasions are presumptively and even axiomatically valid and correct. The idea that our current political situation is caused by genuine disagreements about what the common good is and ought to be doesn't seem to enter into his analysis at all.

But while they don't explicitly say it, Stewart and Colbert do seem to at least understand that that might be what's going on. The move towards civility seems, in my mind at least, to be motivated by a sense that (1) there are some fundamental, good faith disagreements about how people want the world to look, but (2) despite that, there are still significant points of common ground which can be negotiated. Almond doesn't even really seem to consider the first one.

This, I think, is actually something that conservatives sort of instinctively "get" that escapes a lot of liberals. Many liberal critiques of conservatism are patently ad hominem, or at least implicitly so. The accusations of racism, bigotry, religious fundamentalism, lack of education, whatever. But conservative critiques of liberalism, if no more pleasant, frequently contain some thread of understanding that there is an operative narrative on the other side. That narrative is roundly rejected, but it's at least acknowledged.

So this sort of attack is wildly misguided. When liberals accuse conservatives of bad faith, that's the end of any potential compromise. Only the conservative end of the spectrum has a fairly strong unifying narrative, and the liberal end doesn't. So when it comes to a throw-down, drag-out, conservatives tend to wipe the floor with the opposition. The Republicans seem to be more effective in the majority and the minority than the Democrats.
posted by valkyryn at 5:33 AM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


What a bunch of self-important horseshit. Dude needs an editor. The author's second paragraph alone is damn near "heart attack" territory, according to the Writer's Diet.

By the way, anyone who wonders about the relevance of Stewart/Colbert and the role of comedy as social commentary really oughta spend a night enjoying Sullivan's Travels.
posted by sixpack at 5:34 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: What a bunch of self-important horseshit.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 5:36 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is this something I'd need Dish Network to understand?
posted by triggerfinger at 5:37 AM on July 19, 2012


When liberals accuse conservatives of bad faith, that's the end of any potential compromise. Only the conservative end of the spectrum has a fairly strong unifying narrative, and the liberal end doesn't. So when it comes to a throw-down, drag-out, conservatives tend to wipe the floor with the opposition. The Republicans seem to be more effective in the majority and the minority than the Democrats.

I don't think this is entirely true. And to the extent that is true, it's because (IMO) liberals espouse more "nebulous" concepts of what society should be. Organizing people with liberal ideas really is like herding cats - which is both a feature and a bug.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:44 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Technically this is something you'd need something other than Dish Network to understand.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:44 AM on July 19, 2012


The problem, valkyryn, is that Republicans are all too happy to use disingenuous threads in their yarn-spinning. So while their tapestry may hang together in a big picture, it disintegrates when touched. Their words make sentences and paragraphs and essays with excellent macro-scale structure, so anyone not paying attention will think they make sense, but they actually do not.

And that's the problem Democrats have with engaging with Republicans. How do you engage with someone who will simply redefine words to suit their own needs, willy-nilly? Who will baldly deny actual facts and simultaneously claim patent lies are God's own truth?

And yes, of course there are different world-views at play. And that would be fine, if both sides were willing to use the same rhetorical toolset. They are not.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:52 AM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


The problem, valkyryn, is that Republicans are all too happy to use disingenuous threads in their yarn-spinning. So while their tapestry may hang together in a big picture, it disintegrates when touched. Their words make sentences and paragraphs and essays with excellent macro-scale structure, so anyone not paying attention will think they make sense, but they actually do not.

You're proving valkyryn's point. Your criticism of Republicans is both ad hominem ("they're happily dishonest") and axiomatic ("their narratives are non-sensical"). It's pretty hard to have a discussion in good faith without a degree of Socratic humility--even for the sake of argument--and a measure of charity for the other side.
posted by BobbyVan at 6:03 AM on July 19, 2012


Stewart's superhero like destruction of Crossfire alone, is enough to grant him an honored place in Valhalla.

It's too bad Tucker Carlson didn't stay out of the media entirely. The Daily Caller is a disgrace...I mean...holy shit look at this.

It would be more accurate to describe our golden age of political comedy as the peak output of a lucrative corporate plantation whose chief export is a cheap and powerful opiate for progressive angst and rage.

Yeah, pretty much. But Stewart and Colbert both have moments where they go way beyond that. You can't be transcendently subversive four times a week every week no matter how good you are.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:03 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I do remember, however, the False Equivalency March on Washington that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert put together in 2010, and I went with some friends. The turnout was pretty huge. And it was followed in very short order by the Teabagger Revolution in Congress.

The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was held three days before the elections, after nearly two years of constant Tea Party drum-pounding. It wasn't going to turn the world around to rational centrism on a dime, and it wasn't intended to.
posted by Etrigan at 6:05 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


::Gets done first page::

Holy shit! There are 3 MORE?

::X::
posted by zephyr_words at 6:17 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


>The problem, valkyryn, is that Republicans are all too happy to use disingenuous threads in their yarn-spinning....

You're proving valkyryn's point.


Pretty much. It's one thing to accuse the other side of being wrong. That's okay. It's another to accuse the other side of being disingenuous. That's the end of conversation. It's essentially declaring that we are done with trying to achieve a civil polity and using politics as an alternative means of civil war.

And hey, maybe you think that's okay. But to the extent that this:

liberals espouse more "nebulous" concepts of what society should be.

is true, it's worth pointing out that having a "nebulous" concept isn't how you win at politics, electoral or otherwise.
posted by valkyryn at 6:23 AM on July 19, 2012


I say again: for there to be discourse, there must be a common set of rhetorical tools in play. Otherwise both sides are simply whistling in the wind. If that's y'all point, then I agree with it.

The problem in this instance is that the Right is willing to misuse the Left's tools. Should the Left then start misusing those tools also? Is that your suggestion?

You might as well suggest to the clathrates that they stay in the permafrost rather than evaporate and expect them do so with the power of your argument.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:36 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


There must be over fifty thousand
Screaming love and more for you
Everyone of fifty thousand
Would do whatever you ask him to
Keep them yelling their devotion
But add a touch of hate at conservatives
You will rise to a greater power
We will win ourselves come home
You'll get the power and the glory
For ever and ever and ever
You got the power and the glory
For ever and ever and ever
Amen! Amen!
posted by charred husk at 6:40 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


This, I think, is actually something that conservatives sort of instinctively "get" that escapes a lot of liberals. Many liberal critiques of conservatism are patently ad hominem, or at least implicitly so. The accusations of racism, bigotry, religious fundamentalism, lack of education, whatever. But conservative critiques of liberalism, if no more pleasant, frequently contain some thread of understanding that there is an operative narrative on the other side. That narrative is roundly rejected, but it's at least acknowledged.

