Lighten Up, the Stewart Rally Could Be Fun

The backlash to the backlash against the Rally to Restore Sanity

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The Jon Stewart Rally to Restore Sanity story has finally entered the penultimate stage of the media cycle—the backlash against the backlash. (Scheduled for tomorrow: acceptance. The Earth will keep spinning, everyone will be OK.) Stewart and Stephen Colbert will blend sincerity and irony, politics and entertainment, activism and commerce, Annie Groer writes at Politics Daily, offering "civil discourse, with a side of hucksterism."

Two women with a sharp eye for self-promotion—Arianna Huffington and Oprah Winfrey—quickly signed onto the show, spending big bucks to ship Stewart's fans to Washington for the weekend. Various celebrities will be in attendance. Portable toilets will number 500. Democrats are actually excited about something. But media critics have done much hand-wringing over whether Stewart has gone too far, falling into the trap of "becoming one of the people he makes fun of," Howard Kurtz told Goer.

  • Lighten Up! demands Ryan Kearney at TBD. Of the many, many critiques of the rally, Kearney writes, what's striking "is their tone — of admonishment, betrayal, and even anger. It's a cultural critic's job to get riled about things that, for many of us, aren't worth getting riled up about, and I've wondered if not a few of these articles were 'hit pieces' — takedowns ordered by editors dreaming of increased pageviews." Many of these critics say they're Stewart fans. "So why this sudden defection? Because, I think, they felt a certain ownership over, or at least camaraderie with, Stewart. Print and web journalists, generally speaking, are a prickly, defensive, and arrogant bunch. We imagine ourselves superior to TV newscasters, who traffic in sound bites and manufactured controversy and high-decibel alarmism. ... As the criticism of Stewart's rally proves, we are delusional: Writers often aren't very thoughtful at all. We're just bitter. We loved Stewart because he voiced that bitterness we felt — about politics, about television, and even about our own careers. Now that his narrative has diverged from our own, we fear he'll become just another media figure — or worse, a politician — about whom we're forced to write articles."
  • Let's Rally to Restore Pundits' Sanity, editorializes the Los Angeles Times. "Stewart inspires this kind of overwrought analysis because his 'Daily Show' on Comedy Central has morphed into something more than an ordinary comedy  program; if that wasn't clear before this week, President Obama's decision to appear on the show as a guest Wednesday night erased all doubt. But that doesn't really make it a left-wing equivalent of 'The O'Reilly Factor' on Fox News, nor is Stewart the left's answer to Bill O'Reilly, Beck or Rush Limbaugh, who together have rallied the tea party. These conservative entertainers channel deep voter anger into political activism; Stewart channels annoyance into ironic laughter." People will stream onto the National Mall for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is their desire to be entertained. The nervous commentariat "should stop being heartsick, grab some popcorn and enjoy the show."
  • It's a Far Cry from the Daily Show's Humble Roots, Dan Zak reports in a very behind-the-scenes story for The Washington Post, which is conveniently offering wall-to-wall coverage of the rally. "'The Daily Show' stock has ballooned over the past decade. While covering the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, the crew stayed in college dormitories, where taller staffers had to line up multiple twin beds to get comfortable. Last time the show was in the District, for the 2002 midterms, the crew cracked wise about l'elegance de Renaissance. On this visit to the District, crew members are staying at a super-luxurious historic hotel where lobbying was invented." Daily Show veteran Samantha Bee "thinks that the show has evolved, that the team has outgrown the desire to go for easy laughs," Zak writes. They've matured, if by a nanogram. No more picking on easy tin-foil-hatted targets for cheap laughs. Bee asks, "Are you asking us if we've gotten more important?" Yes, Zak says. "No. I feel like everyone wants us to say that."
  • At Least Stewart's Funnier than Politicians, Slate's Jack Shafer argues. Those upset over the supposed sacrilege of making jokes on our hallowed National Mall should start with asking politicians to stop trying to be funny.  Politicians have been making jokes for years, or trying to. (President Obama called John Boehner a "person of color," George W. Bush made a slideshow about looking under White House furniture for those elusive weapons of mass destruction.) "One measure of their basic humorlessness can be found in the volume of self-deprecating jokes they tell. Self-deprecation is just a clever way of boasting, of saying, 'I am so strong that I can say that I'm weak so that you understand that I'm really strong, and you will acknowledge my power with your laughter.' ... Compared with the politicians' trespasses against humor, the comedians' sins are slight. Let the Stewart-Colbert show go on. Unless, of course, the pols promise to give up comedy."
  • But Stewart and Colbert Are Late to the Game, Eugene Robinson says at The Washington Post. The real comedy show stars the fringe GOP candidates who entertained us all election season, from Sharron Angle's Colbert-esque line, "I don't know that all of you are Latino. Some of you look a little more Asian to me," to O'Donnell's bizarre witch ad. "The main source of hilarity has been the Tea Party movement and its candidates, quite a few of whom give every indication of being several sandwiches short of a picnic. Whether they win or lose - and yes, there remains the possibility that some might actually be elected - they leave us with mondo-bizarro moments that may require years of psychoanalysis for our collective political psyche to purge. ... Good luck trying to top all of that, Stewart and Colbert. You should have come sooner. The joke's already on us. "
  • Yes, It Really Is Good for Progressives, Adele M. Stan writes for AlterNet. "[W]ith any luck, it will be a eye-feast of hundreds of thousands of good-humored, well-behaved Americans, there to answer the cynicism of Glenn Beck's 'Restoring Honor' rally, at which the notion that the election of a black president somehow sullied the nation's dignity was dressed in sanctimony and a display of patriotism so bombastic that it was almost camp. Yet progressives and liberals, ranging from left wing to the just left of center, have expressed a range of reservations, missing, I believe, the larger point of this rally's potential  for reordering our out-of-whack politics, if only for a moment." The framing of the rally—fear vs. sanity—is great, the Google Earth aerial photos will be impressive, it will recast liberalism as mainstream, and excite young voters.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.