By: Michael Shields w/ Tom Rau
Across the Margin bids farewell to the shrewdest voice in fake news….
This isn’t goodbye. As Jon Stewart embarks from The Daily Show news desk, a desk that from behind which he became a household name, and one of the most relevant American voices, it is tough to feel positively despondent. For Jon Stewart is far from done. We have watched over the last sixteen years as Stewart developed into a finely sharpened knife that cut through all the noise, and at the ripe, young age of 52, it’s possible that his most prolific years are still ahead. But this is indeed the end of an era. As today marks a moment in time where moving forward, we will no longer have Jon Stewart to expose America’s deep-seated hypocrisy and outlandishness. Without Stewart’s insight, it’s easy to assume that we are now left alone in the dark, without that comically consoling hand who has guided us through so many turbulent times. But this is far from the case, as for over the past decade Stewart has refined his viewers, fashioning a critical mass of acute skeptics whose eyes are now keenly focused in on the duplicities present among the powers that be.
Like a child who speaks honestly about the way in which he or she sees the world, Stewart voiced what so many of us were thinking. Since 1999 ((In John’s first interview, with Michael J. Fox, he mocked himself for wearing a suit, flippantly stating, “Honestly, I feel like this is my bar mitzvah. I’ve never worn something like this, and I have a rash like you wouldn’t believe.”)), Jon Stewart has acted as America’s voice of reason. As our moment of Zen in a loud, uncertain and chaotic world. He has functioned as the anger that boils over inside of us. And most importantly, he has characterized the deep exasperation that maturates when rational thinkers are forced to try to make sense of the senseless. Deciphering the madness that propagates in the political and cultural structures of our world is no easy task, but Jon Stewart did just that, with grace, with sarcasm and a discerning yet eviscerating wit, and with some damn good jokes.
Looking back at the time when Craig Kilborn was the host of The Daily Show, it’s hard not to think of that period in the same vein as the hours spent with HBO’s Entourage. Both were just good fun, nothing more. When Jon Stewart took over the show many of The Daily Show faithful quickly surmised, there goes the neighborhood. But what The Daily Show ultimately turned into was something much greater than what it could have ever been with Kilborn at the helm. With Kilborn, The Daily Show was biting and satirical, but more markedly, there was an aura of negativity. You never had the feeling that Kilborn himself actually stood for anything. With Stewart, you were rewarded with all the satire and parody that his comedic background brought, but you also perceived something more important was occurring, that we were dealing with a host who clearly believed in what he was doing. Instead of a show which was essentially a clone of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, The Daily Show challenged the viewer, and made one ponder the motives of Government, as well as their own beliefs and political stances. In the end, Stewart was a voice that both reflected and stood for the ideals of so many Americans who were fed up with government and politicians and a media that was becoming increasingly corrupt, veiled, and short-sighted.
The enduring moments of John Stewart’s Daily Show run are countless. Ushering his flock of devotees through a fraudulent impeachment trial, George Bush’s Presidential Era and the War in Iraq, Sarah Palin and the election of America’s first black president and unto our current Trump-laden electoral bazaar, Jon Stewart’s pointed commentary wasn’t simply alleviating, but paramount in supplementing perspective to altogether complicated and weighty events. Stewart’s 9/11 monologue is heart-wrenching television, and lines up aptly with the way in which he handled Newtown, Charleston, Eric Garner’s murder and the many other trials our Nation has had to face together. He was never apprehensive of anguishing on camera, as he knew he was not alone. And through it all he fought the good fight for honesty in journalism and integrity, going head to head with the likes of Chris Matthews, Glenn Beck, and most famously, Bill O’Reilly. Jon Stewart sought to make those that trivialize the truth through hyperbolic reporting accountable, and highlighted in vivid clarity to all of us how a ratings hungry, irresponsible media profoundly “hurts America.”
Luckily, as the sun sets on Jon Stewart’s run at The Daily Show, we are left with a bevy of politically motivated entertainers spawned of his knowhow and ready to carry the torch. Stewart’s offspring, who convened last evening in a star-studded correspondent reunion ((Even Wyatt Cenac returned to pay tribute to Stewart!)), can be found everywhere in the entertainment industry, often in positions where they can pontificate on society’s ills by mocking the buffoonery of it all, like Jon did. Larry Wilmore’s Nightly Show, John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight and the soon to premiere The Late Show with Stephen Colbert advance Jon’s legacy and leave us with a little taste of the good old days, the ones when Jon helped us understand the depths of our bureaucratic failings and the idiocracy we as a Nation are up against. As Stewart’s saunters off into the sunset of his choosing, his influence does not fade away but instead lives on. It lives on with the truth that his time on The Daily Show made a difference ((Highlighted by the fact that his advocacy for a bill to provide aid to the 9/11 responders is extensively viewed as the reason it passed through Congress.)). And it lives on through the multitude of young Americans who are more politically and socially awake than in the years before Jon Stewart first invited us to consider his unique and comically probing brand of news.
Laughter, and satirical introspection, will never be a substitute for authentically striving for tangible change. But it is important to remember that Jon Stewart did so much more than just make us laugh. The Daily Show was, and remains moving forward with Trevor Noah at the helm, important. Staunch conservatives often ruminate on the narrative that Jon Stewart had an agenda, and that he only attacked those on the Right in an effort to promote his Liberal ambitions. But the truth is, if you were fucking up, being shady, deceitful or insincere, Jon was coming after you, regardless of party affiliations. “Bullshit,” as he said last evening in his final address to the audience, “is everywhere,” and Jon sniffed it out with zest. Sure, Stewart’s politics obviously lie left of center, but the target of his ire isn’t those who reside with the Republican party, but all those that are full of shit and getting in the way of real change. Jon Stewart has claimed time and again that he is “just a comedian.” While his modesty is respectful, this is far from the case. The Daily Show, under Stewart’s vigilant watch, has proved itself exponentially more insightful than the real “news” his show parodies. Due to the fact that he and his writers have been operating under the transparent guise that he was merely there to make people laugh, The Daily Show has been able to do what most reporters cannot, and that is – call a spade a spade. Stewart has worked tirelessly, and has aged before our eyes at the pace of a U.S. President, but his efforts have not been in vain. Because of Jon Stewart our eyes are open, and our resolve to be a part of the type of America that isn’t so easily ridiculed is greater than ever. Jon Stewart showed us the that there is a sprinkling of light within all the abounding darkness. Now it is up to us to somehow make that light shine a little bit brighter. “The best defense against bullshit is vigilance,” Jon reminded us before he signed off from his final broadcast. “So if you smell something , say something.”