By Ryan Henson
If you look at pictures of Jon Stewart from 1999, when he first inherited the “The Daily Show” from Craig Kilborn, and compare them with pictures of Stewart today you will notice one thing in particular: the man has aged.
In the lines of Stewart’s face you can see the weight of those years, and they were indeed heavy years by any measurement. Compare the decades wear on Stewart to, dare I say it, President George W. Bush. You’ll notice the same darkening of the eyes, the same slow deepening of the wrinkles. However, I’ll grant that perhaps Bush’s wrinkles ran a shade deeper.
Is it any wonder that Stewart looks weary these days? Throughout this tumultuous first decade of the 21st century, his life has consisted, day after day, of poking fun at what many times seemed humorous only as an extension of its ridiculousness. The Bush administration gave “The Daily Show” eight years of comedy gold, yet the sting was in the reality. People’s lives were being ruined, soldiers were dying in dusty, sun-lit foreign streets, and this country was brought to the verge of economic destruction. It is perhaps a stretch to say that the entirety of the blame rests with George W., Dick, and Donald, but you could hardly argue that they don’t hold at least, (don’t laugh) a small part of that blame.
Who are we left to turn to for answers, for the truth, for an honest discussion of things as they really are, or ought to be? It seems that, for the most part, the mainstream media outlets have abandoned these tenets they once clung to so steadfastly. The 24-hour news cycle has traded stories, carefully considered and researched sound bytes that holler and stamp their feet for a single second of the ever shrinking attention span of their viewers. Political commentators regurgitate weary discussion points and shout hollow and tired arguments at one another until the noise level reaches such intensity that you cannot distinguish a line or thought from another.
I may be beating a dead horse by bemoaning the state of the American media, but how can one overstate the importance of such a failure? A press, both free and ambitious in its pursuit of truth, as well as quick and fierce in its identification and condemnation of deceit and distortions, is essential to the American society and democracy.
In a 2009 Time Magazine poll, which asked who was America’s most trusted newscaster now, Stewart beat everyone, including “real” news anchors such as NBC’s Brian Williams, by a considerable margin. However surprising this may be, watching The Daily Show reveals the reason why people turn more and more to Comedy Central for a serious discussion of the topics of the day.
Yes, the jokes are often immature, and yes, it is first and foremost a comedy show, but the satire cuts right to the heart of the matter, more often than one might suspect. In his interviews in particular, Stewart seems to be the only personality on television capable of pressuring close-lipped political figures to say what they really mean, or at least imply that they haven’t been. Stewart is granted this privilege by his position as the comedy show host on a non-news network. He can ask whatever he wants to. He asks the questions I would want to ask myself. These exchanges as they go on, are more and more laced with a subtle but growing desperation at the state of our country that Stewart shares with us all.
Claims that state Stewart is nothing more than a liberal pundit puppet seem deflated now. After approaching the two year mark of the inauguration of Barack Obama, his criticisms have, if anything, sharpened. If there is any bias possessed by Stewart, the only one I can see through the years is a rational one. Stewart’s concerns and fears reflect those of a man who is deeply troubled by what he finds to lampoon every day: the theatrical and childlike pettiness of our political system, our floundering and cracked economy, and the hatred and ignorance that hides beneath the thin veil of slogans that claim to be preserving American values, freedoms, or traditions. Stewart bares his frustration plainly to us, and we feel for him because we feel the same way. We feel the same sense of desperation and futility, yet still cling, as he does, to some small but resilient hope rooted in our optimistism and faith in the enduring character of America. So keep on keeping on Jon! Let’s just hope more people lend their ears to hear the reason you’re preaching.