I have seen far too many conservative ad hominems, etc. to take this appraisal seriously. Ad hominems and bad arguments are endemic to every ideology.

Just yesterday, I was pawing through The Essential Neoconservative Reader, and what struck me most was how right there in the introduction, James Q. Wilson himself exasperated could not articulate a more coherent explanation of neoconservatism - or even conservatism - other than the oft-quoted idea that "neoconservatives are liberals mugged by reality." Neoconservatives look at studies to draw their conclusions, but just in a way that's better than liberals, etc. etc. etc.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:44 AM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Our lazy embrace of Stewart and Colbert is a testament to our own impoverished comic standards. We have come to accept coy mockery as genuine subversion and snarky mimesis as originality.

We have? Who did he survey? How does he know "we" are lazily embacing these shows? How is one's comic standard defined by liking Stewart/Colbert? What about the other things that we find funny?

And yes, I'm probably overthinking this, and yes, Stewart's done some good stuff, and I'd much rather have him on the air than not. But I believe our national discourse is greatly harmed by our fact-free media and I think that when Stewart says that he was only joking, he contributes to that culture.

Stewart says this precisely because of how absurd the main stream media has become. It's part of the message, part of the joke.

The problem with them is that a large portion of the public in the USA believes they present a very Left point of view. - when in fact they don't and they specifically shy away from anything too provocatively Left. Hence further pushing the perceived width political spectrum towards the right.

How is this their problem? If it is a problem at all it is a problem with the audience misperceiving them. Do you have a source for the study that proves a large portion of the public in the States believes they present a very "Left" point of view? Are Stewart/Colbert pretending that they do? I have no problem believing it's likely that those in the Tea Party believe Stewart/Colbert are "lefties" or "socialists" but I had no idea that viewers would believe them anything other than reasonable.

There really is not Left presence in the Mainstream Media - and I think understanding the interplay of economic interests concerning Cobert and Stewart explain why they may be.

There hasn't been a "Left" presence in the mainstream media well before Stewart/Colbert came along. Just because there is a very strong partisan right presence in the media via FOX doesn't mean there has to be a left presence at all, just a journalistic presence would be nice.

Look at Colbert's routine in front of Bush. It's neither leftist or rightist, but it was fabulous and made many people very uncomfortable.
posted by juiceCake at 6:52 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm glad someone other than me finally said it. That kind of performance requires no skill and provides no value; it's the domain of ten-year-olds trying to be mean. It's obnoxious, unfunny, unintelligent (or at least not intellectually enjoyable, though it tries to pass itself off as clever or thought-provoking), and trite. Much like most comedy today, there's little to it and, in my opinion, little to recommend it.
posted by windykites at 7:13 AM on July 19, 2012


What's insidious about arguments like Almond's is that they assume the battle is between "complacency" and "disruption", launch a bunch of idiotic-but-full-hearted attacks against the so-called self-satisfied, and when people call out the argument for being a big bag of idiocy they point and shout DISRUPTED!! and then every counterargument only proves to them how smart they are.

I don't just find it frustrating with Almond. This was the aspect of George Carlin that I liked the least – when he picked an insight and, rather than joking around with it a bit, used it like a sledgehammer to bash his discontent into the faces of his audience. Carlin's best work is always, but always, playful in nature. He picks a dangerous topic and then he has fun with it, flaunts it. When he starts taking his own monologue too seriously it gets dreary, fodder for the narcissistically outraged and not much else.

But disruption isn't necessarily an angry outrage like Almond wishes it was. Sometimes disruption comes in the form of a startled laugh, a shocking realization that something we thought was natural or ordinary is actually unnecessary and stupid. Or it feels exciting, charged, like something's about to happen and we're the ones who can make it so.

Stewart doesn't do angry. He doesn't do excessively liberal, either. He's a voice for critical moderation – that is, regardless of which political side you're on, laugh at the stupidity, don't buy it. The reason he's so fervently against railing on the American right isn't that he doesn't see all their idiocy, it's that the message he's pushing is "these stupid things are happening" rather than "these are the bad guys doing it". And that's disruptive on its own. It's not the sort of disruption that leads to radical leftism, but it's the sort that pushes moderation in the right direction.

Have to tell you, guys, but most of us don't want to be on the radical left. I went to an anti-war protest once. It wasn't my thing. I like being a quiet moderate who happens to think that moderation includes transsexual tolerance and gay marriage and abortion support and healthcare for all. I like insisting that being okay with these things makes me normal to people who feel like there's something disgusting about any of those. And, honestly, I prefer trying to understand why people are wrong to trying to make them "think right".

Things will change without the comedians. The media landscape is hugely upending. People my age mistrust TV news almost entirely. (You can thank Stewart for that in large part.) The way people get information and process it and act on it is shifting unpredictably. You don't need somebody on TV yelling about radical change because TV isn't the radical medium. This is.

So no, TDS/TCR aren't your liberal radical messiahs, here to lift us out of our fat American squalor to remind us that Things Are Not Okay. But we know Things Are Not Okay without their help. They're telling us instead that this one particular aspect of our media is majorly not okay, and they do it while giving people who don't watch news a way to keep on on the day's happenings, with occasionally great interviews and plenty of well-scripted laughs. They're entertainment – not mindless, but not un-entertaining, either. Entertainment that challenges and confronts isn't the same category of entertainment (South Park does not fucking count, Almond you inflated cock).

I'm not a big watcher of these shows, but arguments like this are stupid. People respond to them not because they feel uncomfortable at how they've been living a LIE IT'S ALL LIES, they respond because they have an uncontrollable urge to tell self-important idiots how wrong they are. A futile, Quixotic campaign, but hey.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:20 AM on July 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


Just once I'd like to see someone who thinks Stewart has some kind of responsibility to do something more than tell jokes and entertain people explain what exactly they think he should be doing and why they think it would be worthwhile and effective.

