January 11, 2007

Humor, Cynicism, Politics: John Stewart and Stephen Colbert

A longtime confidante of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly”—let’s just call him “Chip”—considers himself a Green Party enthusiast, and, accordingly, holds numerous far-left views on a variety of topics. Whether it be life in prison (against it in all circumstances), foreign policy (inveterate peacenik), or capitalism (wholeheartedly opposed), our pal’s opinions tend toward the extreme.

One might think that such a self-touted radical would make sure to keep well abreast of the contemporary political scene. After all, he isn’t some garden-variety moderate: His politics simply scream “I know better than you do.” Or, perhaps, “I know better than you do, and I have a tote-bag to prove it.”

Which is why, dear reader, we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” were flabbergasted to learn that our buddy’s entire understanding of the world of politics comes from the Comedy Central program “The Colbert Report.” No newspapers, no news magazines, no books, no NPR—just a stilted comedy show with a few bits of John Stewart’s “Daily Show” thrown in for good measure.

Now, dear reader, we know that other writers have excoriated Messrs. Stewart and Colbert in the past. Most perceptively, New Criterion media critic James Bowman took issue with Mr. Stewart’s entire vision of Washington: The comedian assumes that running the United States if very easy and is merely screwed up by the moronic Democrats and Republicans in the nation’s capital.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth: Love them or hate them, American politicians have a very tough job—one markedly more difficult than hurling barbs for a satirical television show, even if daily. Though many right-wing critics dislike Mr. Stewart for his obvious lefty slant, his most egregious bias is against politicians in general.

Ah, if only the world were run by half-pint comedians! That’d fix everything!

Before we continue, dear reader, we must inform you that we find Messrs. Colbert and Stewart perfectly funny fellows—often quite humorous indeed. Still, the willingness to treat these yuksters as political prophets is frightening. God forbid if the American Green Party uses these entertainers for all their news.

Yet Mr. Stewart, at least, seems to encourage his status as a deep thinker. In fact, he likes to have things both ways. During his infamous—and ill-mannered—trashing of CNN’s “Crossfire,” Mr. Stewart pretended that he’s just a humble comedian; as such, host Tucker Carlson was incorrect to take issue with the hackneyed political coverage “The Daily Show” offers.

But, of course, Mr. Stewart was at least partly lying. To be sure, he’s primarily a jokesmith. But, as everyone knows, Mr. Stewart took an essentially non-partisan program under Craig Kilborn and turned it into a humorous infomercial for the Democratic Party. This is not a man bereft of any political ambition. He loves his post as the only likeable chap in the Move-On set.

The same can be said for Mr. Colbert. Once a delightful correspondent on “The Daily Show,” he has transformed into a stale Bill O’Reilly parody that plays well only to professional Bill O’Reilly haters (who, we imagine, are legion). Thus does “The Colbert Report” offer only a one-note take on politics. We get it, we get it: You’re not really conservative, Mr. Colbert, are you? Ah, very, very clever.

Again, we don’t exactly blame Messrs. Stewart and Colbert for their audiences’ championing them as political heavyweights. But we think their repute is not a good sign for the future of this country’s political acumen.

Posted at January 11, 2007 12:01 AM | TrackBack