Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Jon Stewart's Daily Dose of

They're not fake news. They take the real news and spin it into a fake newscast, but the facts are real, and the people they have on the show are very real, the issues are very real, and the impact they're having is very real.

-Huffington Post's Rachel Sklar in this video about the feud between Geraldo/O'Reilly and Colbert/Stewart.
I've been meaning to write about the Daily Show. What exactly is "the impact they're having?"

What is the Daily Show about, really? It's just sort of vague irony and cynicism. The Colbert Report, at least, is a satire of right wing zealots. The Daily Show isn't really about anything.

-Musician and cultural critic Reginald Lamar
The Village Voice recently discussed an academic study that found that in 2004, young people who were exposed to the Daily Show became more cynical about politics and the news media.

It may be more instructive to see The Daily Show not as an agent of disaffection so much as a symptom of a larger psychological trend. In Generation Me, Twenge cites 40 years of data from a popular psychological scale that measures "internal" versus "external" personalities. ... By the researchers' yardstick, the average college student in the early 2000s is more "external"—that is to say, more cynical—than 80 percent of her early-'60s forebears. The long-term effects of rising externality are clear and grim. "The impression is that there's nothing I can do and it's all going to hell, and you can see that in kids as young as nine," says Twenge. "Some of it is actually realism and practicality, but some of it is counterproductive cynicism.

"Everything that externality correlates with is horrible: bad academic performance, depression, anxiety, alienation," Twenge continues. "And yet the argument makes sense—of course we can't all change the world. Certainly for young people who are left of center, this last presidential election was a lesson in cynicism." Since Twenge's Generation Me is akin to a big-tent Generation X, perhaps that epoch-defining aphorism from Slacker still applies: "Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy."
Hm, not the same, but certainly not preferable, either (or is the Voice doing that 90s trick where 'the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning'?). Anyhow, it all sounds an awful lot like the argument for depressive realism, which holds that depressives perceive the world around them more clearly than "healthy" people do (since part of clinical healthiness is preserving oneself from the harshness of reality).
One cognitive symptom of depression might be the loss of optimistic, self-enhancing biases that normally protect healthy people against assaults to their self-esteem. In many instances, depressives may simply be judging themselves and the world much more accurately than non-depressed people, and finding it not a pretty place.

OK, so there's a certain clarity to depressive realism. But a depressive realist argument against political idealism amounts to my 8th grade motto "why bother?" Well, that's not a very inspirational position from which to cover the news.

Somebody get Jon Stewart some St. John's Wort. Or at least a coherent point of view.


  • At 11:20 AM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    You're being such a fuddy-duddy. Is the Daily Show always funny? Not at all, it misses fairly often. But when it hits it's hilarious. Second, are you really complaining that it promotes cynicism? That's so anti-Gen-X of you. I think cynicism about politics and the media is fully appropriate. Look at your own post above. You think the media and politicians aren't dealing with immigration completely cynically, essentially dealing in race-baiting and fearmongering to win votes and ratings? You think all those reporters really care so breathlessly about what happens to Karr or Barbaro or any of the other momentary celebrities they create? It's a Network world, after all. Or is cynicism only okay for thee but not for the "average college student?"

    Finally, one really should try not to find oneself in the same category as Geraldo.

  • At 11:23 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Or is cynicism only okay for thee but not for the "average college student?"


  • At 11:24 AM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    He does seem to have a pretty coherent point of view about the news in the clip you've embedded.

  • At 11:28 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    But the point is, whereas the Colbert Report is cynical satire, at least it's satire. What is the Daily Show? It's shrug-and-tune-out TV.

    I dunno, I don't watch it that much, so maybe I'm being unfair. But I much prefer Colbert.

  • At 11:42 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Just watched that clip again. I had forgotten that JS sometimes gets really populist earnest. OK, so the point of view is something like "there is a right or wrong and it is not the same as left or right." Right? I guess that's a kind of anti-relativism/two-sides-ism.

    JS says in the clip, "when you're a parody, you go where the money is."

    But what are they parodying? With the Colbert Report the mission is so clear. With the Daily Show, I just don't get it.

  • At 11:45 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    p.s. How dare you imply that I'm Gen X. I'm Gen Y thank you very much. Borderline Gen Z.

  • At 2:05 PM, Blogger Phoebe Evergreen said…

    Daily Show parodies the media in general. Granted, Jon Stewart (with whom I shared a Hebrew day school nursery teacher) with me) frequently satirizes news subjects directly, but the overall format is one of attacking the entertainment prerogatives of and deference showed to idiocy by the mainstream electronic media. Jon Stewart parodies the nightly news, Stephen Colbert the right-wing ranters. Stewart's trick is that he can deliver information about the world more accurately than his subjects, who supposedly deliver "straight" news.

  • At 2:27 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Hm, so he's parodying the show biz bias of nightly news broadcasts, and in ironically bringing attention to that bias, he is able to transcend it?

    OK, but I have seen too many dumbass frat boys who just think he's "awesome." He and his more sophisticated viewers may be having it both ways, but at least some of his audience just likes him because he's not "boring" like real newscasters.

    Yes I realize I'm sounding like a fuddy duddy, which is strange since LB is even more entertainment-focused and snarky than the DS. But we are idealists at heart.

  • At 2:28 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Also, your link didn't work, Phoebe. I'm curious what it is...

  • At 3:51 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    I don't think Phoebe said "showbiz bias." He said "entertainment prerogatives of and deference showed to idiocy by" the media.

    Stewart is an ironist. In fact, he's almost a classically Socratic eiron, forever approaching the world with fake, wide-eyed innocence. But as Stanley Fish once said (in an essay named for the Randy Newman song "Short People Got No Reason To Live"), "irony is a risky business because one cannot at all be certain that readers will be directed to the ironic meanings one intends." Maybe ancient Greek meatheads thought Socrates was "awesome" too.

    At any rate, the concern you're voicing about cynicism echoes classic objections to ironists, including Kierkegaard's critique of Schlegel (if I remember it right, which I probably don't). So you're in good fuddy-duddy company.

  • At 5:05 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    You don't even know how many times a day I get compared to Kierkegaard.

  • At 10:41 PM, Blogger Eustacia Vye said…

    Solomon's concern about dumbass frat boys might be more pertinent to Colbert -- he seems to attract a certain O'Reillyish meathead element, at least among his studio audiences. For example, earlier this summer he led his audience in waving rainbow flags and chanting in support of gay marriage (and he did it in character, which was completely awesome), and you could definitely hear some boos and hissing from the crowd. Not everyone is on board. (Kurt Cobain had the same problem, which he addressed in the liner notes to Incesticide.)

  • At 3:20 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Now that you mention it, Colbert does get a lot of fratboy Woot-Woots.

    Sigh, I don't know. I wrote this post at 4 in the morning, gimme a break.


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