All I want is for him to just stop making that specific excuse. Stewart runs the show exactly as he does now, except for one thing: When some public figure criticizes a serious point that Stewart made, instead of making the "I'm a comedian" excuse, he does one of three things:

1. Ignore it, because hey, he can't respond to everything.
2. Double down and explain (with much mockery and photoshopped images) why the criticism fails.
3. Admit he was wrong.

And to be clear, I realize that #3 is almost certainly not funny, so I wouldn't expect to see that at all.

That's it. All I want is for him to just refrain from winking at the audience and saying, essentially, "hey, can you believe that some people think that ideas actually matter?".

And as for it being worthwhile and effective? I've no idea. If done right, I don't think it would make the show less funny. But in my view, it would make the show more honest, and I guess I'm just crazy enough to think that that matters.
posted by jcreigh at 7:25 AM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


The author only obliquely gets at this point but you know what? Snark is lazy. Very lazy. In two ways: first, it often doesn't give full credit to the target of the snark. It's easy - and incredibly lazy - to mock opponents of the progressive policy du jour as ignorant rednecks. It's a lot harder to understand where they're coming from, whether it's a real, logical objection to the policy du jour (yes, Metafilter, they exist!) or whether it's inchoate anger poorly directed.

The second is that after snarking, the listener/watcher feels like they've done their part. they've participated in a "subversive" "undermining" of the system. No. That doesn't happen by making jokes, it happens by undertaking collective action. But that's a lot harder than vegging out in front of Colbert and basking in your superiority.

I understand that comedy can theoretically lead to social change, but you know what? In this case, it hasn't happened. Stewart has spent over 10 years snarking about politics and what have we got to show for it? Colbert has spent nearly as much time mocking ignorant conservatives and those people have only become more powerful in the interim.

Measured by the creation of an clique that laughs at the ignoramuses around them (and the resulting marketing opportunities, of course), these shows are certainly a success. By any other criteria, I'm not sure how you could say the same.
posted by downing street memo at 7:28 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


So if the opposite of lazy is energetic or productive...are those the alternative embraces one could have for satirical humor? If so, I think that best describes my approach to shows that point out the ridiculousness and untruthiness of american politics...even if it takes a bit of hyperbole to get there.
posted by samsara at 7:29 AM on July 19, 2012


Stewart has spent over 10 years snarking about politics and what have we got to show for it?

Doctor Who has been on the air for 50 years and what have we got to show for that?

i dont think you get how tv works is what im saying
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:37 AM on July 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


Doctor Who has been on the air for 50 years and what have we got to show for that?

Come on. These guys clearly have ambitions beyond mere entertainment. Stewart in particular seems to think he's some sort of visionary leader.
posted by downing street memo at 7:41 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who is saying that comedy can't be a vehicle for social comedy? Someone mentioned Jonathan Swift upthread as a refutation against the Stewart criticism voiced here. I guess they don't know that Swift was actually a wanted person from the British authority because of his stand-up routine.

He wasn't, for example, used as a mouthpiece for the governing political party against the opposition.
posted by Catchfire at 7:46 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Stewart has spent over 10 years snarking about politics and what have we got to show for it?

Who knows? Without Stewart, John McCain might be president.
posted by MotorNeuron at 7:48 AM on July 19, 2012


Stewart in particular seems to think he's some sort of visionary leader.

Tom Junod is an eminently untrustworthy feature writer. He's in the same camp as Almond, kinda, in that his career consists of his thinking that if his style is good enough he can make whatever he happens to think for whatever reason true. I've never read an article of his that snt puffery, and that includes his famous one on Mister Rogers.

Got any more evidence that Stewart sees himself as a visionary? Cos I was at his rally and it sounded a lot like he was saying "people, come on, this is SERIOUSLY not a difficult concept to grasp." His greatest moments have uniformly been when he told other people point-blank that he had a pretty simple issue with what they were doing and then those people unraveled rather than addressing his complaints. Crossfire, Cramer, all variations on the same conversation.

He's a comedian that revels in absurd people pretending they're serious, and when those people try to confront him sometimes their audiences notice there's nothing there. Sometimes they're smarter, like Chris Wallace on Fox, and they don't lose their jobs when a comedian laughs at them. But it's not like his message is any more radical or daring than that, and everybody I know who watches the show seemingly understands that. What's so hard?
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:55 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Almond is quite right that Stewart/Colbert and O'Reilly/Limbaugh aren't just two sides of the same Big Top, they're the same damn show.

That is ludicrous. Find me a moment when either Stewart or Colbert were as vile and hateful as someone like Limbaugh, when they intentionally work to incite people to cruelty, intolerance, and even violence against those they disagree with barely disguised hate speech and lies. They may be part of the same "machine" as right-wing talk radio, but they are not at all doing the same things.
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:02 AM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


...TIMING
posted by shakespeherian at 8:04 AM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Cos I was at his rally and it sounded a lot like he was saying "people, come on, this is SERIOUSLY not a difficult concept to grasp."

I dunno man, I was there too, and I thought it was the ultimate moment of shark-jumping. On a weekend where people could've been G'ing OTV for politicians marginally in favor of their beliefs, they came to have their beliefs affirmed instead, in a little cocoon.

The other problem is that things sometimes are difficult to grasp. I liked the Crossfire and Cramer things too but the guy is on TV for a half hour every weekday. It's the parts that come between the brilliant truth-telling I have an issue with, I guess.

Find me a moment when either Stewart or Colbert were as vile and hateful as someone like Limbaugh

There's obviously not a straight equivalence between the two on that level. But both functionally keep their watchers/listeners in a little attitudinal (I wouldn't even call it ideological) cocoon. Rush and Hannity get to tell their listeners that their opponents are America-hating evildoers, Stewart and Colbert get to tell their viewers that their opponents are ignorant rednecks.
posted by downing street memo at 8:06 AM on July 19, 2012


Stewart and Colbert get to tell their viewers that their opponents are ignorant rednecks.

....If that's the takeaway you're getting, I'm not surprised that you weren't really into the rally because that's really not the "beliefs" they were trying to "affirm".

It was more like, "callng each other America-hating evildoers OR ignorant rednecks isn't helping solve anything".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:19 AM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Hrm. It seems to me that Stewart and Colbert "convert civic villainy into disposable laughs" because:

1) They're parodies of a 24-hour news media that makes money converting civic villainy into disposable outrage with minimal research or insight.
2) They're working within the constraints of a daily television production cycle. This means that it can't be as finely honed as the iterative refinement of standup performance, the hothouse development of weeklies like SNL, or the extended development cycle of a sitcom like South Park.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:21 AM on July 19, 2012


Many liberal critiques of conservatism are patently ad hominem, or at least implicitly so. The accusations of racism, bigotry, religious fundamentalism, lack of education, whatever.

