Friday, March 20, 2009

Inside Every Satirist, A Crying Child

Will Wilkinson does not care much for Jon Stewart:

Here’s what I said about Stewart way back in 2004 after his Crossfire soapboxing:
You know what? I’m just gonna say it: I’m bored bored bored of John Stewart. The Crossfire thing was the final straw, the shark jumping. He’s permanently tainted, and from here on out we can only look forward to the long slide into “Remember when that guy was funny.” Sanctimony is death to satire. The last thing I need is the fake news guy thinking he’s King Shit protector of the public interest. Yes, Tucker Carlson is a dick. But we all have eyes. Damn, John. You used to be cool.
My feelings haven’t much changed. The long slide has taken rather longer than I expected, however. At least there’s Colbert!

(Yes, I know it’s ‘Jon’.)
If I might indulge a little mind-reading, the accusation of sanctimony is a rather thin veil laid over the fact that Wilkinson finds Stewart's left-liberal opinions disagreeable. Fair enough. Wilkinson is not required to nod along with Stewart's left-liberal view of the world, and in fairness, it's hard to laugh at satire with which one disagrees.

Which brings us to Wilkinson's claim that "sanctimony is death to satire." This walks a very fine line, does it not? Think of Swift or Twain, or the best episodes of M*A*S*H, South Park and The Simpsons. Or think of Stephen Colbert savaging Beltway journalists a few years back. The line between these efforts and earnest, shrieking sanctimony is extremely thin -- as it needs to be, or we're just in the realm of insult comedy rather than satire. It's one thing to ridicule folly, and quite another to attack on behalf of a superior, if tacit, alternative. The latter is satire, and good satire if the satirist successfully conceals the whining, overearnest child within behind a more knowing and aggressive presentation. If this act of concealment fails, then yes, sanctimony can detract from the satire.

It is worth noting also that Jon Stewart has never been the funniest thing about The Daily Show (nor was Craig Killborn before him). The segments with the correspondents have always made the show what it was, whereas Stewart's bits and monologues vary, and his interviews are often downright painful.

Watch some of it. You'll laugh.


larryniven said...

Hey, now - Jon Stewart is waaaay better than Sam Bee or Jason Jones or that faux-spacey woman they have on doing women's issues stories. I'll give you Wyatt Cenac (sp?) and John Oliver and Larry Wilmore and most of the old-school guys (Colbert, Helms, etc.), but he has to carry a lot more of the load these days.

Mike said...

I think many people miss Stewart's point. He and his crew make a living digging up and pointing out for comedic effect the silliness and occasional malfeasance of powerful people. He sees the so-called serious media not only not doing even this superficial digging but covering for the powerful,often to the detriment of the country. It justifiably bothers him,and once in a while it boils over. I'll be more concerned when it stops bothering him.

Dale said...

Mike, well said. LN, you don't double over with laughter at Samantha Bee? She kills me.

And you forgot that Yansef guy or whatever his name is. He's pretty funny.

It's true, people get good at the correspondent thing and then they leave.

I'm not saying Stewart is not funny -- he can be very, very funny. But he's just the ringleader.

larryniven said...

I find that she hits for power, not average. I also get kinda sad that her fallback joke is to clumsily hit on someone - as far as fallback jokes go, it's no "Is George Bush a great president or the greatest president."

Aasif (again, sp?) is pretty good, but I can't help but wonder if he talks that way at home. You can just see him and his wife(?) sitting down to watch a movie together and him going, YOU KNOW, DEAR, I HEARD THAT THIS MOVIE...WAS REALLY GOOD. And then he does that knowing-look/nod combination.

Dale said...

Good point, LN -- it's almost certainly for the best that Ms. Bee isn't featured night after night. A little of her schtick goes a long way.

Anonymous said...

I don't watch Comedy Channel, or the Daily Show. All I see of Mr. Stewart are those things which circulate around the Web or other media.

Regardless of his place in the pantheon of those who do and have done what he does, I find it a good thing that someone able to catch the public eye and ear is savaging those who so desperately need it.

I showed up here via Cafe Philos.