Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Daily Show: Fuck Yeah. (Coming again to save the motherfucking day, yeah.)

Satire is the only way!

I'm just reminded for the eleventieth time why Jon Stewart is so FUCKING awesome, and that those who've bemoaned the rise of The Daily Show as some kind of rise of political unawareness don't know their ass from a hat.

A) He is interviewing the ambassador from Pakistan, Husain Haqqani. He does this shit all the time -- he's had foreign dignitaries, like Bolivian president Evo Morales and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, to Obama officials like Peter Orszag (director of the Office of Management and Budget) and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, to important and (or?) thoughtful authors and thinkers, some with viewpoints he very much disagrees with, like Cliff May, and others like Doris Kearns Goodwin and Philip Alcabes. Don't recognize some or all of these names? Good. You see, that's called learning, baby. It feels real good, don't it?
B) He's fucking PREPARED for these interviews, asking Haqqani, for example, various detailed questions based in Stewart's studying of the issues and previous writings of his guest and others ("As you yourself has written sir..." is a phrase intimating research to a degree you don't often hear on late night shows like Leno or Letterman, or even to some extent on Lehrer, when the guest is neither promoting a book nor is a columnist.) He debated Cliff May on torture, and even though they disagreed on it (if I may grossly distort Cliff May's viewpoint, he's all for it), with May actually saying that it was probably the best discussion he'd had of the issue on TV. And I don't think he was bullshiting, either. All in all, Stewart's combination of thorough research, thoughtful analysis, and a (somewhat over-stated but, I think, genuinely felt) "everyperson" (aka "everyman") approach that keeps even hostile guests mostly open to continue the discussion.
C) Given his place (and Colbert's) as a cultural phenomenon in the space between late-nighters like Leno or Conan and earnest news magazines and interview segments on NewsHour, CNN, 60 Minutes, or what have you, his popularity with "the kids" is actually a fantastic thing. He not only invites thinkers, politicians, and authors (and also comedians, actors, musicians, and other people with less urgent effects on global politics), but he interviews them premised on a pretty high level of understanding from his audience. One might surmise that they're simply sitting through this but really there for the rest of the show, though I think one would miss about half the humor without a working knowledge of current events and politics (the other half the humor is a melange of puns, self-referential and self-mocking humor, and graphical puns). And in a way, that's the genius -- whatever the audience is "there for", the relatively high level of discourse in his political interviews might get some learnin' in for him and the audience, intended or not.

From the Colbert/Stewart approach, I feel you get a much more working understanding of global events and ideas than the drier approach of the Lehrer et. als (that tend to AVOID challenging guests on equivocation or directly contradicting them when they spin, and thus remain on a superficial level alarmingly akin to a typical late-night interview like Leno) and yet also keeps the fun of a Leno, Letterman-type interview with jokes, sarcasm, etc. while maintaining nuance and in-depth probing of ideas.

The only other person with comparable deftness and intellectual rigor as a pop figure is Bill Maher, who evinces a similar level of intellectual curiousity as Stewart. With both of them, you don't just get topical thinkers, but also challenging ones that you just don't see on any other channels or shows, news or entertainment, from authors and scientists that simply interest them or whom they find insightful to the dignitaries I mentioned earlier, who I haven't seen on any of the mainstream news shows -- but that could be because I don't typical watch them. (Still, I challenge you to show me an interview of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of similar length on TV -- which there may very well be, but I again doubt it had either the good-natured humor and non-forced light-heartedness of Stewart nor implied the depth of research he did.)

Ok, I'm done flogging TDS. I'm just saying -- at it's best, it's a TV show without parallel or competitor (well, except Bill Maher and sometimes Stewart's own protegé Colbert), and at its worst, it's probably a step or so ahead of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me, the light-hearted NPR news quiz show focused on weird currents events to a greater extent than it is to any kind of education about the topics discussed.

Fuck yeah.


Daktari said...

D agrees wholeheartedly and misses cable tv terribly.

Mpls Ju said...

I don't own a television, but I watch The Daily Show and Colbert Report pretty regularly on the comedy central website. They are good about putting up the previous night's broadcast quickly.

I also love those shows, and agree with most of your points. However, I've been wondering myself whether Jon Stewart actually reads all the books he hocks. I mean, reading and analyzing dense books, while keeping up with the news and writing a daily show? And these are books that aren't released yet, so it's not like they can stick around on his nightstand until he gets around to them. I figure he must have a good staff to give him enough synopsis and clippings for him to understand the ideas inside. Either that, or lots and lots of skimming. :)

J said...

Well, I'm pretty sure he does get to stick many of them on the ol' nightstand for a while, since, when authors are on a book tour promoting their works (which they usually are) they almost always get interviewers an advance copy. I'm not sure how long ahead of time TDS books its guests, but I would think he typically gets a week, if not several weeks, with the books. Also, when he's talked about books I myself have read, his depth seems pretty dead on and the type of stuff you might not get from Cliffs Notes. My other thought about it is that, for one thing, he's head of the writing staff and mainly probably has to "yes" or "no" a lot of the script; they probably know his style pretty well and he's been doing this long enough he probably doesn't have to spend *too* much time writing and re-writing his own bits, and for the other thing, TDS seems to take breaks from new broadcasts like its their job, which a while ago occurred to me might be part of the root of their quality. He probably uses that time to catch up and get ahead on materials for interviews coming up -- PLUS almost half the guests are celebs, not scholars, so the prep for that is to watch their movie/tv show -- maybe -- and then make jokes. A cake walk for him, I'm thinking, leaving plenty of time to get his read on.