Aw, poor racists, having their feelings hurt for being racist!

Sorry, fuck that. When people proudly wear their hatred on their sleeves and base their politics on it, they deserve to be called out for it.

Stewart and Colbert get to tell their viewers that their opponents are ignorant rednecks

No, they tell their viewers that the news media and politicians -- on BOTH sides -- are hypocrites. Very, very different.
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:23 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


You people claiming comedy somehow hinders people from being involved in progressive political change might as well be claiming that homeopathic medicine cures cancer for the evidence you've got to show.

All I want is for him to just stop making that specific excuse. Stewart runs the show exactly as he does now, except for one thing: When some public figure criticizes a serious point that Stewart made, instead of making the "I'm a comedian" excuse,


Can you give a citation for when Stewart has ever done this? Because the only time I've seen him trot that line out is when someone asks him why he's not a better journalist and he says, "Because I'm not trying to be a journalist, you ass. I've got twenty minutes per night to tell a few jokes and even if I can make a serious point here and there I can't do in twenty minutes what CNN is failing to do all day every day. I'm not even trying to do that, and it's silly that you think I am."

Stewart's shtick is largely making fun of how TV news is terrible. In order to do that, he occasionally gestures in the direction of how it ought to be done. This does not oblige him to quit comedy and start doing TV news right, and there's no reason to think that he could if he wanted to.
posted by straight at 8:29 AM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


We need to stop monetizing crap news.

I really, really want this. I'd even settle for pre-crawl, pre-graphics CNN.* How do we get back to the future on this one?

Also missed: pre-programming Mtv. Remote Control ruined everything. Blame Viacom, who wanted something to syndicate after buying the network in '85....as a kid, it seemed obvious that the powers that be had mined Nickelodeon for the format (compare Double Dare), having acquired both networks in the same deal.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:40 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Please consider Fry and Laurie's most excellent sketch on the power of satire.
posted by sibboleth at 8:47 AM on July 19, 2012


This is a good piece about Stewart and Colbert, which makes some excellent, valid points. The example of the fawning over Condoleeza Rice is a good one. Ditto pretty much anyone from the (American) military industrial establishment. Stewart is very uneven in his interviews. Sometimes he scores with a telling point. But more often he either has a very convoluted question seemingly as full of bafflegab as some of the answers he gets -- or, even worse, he can be a terrible intrerrupter.

And even worse than that, the writing on The Daily Show has deteriorated generally over the last couple of years. It's not as sharp. And there seems to be very poor judgment about which coorespondents get the gigs. It's a damn shame that Jason Jones and Sam Bee get on so infrequently, whereas the fakely angry John Oliver is on all the time. And don't get me started on Lewis Black -- if someone expends that much energy to pretend he's angry, his comedy is likely going to be false and bland.
posted by anothermug at 8:59 AM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Baffler sinks to "your favorite band sucks" level trolling.
posted by yoink at 9:05 AM on July 19, 2012


Wow. This completely blew up.

So, I was the OP of this article. Whenever I come across an Almond-penned screed, I can't resist reading it. Some of his fiction is quite good, and he's a good reader in the flesh. Though, yeah, four pages here.

Here's where I come from on this: when I was going through broadcast school, it became clear to me that broadcast news and journalism, particularly in North America, is a sad business. Local news is an endangered species (though the citizen journalist thing might be an answer...that's another debate); we rely on conglom-o newswires to get most of our facts. And then there's the chunk of my generation that gets the majority of its news from Jon Stewart, considers itself progressive and goes about its day. This is terrifying. If Jon Stewart is only a comedian, as he insists, then anyone with a real interest in politics and current events should supplement their Stewart-watching with reading a selection of news and commentary, both from newswires and from independent sources. But, who has time for that? Right. Jon Stewart does. Because he has lots of money and a stable of brilliant people in his employ. His show has the time and money to curate. And, of course, they're curating for the sake of entertainment, because the real mandate of any big network show is to keep its viewers watching and help sell Tide. So, to a degree, I get what Steve Almond's trying to say.

Where Steve Almond seems to be sort of missing the mark here is that the onus isn't really on Stewart and Colbert to call people to action. The onus is on us to distance ourselves from Stewart and Colbert. I'm so tired of having conversations with people in their 20s and 30s who can only quote these two on any news-worthy subject. Not saying everyone's like this, but some are. Are the lines between real news program and comedy blurred when it comes to Jon Stewart? Maybe?

Curation is so interesting, as a concept. The act of curation can also be construed as censorship, depending on how powerful the curator is.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 9:07 AM on July 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


I understand that comedy can theoretically lead to social change, but you know what? In this case, it hasn't happened. Stewart has spent over 10 years snarking about politics and what have we got to show for it? Colbert has spent nearly as much time mocking ignorant conservatives and those people have only become more powerful in the interim.

If the implication here is that Stewart and Colbert are not pulling their weight, then the same exact argument applies to The Baffler, OWS, the Iraq War protests, whatever you have been up to over the past however many years, and so on.

This silly-bitter trollfest accomplishes exactly nothing.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:09 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does comedy actually have the power to influence people to the point of motivating meaningful action? I think that Almond believes that it does and that point of view undergirds his thesis about the weightlessness of Stewart/Colbert. I disagree with this and the whole article feels just off.

Well then, what about the Rally to Restore Sanity? It is true that people were motivated to go to DC for that. My question, though, is whether that represented a real effort to get people to do something politically or if it was just a different entertainment option for the day? I think it was the second one of these.

Those of us who are not on the right but aware of the terrible consequences of right-wing governance are also aware of the inaction by those who aren't paying attention. Hell, many (most?) of us are inactive as well. What are the reasons for this? What will spur us into action?

I don't think that comedy can do that. We are being driven by men of ill-will (the Jim DeMints, the James Inhofes, the Eric Cantors) under the direction of powerful and moneyed self-serving individuals. It would take much more than an army of Bill Hicks' to stop that.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 9:11 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Where Steve Almond seems to be sort of missing the mark here is that the onus isn't really on Stewart and Colbert to call people to action. The onus is on us to distance ourselves from Stewart and Colbert.

