Category Archives: Political Pop-Culture
With the recent crediting of Jon Stewart as helping to move along the 9/11 First Responders bill by dedicating an entire show to its passage, he may have made important strides beyond “advocacy satire” and into a realm some journalists have rightly, and often wrongly, traversed: advocacy journalism.
I like the first term because it gives satire its due credence that is often discounted as non-serious or not to be taken as such. Much of this blog is reflective of my academic interests, most of which have sought to figure humor and satire’s current place in our culture. In the last few months I finally feel like im getting close. I recently received my first revise and resubmit notice from the journal of Journalism: Theory and Practice on an essay I wrote last spring on Stewart and Colbert as public journalists that tried to tackle this idea. They want me to go further.
Which is what Stewart and Colbert are doing. A major component to public journalism as outlined by Jay Rosen and Davis “Buzz” Merritt is that taking matters of public importance into account is a much needed journalistic practice. But they are also quick to warn that it is not the same as journalists advocating for specific positions, a consideration I went to great lengths to illustrate Stewart and Colbert were taking.
All of that seems to have been thrown out the window in the past few months. The much hyped and misunderstood, rallies to restore both sanity and/or fear were met with much criticism in the mainstream press for the two comedians overstepping their bounds and creating their own spectacle. Colbert’s testimony in front of Congress on the plight of migrant workers in light of a recent farm bill was soundly discarded.
But lo did Stewart bounce back with an actual legislative win! The 9/11 First responders bill special marked a significant point where Stewart was rightly credited and praised for raising a significant issue, in his own way, while acknowledging that he was right in skewering those he thought were responsible for its blockage. Republicans. Allowing NY firefighters and police to come on the show and state their case, while hearing their voices shaken by the ravages of cancer from Ground Zero, became un-debatable. And as the NY Times pointed out Stewart may be actually moving into the role of satire advocate journalist with this episode, comparing him to Edward R. Murrow in the process. Take that Keith Olbermann!
In light of this, I do not feel that Stewart and Colbert have wholly abandoned the notion of public journalism in the sense laid out by either Rosen or Merritt. In order to understand the influence of Stewart and Colbert I think it is helpful to create an ironic understanding of their intellectual and journalistic posturing. That is, they are “Ironic Intellectuals”: their authority stems from the very disavowal of any serious authority. Their humor and absurdity are precisely what give them a sobering sincerity so badly needed.
It is also what enables us to understand their straddling of journalist/comedian. They can be both and we can understand them as both. I’ll be playing with this idea more in the coming months as comprehensive exams and dissertations loom on the horizon. In the meantime watch Stewart’s speech and offer some thoughts on the matter.
So I finally did it. After a year and a half photoshopping images, writing cover letters, and tracking down addresses, I finally sent off my thesis to The Colbert Report today. Actually it’s kind of embarrassing it took me to find that last part, seeing as I ended up settling for the fan mail address.
Either way I’m pretty excited about it, and proud of myself for actually going through it. As I mentioned in Part 1 this was always part of the plan when I originally wrote the thing. The cover letter my former speech coach and I included, yes- a cover letter, this is a professional operation, we hope Colbert’s staff won’t react in the same way as my graduate committee.
Much to the horrified surprise of my thesis committee, I am sending this project to you and your staff as what I hope is not the oddest tribute you’ve received.
I still think I’m in the running for odd tributes with the photos we made. I showed some of them in the last post but really went for it on others. This is the one I actually fastened to the envelope.
Man I love Photoshop (And So Can You)!
If it gets in the right hands it would be only the 6th copy ever distributed. If you yourself are intrigued, and still reading at this point, you can see a version of the thesis in the Arizona State University Hayden Library, or when I figure out how to upload them here.
These should arrive in New York sometime early next week. Then it is your move Colbert. Please don’t throw it out.
People hate on L.A. alot and I usually shut them down pretty quickly with this gem:
“You like movies? You’re welcome.”
Well today we’ve got another ridiculous thing to fight up at the Statehouse. Apparently the legislature is debating whether or not to remove serpentine as the official state rock, because it contains naturally occurring traces of asbestos. Cancer-conscious advocates claim it sends the wrong message. Yes, because clearly Californians have a huge problem with naturally occurring carcinogens.
The New York Times, whose writers I’m sure had a field day, summed up the crux of the controversy
“Declaring that serpentine “has known health effects,” the bill would leave California — one of roughly half the states in the nation with an official rock or mineral — without an official rock. (According to the bill, California was the first state, in 1965, to name an official rock.) Asbestos occurs naturally in many minerals, and indeed some serpentine rocks do serve as a host for chrysotile, a form of asbestos. But geologists say chrysotile is less harmful than some other forms of asbestos, and would be a danger — like scores of other rocks — only if a person were to breathe its dust repeatedly.
Ok, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and file this away under “Not An Issue.”
But legislators aren’t. Here is what actual California Senator Gloria Romero actually had to say in the bill’s defense
“California is health conscious,” she said. “This is not about being anti-rock. But why do we need a rock?”
