Saturday, October 16, 2004

Jon Stewart on Crossfire

I had heard about John Stewart's appearance on Crossfire last week, but seeing the video - my god! (Link Here) He's spectacular - he comes on, they want comedy - he gives them a lecture on their responsibility as a news show. And - despite Tucker Carlson's crying - he's funny anyway! But he gets the serious point made - that they are part of the theater of politics (and the unstated point that Stewart's show is a parody of the theater of politics), and that the theater of politics strips away the reality of politics, and undermines the political system. Stewart makes the point - sticks with it - doesn't slip into platitudes or abstractions - stays funny doing it, though not just funny... And it just hangs there, twisting in the breeze, because the other two make very little effort to discuss it. In fact, Carlson illustrates Stewart's points at almost every turn: whining because Stewart didn't play his assigned role - squirming because Stewart came on and did not just let things go the way they always go. He challenged them to a real discussion - they were not able to respond.

Could they have? I can think of things they could have said - like, "we have to walk a tightrope - we have to make it so politicians keep coming on the show - we try to get past their shields, but we can't do it directly. We have to play the games with them, to get them here, to try to get past the games." I don't know if that is a defense - but it's something. Realistic challenges require access - access requires at least some pandering to the theater. The trick is to get past the defenses, sometimes, just a bit. The problem there is that the show most likely to get at something legitimate behind the spin is the Daily Show. Comedy has always allowed criticism of those in power - Stewart uses it pretty well. Fake debate shows like Crossfire have never done that sort of thing - they allow posturing and scripted outrage. Pro wrestling....

And finally - the Crossfire guys, trying to defend themselves as "hard-hitting" - as not being part of the system - were utterly exposed by Stewart. He did to them exactly what he said they should do to politicians, and they were utterly unable to respond.

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