You don't have to distance yourself from them. You just have to do something.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:12 AM on July 19, 2012


If the implication here is that Stewart and Colbert are not pulling their weight, then the same exact argument applies to The Baffler, OWS, the Iraq War protests, whatever you have been up to over the past however many years, and so on.

Trying and failing is one thing. Not actually having any interest in trying is another.
posted by cdward at 9:19 AM on July 19, 2012


Stewart has spent over 10 years snarking about politics and what have we got to show for it?

Let me see. Ten years ago, GW Bush was in the Whitehouse, Bin Laden was on the loose, Saddam Hussein was happily doing whatever evil thing came to mind, Mubarak was running Egypt, Khadafi was unopposed in Libya, Britney Spears was still pretty much on top of the charts, and a man of African heritage would never ever in a million years EVER become President.

Holy shit. John Stewart's snark has saved the f***ing world.
posted by philip-random at 9:19 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Trying and failing is one thing. Not actually having any interest in trying is another.

If that truly is your position, then blaming Stewart and Colbert is as silly as blaming a tree in a field or the sun in the sky.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:26 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


from article: “Bill Maher was one of the few prominent voices to call his comrades out... Maher’s dissent, all but lost amid the orgy of liberal self-congratulation, echoed Mencken’s exhortation: one must challenge the quacks to get rid of them. The reason our discourse has grown vicious, and has drifted away from matters of actual policy and their moral consequence, isn’t because of some misunderstanding between cultural factions. It is the desired result of a sustained campaign waged by corporations, lobbyists, politicians, and demagogues who have placed private gain over the common good.”

No, the reason our discourse has grown vicious is because of vicious bigots like Bill Maher. We sure as hell don't need him around, and the fact that he's still a public figure after years of spreading hateful bullshit is a testament to the brokenness of our society.
posted by koeselitz at 9:36 AM on July 19, 2012


And there seems to be very poor judgment about which coorespondents get the gigs. It's a damn shame that Jason Jones and Sam Bee get on so infrequently, whereas the fakely angry John Oliver is on all the time.

Yeah...the cast really is kinda tiring these days. Jones and Bee are actually clever. Oliver, Wyatt Cenac and Aasif Mandvi are all doing the same one-note shtick over and over again. Kristen Schaal, too, when she's on. It feels forced, and that part of the show is getting boring. More and more, I watch the opening, and then skip to the interview (if it seems worth watching).
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:40 AM on July 19, 2012


Comedians preserve the status quo. Counterintuitive, but true.

I really don't think so. Most people go from knowledge to anger, then despair and then apathy. That's why so many young people don't vote. Comedy can be (but doesn't have to be) a way to get people thinking about things they'd usually dismiss, and thus keep apathy at bay for a while.


So they go from despair back to anger? Where do you see comedy's role fitting in?

I think that's the reason it can preserve the status quo - it changes anger into laughter, and laughter isn't a mechanism for action. Don't get me wrong, I love comedy, and perhaps it can open eyes here and there, but in a way I think it has to be thought of as a sort of secular serenity prayer:

"grant me the radical optimism to change the things I can,
the sense of humor to deal with the things I can't,
and the wisdom to know the difference..."
posted by mdn at 9:47 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


They do prevent people from taking action in at least one way.

From the article: The show later sent two correspondents down to Zuccotti Park. One highlighted the various “weirdos” on display. The other played up the alleged class divisions within those occupying the park. Both segments trivialized the movement by playing to right-wing stereotypes of protestors as self-indulgent neo-hippies.

The message is clear, and it's the same message that we get everywhere else: there's a short list of approved goals, and a short list of approved methods (write your congressman!), and if you dare to try something off that list then you're crazy, or lame, or otherwise marginal.
posted by cdward at 9:55 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The message is clear, and it's the same message that we get everywhere else: there's a short list of approved goals, and a short list of approved methods (write your congressman!), and if you dare to try something off that list then you're crazy, or lame, or otherwise marginal.

*shrug* I've often gotten similar blowback from some self-described progressives who hae their own similar short list of approved goals and a similar short list of approved methods and a short list of approved viewpoints, and if I dare disagree then I'm pandering, or wimpy, or a sellout.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:59 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's easy to be the cool kid at the back of the bus making fun of the nerds who stick their necks out. It's even easier to be the kid who chuckles at and repeats his jokes.
posted by cdward at 10:01 AM on July 19, 2012


Comedians preserve the status quo. Counterintuitive, but true.

The only possible evidence you could have for this claim is some vague, hand-wavy attempt at showing broad correlations between cherry-picked events, requiring loaded, tendentious definitions of all the terms involved.

And you haven't even got that.
posted by straight at 10:01 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's easy to be the cool kid at the back of the bus making fun of the nerds who stick their necks out.

There's a difference between "making fun of the nerds who stick their necks out" and being called a traitor to the cause just for saying that "Um, I think setting fire to a parade float would be dangerous and cause more problems than it solves."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:04 AM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Online forum threads on political issues, by offering a non-active outlet for rage and dissent, preserve the status quo. There's about as much evidence for that as there is for the role of 'comedians' as a broad group doing the same.

....So what the heck are y'all doing in here?
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:04 AM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Catchfire: Someone mentioned Jonathan Swift upthread as a refutation against the Stewart criticism voiced here. I guess they don't know that Swift was actually a wanted person from the British authority because of his stand-up routine.

He wasn't, for example, used as a mouthpiece for the governing political party against the opposition.


I mentioned Jonathan Swift. We're talking about the guy whose "stand-up routine" included such acts as writing political pamphlets for Lord Oxford and Viscount Bolingbroke, right? Same guy who later became the dean of that legendary den of outlaw dissent known as St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin?

Also, neither Stewart nor Colbert is a "mouthpiece" for any political party. I'd place both of them in the vague category of "liberal." They're roughly centre-left on the US spectrum, which places them centre-right at best in the rest of the democratic world. They're both as critical of Obama's hypocrisies and abuses of power as they were of Bush's - it just so happens that Obama, whatever his flaws, is a mere dabbler compared to the powermongering doublespeak clusterfuck of the Bush-Cheney years.

