The Daily Show and Political Activism
by Megan Boler
The popular debate about whether Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show is “bad for Americans” won’t go away. Indeed, worries got so big that now FOX has launched a conservative antidote, “The _ Hour News Show” which premiered this week. Now streaming on YouTube, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough ran a piece featuring Daily Show clips and two pundits debating whether “therapeutic irony is rendering us politically impotent.” Similar fears were fanned last year when news media had a fiesta with a questionable study by two academics which claimed that watching The Daily Show breeds cynicism and lowers young voters’ “trust in national leaders.” In September, The New York Times Magazine ran a savvy piece called “My Satirical Self” about a generation of satire in which Wyatt Mason describes how “ridicule provides a remedy for his rage.” In 2003 in an interview with Bill Moyers, Moyers asks Jon Stewart: “I do not know whether you are practicing an old form of parody and satireor a new form of journalism. Stewart replies: “Well then that either speaks to the sad state of comedy or the sad state of news. I can’t figure out which one. I think, honestly, we’re practicing a new form of desperation (July 2003, PBS).
But Courtney Martin’s January 7 Baltimore Sun column touches on the plaguing question of satire’s role in politics: “Satire, of course, has a long and proven history as the source of bona fide social change. Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, George Orwell’s Animal Farm – all of these led to new public awareness that then led to protest, even some pragmatic reforms. Rebels distributed copies of Animal Farm, a novella satirizing totalitarianism, to displaced Soviets in Ukraine right after World War II.”
However, she laments, TDS viewers are only chatting around the water cooler.
Such claims are not only too simple, but wrong: the court jesters of our dark times translate into far more than chit-chat.