Almost sixteen years ago, Jon Stewart replaced Craig Kilborn on The Daily Show, while Kilborn stole his way onto The Late Late Show. Yet that failure seems to have been his last, for there is no doubt that Jon Stewart is the founder of the late night fake news show genre, and that his show’s self-deprecating humor has angered news hosts and made many a politician the butt of a wiener joke. From winning more than 20 Emmys, to forcing CNN to cancel a show, to personally ensuring that the 9/11 first responder’s Zadroga bill was passed, this man has been a force for good. In the process, he has been the headline at Fox News, embarrassed entire states (Texas and Florida, I’m looking at you), and scared the Obama administration into keeping confidential some statements of Vice President Biden, because of Stewart’s criticism of Dick Cheney/Darth Vader. In the process of creating greatness, Stewart has propelled the careers of Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Ed Helms, and John Oliver. And now the fake news show the changed the face of news and how this latest generation consumes news and engages with the political process is coming to an end.
With the passing of a legend comes the end of an era. While both Stewart and Colbert have graduated into their own hall of fame, we see a new breed of fake news casters emerging: Larry Wilmore and John Oliver, both of whom are more direct with their criticisms of politics and the media. Both of their shows are more analytical and less confrontational, attempting less to coerce politicians or a single tyrannical news corporation and than to create a conversation. In a sense, however, this is truly representative of the changing America with which the The Daily Show has grown.
As Stewart’s hair has grayed and he has become even more unbearably good looking, our political climate has profoundly changed. From the Clinton years, when everyone agreed about the apocalyptic-potential of LGBT marriage and about the merits of cigars and blue dresses, we have now evolved to a political climate where politicians cannot agree about the humanness of Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (and whether he’s a human or a turtle), let alone whether to act on immigration. Simultaneously, we have seen media in the information age necessarily need to capture our attention for us to pay any heed to it, and for that reason, our media has amplified its noise and its addiction to making us enraged at something, much like Arby’s enrages us at its poor quality of food. The Daily Show’s job has always been to correct the conversation and air out the facts amidst the sheer lack of fairness and balance in the media. But in a media world where the conversation’s lack of correctness is what makes people obsessed with it, the audience does not need the facts to be true – they are entranced by the anger it causes. The Daily Show, in the process of its admirable goal of reducing political noise, continues the cycle of rage: conservatives are mad at liberals because of the fact-less information spread through the media, and liberals are mad at conservatives because of the fact that the media is spreading fact-less information.
In its very nature, then, The Daily Show has unfortunately enraged us at the rage machine. As Stewart said on February 25th in his show, “Let’s just stop watching these people [Fox News]”. Unfortunately, we have become so enraged at these people, and Jon Stewart has done such a good job of revealing the systemic misinformation that has grown like a cancer on American politics, that we want to watch these people, and we want to fight back. We want to tell Bill O’Reilly that white privilege is an issue, or tell Sean Hannity that he is literally the Gollum to Fox News’s Sauron. But perhaps fighting back against an insatiable machine that mostly acts like a YouTube troll and perhaps has the Eye of Sauron hovering over its New York headquarters isn’t the right strategy anymore. Perhaps it is time to turn our TVs off and stop being enraged altogether. Perhaps we need to turn down the volume to turn down the ringing of pointless arguments in our ears. The best way to fight relentless quackery is to ignore it.
Despite the changing circumstances, the lives of those of us who grew up not losing faith in the political system because of well-intentioned, beautiful, and hilarious people like Stewart, will forever be changed when he goes off the air. I personally will be eating Nutella out of the jar in depression, for Jon has been a personal idol whose high-pitched chuckle and morally astute humor are unmatched.
The thought of not seeing Stewart change the face of politics any longer is depressing. The thought of him being unemployed, even more so. But hey, I hear the White House is going to have a job opening soon.
Featured image photo credit: Brad Barket