What's more - as Almond and so many other of their critics seem to miss with alarming consistency - the Stewart/Colbert hour is not intended to be and has no interest in becoming a leftist critique of right-wing politics. It is, at its heart, a radical longform critique of mainstream media. This is, for example, why Stewart's signature act was the demolition of CNN's Crossfire and Colbert's was a burn-down-the-house performance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. They are not partisans, they are brilliant media satirists. Their loftier mission, if they have one, is not to bring down the GOP but to dismantle the artifice of contemporary broadcast news.

This whole essay was boilerplate Marxian snark. Pick a target, point out the paradoxes and minor hypocrisies of its dependency on the system it criticizes, suggest that this invalidates its criticism without evidence, toss around a bit of more-radical-than-thou invective, and you're all set. I'm sure I'll get giggled at for saying so, but I actually expect something more thoughtful from the Baffler.
posted by gompa at 10:05 AM on July 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Many liberal critiques of conservatism are patently ad hominem, or at least implicitly so. The accusations of racism, bigotry, religious fundamentalism, lack of education, whatever. But conservative critiques of liberalism, if no more pleasant, frequently contain some thread of understanding that there is an operative narrative on the other side. That narrative is roundly rejected, but it's at least acknowledged.

Wow. Where to start?

In the first place, I would like to see some evidence that ad hominem attacks are more commonly directed from left to right than from right to left. Without seeing some evidence, I don't buy it.

In the second place, accusations that conservatives as a group are uneducated and often unintelligent (pdf), racist (pdf), bigoted, religious fundamentalists are supported by evidence. The evidence might be uncomfortable, but that doesn't make it go away. (The relationship between racism and religiosity (pdf), possibly mediated by fundamentalism (pdf), should be especially troubling for those of us who are religious.)

In the third place, saying that someone is an uneducated bigot is not ad hominem when it is the conclusion of an argument that shows the person to be an uneducated bigot. And using the fact that someone is uneducated or unintelligent as a premiss in a further argument that such a person's opinion on questions of national policy should be treated skeptically is also not ad hominem, since education is relevant to one's ability to understand and evaluate such questions.

In the fourth place, "narratives" are confabulations at least as often as they are genuine. And that is one reason for the left to bring up racism, bigotry, religious fundamentalism, and lack of education. If a Republican says, "I love liberty and markets," but he keeps voting against marriage equality and keeps voting for oil, gas, and agricultural subsidies, well, I don't know what to say other than that the "narrative" is a rationalization.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 10:20 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Comedians preserve the status quo. Counterintuitive, but true.

I've slept on it and this is by far the funniest statement in this thread so far, more for its rhythm than its substance. For instance:

Osama Bin Laden was a progressive. Counterintuitive but true.
George W Bush was a genius. Counterintuitive, but true.
Nickelback are the best hard rock band since Led Zeppelin. Counterintuitive, but true.
posted by philip-random at 10:22 AM on July 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Wow. Where to start? . . . In the second place, accusations that conservatives as a group are uneducated and often unintelligent (pdf), racist (pdf), bigoted, religious fundamentalists are supported by evidence.

Not there, clearly.

See, doubling down saying bad things about the other side--"But... but... it's not a logical fallacy if it's true!!!!!111!!--is not a step in the right direction.

Here's why. The ad baculum is the argument that, if you don't agree with me, I'm going to punch you in the mouth. Thing is, it's a fallacy whether or not I'm kidding, and actually following through and punching you in the mouth may make me feel better, but it doesn't make me right.

In the same vein, an ad hominem is an ad hominem and a fallacy whether or not the accusations are true. So even though you honestly believe that conservatives are uneducated bigots, and even if they actually are uneducated bigots, bringing that up in an argument means you pretty much automatically lose. Lose the argument, because you've stopped arguing, and probably lose the politics too, because they're better at that than you are.
posted by valkyryn at 10:50 AM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


"This, I think, is actually something that conservatives sort of instinctively "get" that escapes a lot of liberals. Many liberal critiques of conservatism are patently ad hominem, or at least implicitly so. The accusations of racism, bigotry, religious fundamentalism, lack of education, whatever. But conservative critiques of liberalism, if no more pleasant, frequently contain some thread of understanding that there is an operative narrative on the other side. That narrative is roundly rejected, but it's at least acknowledged. "

You may think it, but it's not necessarily true and seems to flatter your biases quite a bit.

There's plenty of criticism of conservatism that assumes a narrative — including accusations of bigotry, in that things like the famous Lee Atwater quote about saying "Nigger" really does establish a narrative of bigotry implicit in a lot of conservative policies. There's also the ugly point that the right is disproportionately racist and bigoted. But your point falls down when you consider the narratives that are frequently presented: That liberals (which conservatives for a long while succeeded in making a pejorative term, contra your assertions away from ad hominem) want socialism which will take your guns, your property and your freedom. There's a constant thrum of accusations of bad faith from conservatives, including recent things like that Fast and Furious was really a conspiracy to take guns away, or that Bane from the new Batman movie is really a 20-year sleeper campaign against Romney. Black helicopters and the New World Order are tropes from the right, not the left, and the tactics of red baiting, where you assume ulterior motives (generally Stalinism) for innocuous liberals as front groups is alive and well.

So no, while you may believe that the conservatives acknowledge a narrative, that's neither a statement of fairness nor something that's missing from the left, and ad hominem attacks are just as plentiful in our small samples, so some real evidence of your claims would help me distinguish them from self-flattery.
posted by klangklangston at 10:58 AM on July 19, 2012


In the same vein, an ad hominem is an ad hominem and a fallacy whether or not the accusations are true.

With all due respect, you are simply wrong about what makes something a fallacy.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 11:07 AM on July 19, 2012


you are simply wrong about what makes something a fallacy

Do tell.
posted by valkyryn at 11:16 AM on July 19, 2012


With all due respect, you are simply wrong about what makes something a fallacy.

Begging the question (petitio principii) .
posted by BobbyVan at 11:25 AM on July 19, 2012


Do tell.

Okay, here we go. Ad hominem fallacies are instances of bad reasoning where membership in an irrelevant, often generally disliked, group or where having an irrelevant association is used to discredit someone's argument.

Example. Suzy offers an argument that the minimum wage should be raised. Bob counters by pointing out that Suzy is a racist; hence, she cannot be right about the minimum wage.

But Bob's pointing out that Suzy is a racist -- the accusation itself -- need not be fallacious. Bob might have a very good argument to that effect.