Just to be clear. The California Legislature. Is fighting. Over rocks.
It is literally a metaphor for what is wrong with the state.
Since I’m going to one day be a Dr., and thus certified expert on matters of rhetoric and argumentation, allow me to break down this complicated argument for y’all.
Issue 1: Should the California State rock be Serpentine?
Issue 2: Should we even have a State rock?
Issue 3: Is this why California is broke?
$10 bucks if you can guess which two are the most important. I then ask that you donate that money to the California State Treasury.
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m gonna go smash my face against a rock. But not serpentine. Wouldn’t want to up my cancer risk.
Al Franken keeps it the realest. Of course I could be referring to his epic skewering of Rush Limbaugh, or to his similarly epic nailing of the far right. To be fair, each of those is baller. But what I think is the most baller is that he has actually turned it into a pretty solid career as an actual U.S. Senator.
Check out this dismantling of a couple of Halliburton Arbitration Lawyers. These corporate jackass apologists were given the soul crushing job of denying a female employee her day in court after she was sexually assaulted by other Halliburton employees on assignment in Iraq. The corporate-government complex was definitely in need of a good balling up. And Franken was just the person to give it to them.
No doubt because of Jon Stewart’s popularity and Stephen Colbert’s actual campaign for President in 2008, there seems to be a growing obsession with comedians throwing their hat in the political ring.
Now Iceland’s got one Comedian Jon Gnarr was recently elected mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland, a city that has now apparently seen four mayors in as many years. This one seems more Colbert and less Franken. Except for the fact that it worked and his absurd campaign promises, promising Kindergartners to build a Disneyland at the airport, were enough for the good people of Reykjavik.
Absurd? Probably. Actually I think it makes pretty good sense. The things comedians say onstage, or “promise” during their campaigns are no less absurd than what politicians actually promise to constituents. Plus neither one of them gets any of these promises fulfilled anyway. As Jon Stewart told Jim Cramer “There is a certain sense that we are both snake oil salesman, only we admit we are selling snake oil.”
Here are a few more reasons why we should let comedians ball up politics:
1. Comedians understand society and how things work. That’s why they can make the observations they do.
2. Comedians are smart and ballsy. The same human qualities it takes to get someone to want to run for public office/service is remarkably similar to the type of person it takes to get up in front of a group of people and say what they think. People already accuse politicians of pandering in order to win votes. Comedians pander to audiences as well, but in most cases in a way that is brutally honest and insightful. At the very least they acknowledge their pandering.
4. Comedians have slightly less shame than politicians.
3. They’re baller.
I mean it could be worse. Remember, Minnesota also elected former pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura in 1998. And my own home state of California has elected not one, but TWO Hollywood elites, as Republicans, as Governor. For now I’ll put my money on the funny people.
For the very few who wonder what it must be like to be either a professional student or an amateur comic, let alone both; allow me to share one of my favorite lines told onstage.
Being a grad student is a lot like being a comedian. Now I have two jobs that don’t really pay anything.
Having the day job to support one’s comedy habit is akin to the common refrain budding PhD student’s face from their families, “so what ARE you going to do with that?”
After four years of graduate school and stand up comedy I still have no idea. One advances while the other stagnates and vice versa. The key is to find a job that allows for a bit of both. And at least for right now I think I’ve found it. Christopher Beam over at Slate offers a glimpse .
Also it would be nice if using humor was part of the job description as well. By this point it is commonplace to assume that Jon Stewart occupies not only the coolest job but also one of the most important cultural positions today. We here in the departments of communication studies, media studies, and journalism have been writing ad nauseum of the existence and impact of this position but suffice it to say that Stewart is the dominant satirist of our time. And this is a position to be venerated. Stewart is the H. L. Mencken or Mark Twain of our generation , a sentiment echoed not only by various academics but also by the likes of Kurt Vonnegut whose praise of Stewart strikes me as perhaps the utmost compliment anyone can bestow on a humorist.
I’m not saying I want to be the next Jon Stewart. I’m not so naive as to think I have even an ounce of his talent and charisma. In fact I don’t think we should have more people like him and Stephen Colbert. We should just bask in the brilliance they create. But I do think those of us who have been fans since the beginning and have gone to great lengths to illustrate the significance of what is going on at Comedy Central should be able to take their lead and find newer and more interesting ways to offer our ideas to the world. In many ways Jon Stewart does not do anything different than many academics interested in the current state of the world. It’s just that his method is, and it’s working.
Which is why, as a longtime fan of the show, as well as a practicing humorist, I was inspired by the Slate article previously mentioned. Commentary on current events, in a public format, with small doses of reasoned criticism gleaned from one’s academic training of choice, with some jokes thrown in, is something that I really think I could do. In fact it IS what I do. Can someone start posting those jobs on Monster? And then tell me about it on LinkedIn? And then show me how to use Monster and LinkedIn?