Example. Bob notes that Suzy says she hates black people, and she gives money to the KKK. Bob notes that Suzy has tried to get laws passed cutting back welfare for the expressed reason that "those blacks should have to work for their money." And Bob notes that Suzy subscribes to several magazines that promote white supremacy. Despite his evidence, Bob might be wrong in saying that Suzy is a racist. But his argument is not fallacious.

Moreover, even using an accusation like being a racist or being uneducated might not be fallacious if the accusation is relevant to the conclusion of the argument. Suppose I am listening to a debate between Bob and Suzy talking about the problem of identification in econometrics. Further suppose that Suzy is a professor of econometrics while Bob is a high school drop out. And suppose I don't know much about econometrics. It is entirely rational for me to give greater credence to Suzy than I do to Bob, even before they begin their debate. The way I scrutinize the arguments and evaluate the evidence presented by the two sides is appropriately influenced by credentials. (Not to say that credentials are everything -- if we were perfectly good at evaluating evidence and arguments for ourselves, then argument would screen off credentials.)

When accusations of racism or bigotry or whatever are used in order to simply ignore arguments, yes that is fallacious. But arguing that someone falls into one of those categories is not necessarily fallacious. And using the fact that someone falls into a category as a premiss is not necessarily fallacious either, as long as that fact is relevant to the conclusion of the argument.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 11:39 AM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I guess the article was useful as it crystallized for me the fact that Stewart and Colbert are not trying to push things to the left, their goal is to hold the middle. And no matter how far left or right you want things to go, you have to admit that it good for the middle to exist. Unless you want civil war; I don't.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:45 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have to admit, I remain baffled by people who rail on centrists for not being more progressive. Stewert, Colbert, and Obama (for that matter) are all centrists. Liberalish, but essentially moderates and centrists. If you want progressive and leftist, listen to Uprising, The Lawyers Guild, Michael Slate Show, Some of Us Are Brave, or The Hutchinsen report. Expecting centrists to be progressives is kind of silly.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:47 AM on July 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Comedians preserve the status quo. Counterintuitive, but true.

Neither counter-intuitive, nor true.

Comedians make us laugh. If we have a nice enough time, we pay them. Mission accomplished. I think this has been Jon Stewart's assertion all along, no?

So, hanging the hopes and dreams of progressives on a couple of comedians, and/or blaming them for lack of progressive "advancement" is a bit misguided.
posted by Artful Codger at 12:06 PM on July 19, 2012


In areas like immigration, the racism seems to be a starkly explicit part of the conservative conversation. Because I can't think of another reason why predominantly Roman Catholic and Spanish-Speaking Americans with a longer history of colonization than my Boston Puritan ancestors are not "European" enough.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:10 PM on July 19, 2012


It is entirely rational for me to give greater credence to Suzy than I do to Bob, even before they begin their debate.

Actually, that would that would be, if anything, an argument from authority. Suzy might be right, but if she is it's because she's right, not because she's an economist. The fact that she's an economist may make it easier for her to prove her point, but that's only because she's presumably done the reading and knows how to talk about her subject. It shouldn't score her any points before she's said anything. That's weighing with dishonest scales.

But Bob's pointing out that Suzy is a racist -- the accusation itself -- need not be fallacious. Bob might have a very good argument to that effect.

That is as may be, but it's a red herring, specifically an appeal to motive, which is a special case of the ad hominem circumstantial or poisoning the well, depending on how you want to spin it. Observe:

A: I think [X].
B: You're a racist! And I've got an argument to prove it!

I mean, okay, but even if that argument is true, it doesn't go to the truth or falsity of X. Bringing it up posits the bad faith of your interlocutor and is therefore to be avoided.

Now, if you debate X on the merits and then make a separate argument about racism, that's something else entirely. Go for it. But it shouldn't be part of the argument about X.
posted by valkyryn at 12:15 PM on July 19, 2012


I think this thread needs some s/comedy/satire/g

While these shows are ultimately funny, they're primarily rooted in satire (not just comedy):

" In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be funny, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon."
posted by samsara at 12:24 PM on July 19, 2012


I think this thread needs some s/comedy/satire/g

Right. Just as soon as there's a channel called Satire Central.

"Mr Stewart, Coca-Cola is threatening to pull all their spots if you don't get back to insightful, hard-hitting, pithy Social Commentary On Our Times."
posted by Artful Codger at 12:55 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Doctrinaire types like Steve Almond always remind me of Aunt & Uncle Whiteadder
posted by KokuRyu at 12:55 PM on July 19, 2012


If you call someone (for example) racist and then cite legitimate examples, that is not fallacious. That is making your case. Legitimately.

Taking it further can get you in trouble, however. If you say a person's argument is wrong BECAUSE they are a racist, then you may be guilty of an AD HOMINEM. You would definitely be guilty if you simply made the charge and left it at that. But if you can make a legitimate argument between them being racist and being wrong, then you, again, are simply making your case. Legitimately.

One way is inference, the other way is demonstration.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:08 PM on July 19, 2012


The fact that she's an economist may make it easier for her to prove her point, but that's only because she's presumably done the reading and knows how to talk about her subject. It shouldn't score her any points before she's said anything. That's weighing with dishonest scales.

First, no, it's not weighing with dishonest scales. It's taking into consideration the totality of one's evidence. The point is about what credence you should give to a claim on the basis of what you know. In the imagined example, you know (before any actual debate) that one person has relevant training and that the other person does not. Given that, the probability that the person with training is right is higher than the probability that the person without training is right. So, apportion credence appropriately. Or put it this way: if you pick someone at random out of the people with a PhD in economics and you pick someone at random out of the people who dropped out of high school, and you ask them both a formal question about economics, whose answer is more likely to be correct?

I agree that if we make no mistakes in evaluating arguments and have all the time that we want to consider arguments, then credentials don't matter. But neither of those things is true. In practice, arguments do not totally screen off credentials. Nor should they. We are imperfect evaluators of arguments. One effect of this is that we should be more skeptical of -- hold to a higher standard of evidence -- claims that are made by people without relevant training or people whose arguments might have motivations other than truth-seeking, especially when the arguments are complex. Moreover, we don't have all the time in the world, so we should pay more attention to the arguments of people who are likely to give good arguments and less attention to the arguments of people who are likely to give bad arguments.

Second, arguments from authority are not necessarily fallacies. Fallacious appeals to authority are appeals to inappropriate or irrelevant authority. My dentist is an authority on teeth. Arguing from "My dentist says x about teeth," to "So, x is true about teeth," is not fallacious. Arguing from "My dentist says x about climate change," to "So x is true about climate change," is fallacious. (Unless my dentist also happens to be a climate scientist or have other relevant expertise.)

That is as may be, but it's a red herring, specifically an appeal to motive, which is a special case of the ad hominem circumstantial or poisoning the well, depending on how you want to spin it. Observe:

A: I think [X].
B: You're a racist! And I've got an argument to prove it!

I mean, okay, but even if that argument is true, it doesn't go to the truth or falsity of X. Bringing it up posits the bad faith of your interlocutor and is therefore to be avoided.


This is correct as far as it goes. But it doesn't go very far. Appealing to motivation is, again, not always fallacious. When you have evidence that supports the accusation of motivated cognition, claims about motivation are rational and illuminating. Even if the person you are talking with is arguing in good faith, pointing out (potential) biases due to motivation can be appropriate. Not least because when we confabulate or rationalize, we are often unaware of the real reasons that we take the positions we take.

Example. A liberal has come from the hospital where her mother is dying of cancer. In conversation with a conservative, the liberal says that universal healthcare is clearly the right policy. The conservative could appropriately ask whether the liberal was motivated by emotional reaction to her mother's situation. If the conservative has good evidence that the liberal is so motivated, that matters evidentially to whether the conservative should doubt the liberal's claim. It should even make a difference to the liberal's self-reflective evaluations. If they have good reason to think the liberal's reasoning is biased, they have good reason to be skeptical of the conclusion of an argument from the liberal, even if they can't immediately spot the error in her reasoning.

And again, my claim was that in some cases, falling into a class (like being uneducated) is evidentially relevant. That is, in some cases, being a racist or uneducated or whatever actually does go to the truth or falsity about X. If, for example, racists are more likely to have false beliefs than non-racists about the percentage of African Americans on welfare, then it is absolutely relevant to point this out in a debate about welfare.

Consider the argument:

(P1) Suzy is a racist.
(P2) Beliefs that racists have about domain X are more likely than not to be false.
(P3) Suzy believes that p, which is a claim about domain X.
Therefore, (C) p is more likely than not to be false.

That argument is a perfectly good statistical deduction, not a fallacy.

Anyway, feel free to have the last word. After that, I will take further conversation about this to memail so that we don't derail the thread too much.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 1:21 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's perfectly acceptable to point out when racial bias is explicitly or implicitly a big part of the argument being made. Sam Harris's argument for profiling anyone who "looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim" was astonishingly ignorant of the actual demographic of both Muslims and accused terrorists.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:59 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


So the counterargument is "it's factual but it's still ad hominem"?

Boy, talk about lacing your tapestries with disingenuous threads.

Anyway, I don't recall this being a thread about how liberals, as a group, apparently act in unity in the way they offer criticism. That seems more like a hikacking to me.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:05 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


oneswellfoop: But IMO the gold standard for smart AND dangerous comedy was George Carlin, not Hicks.

Agreed. Include the likes of Richard Pryor, to name only one. IMO they are dangerous because they isolate, then strike at the center of dangerous things (racism, certain hypocracies) without leaving room for any dialogue. Pryor never asked whites to merely give him ground, he battered racism into submission without using reflexive racist rhetoric. You could be white and laugh. On one level, this is the stuff that empowers reactionary responses. It also stumulates rational thinking. Reactionaries are the ones who take up guns and bombs.

Carlin's rhetoric was similarly devisive. If you weren't able to see the hypocrasy, then you would be offended by his diatribe. He encouraged polemics, but he didn't play to reactionaries. This sort of thing is good if it gets fence straddlers to put their foot down somewhere.

The likes of Stewart and Colbert don't encourage reactionaries, they encourage moderates. One can hope that moderates are in the majority. I would put Bill Cosby in this group. He amplifies a black perspective in a way that makes it accessable to whites.

A person who thinks black and white views always overlap, I believe, misses an important point--this is why whites using the word nigger tread on thin ice, sometimes without knowing how cold the water or treacherous the footing. (I offer those who claim to feel my pain the opportunity to let me shoot them in the foot so I could return the favor--try that out before you get all new-agey on somebody.)

Samuel Clemens was more like Stewart than Richard Pryor in style.

I'm a new guy to MeFi, and I'm happy to see that not all the inhabitants got poured out of the same bucket. Many thanks to the blue for a venue of civil, if sometimes passionate, discourse.
posted by mule98J at 2:28 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pyry had an excellent comment on this topic. Fallacies are not universal pass/fail tests for an argument, because they apply differently depending on logical framework.

You cannot make a counterargument from of a bunch of Latin terms applied outside of their proper context. Your opponents' arguments may in fact be fallacious and/or incorrect, but using "that's <fallacy x>!" as a bludgeon won't help you defend that claim.
posted by Riki tiki at 2:40 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, if anything, that's argumentum ad verecundiam.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:43 PM on July 19, 2012


Good lord I'm only 1/4 the way down this page and loving every second of it. Great discussion! Wish it was shorter ;)
posted by danl at 2:48 PM on July 19, 2012


Flagged as 'Make Joan Baez Laugh'.
 
posted by Herodios at 3:02 PM on July 19, 2012


This, I think, is actually something that conservatives sort of instinctively "get" that escapes a lot of liberals. Many liberal critiques of conservatism are patently ad hominem, or at least implicitly so. The accusations of racism, bigotry, religious fundamentalism, lack of education, whatever. But conservative critiques of liberalism, if no more pleasant, frequently contain some thread of understanding that there is an operative narrative on the other side. That narrative is roundly rejected, but it's at least acknowledged.

Conservatives have an "implicit" understanding that liberal arguments have an "operative narrative," whereas liberals operate merely (sorry, "patently") at the level of ad hominem aspersion? Wow, that's a pretty broad-brush claim. Not to mention that it's inaccurate.

I'm a liberal -- most days, anyway -- and I don't know much, but I do know for sure that I have never failed to understand that conservatism has an "operative narrative."

In fact, I'd argue that anyone who's interested in the United States who does fail to have that understanding is either ignoring or discounting the central development in American politics for the past 50-60 years -- let alone American history over the past 50-60 years.
posted by blucevalo at 8:43 PM on July 19, 2012


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