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Nicholson '12.5: Is politics a laughing matter?

On Saturday, October 30, so-called "rivals" Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert held The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Assembled on the National Mall in Washington D.C, the event was intended to gather all sane, moderate humans who are tired of the inflammatory discourse so prevalent in the media today. The rally served as a vehicle for the voice of the masses rising up against the 15-20 percent of Americans who "control the conversation," as Stewart puts it. In his announcement of the event, Stewart proclaimed, "We are here. We are here, though, only until six, because we have a sitter."

Crowd estimates, according to one Colbert source, fell somewhere between 10 million and 6 billion. (In reality, the event drew 215,000 to 250,000 people, exceeding all previous Comedy Central estimates.) Clearly, this was not your average rally on the Mall. Some came in costumes; most came carrying signs. Stewart and Colbert, representing Sanity and Fear, respectively, battled it out on stage through songs about trains. And, while Stewart stood by his claim that the event was "a- political," he did not hesitate to lampoon the American media. In a heartfelt closing monologue (essentially the only comedy-free moment in the entire event), Stewart proclaims, "The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen, or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected, dangerous-flaming ant epidemic."

The rally, above all, asserted the predominant role of the celebrity in the American consciousness. The proceedings were light, never digressing into political debate or rhetoric. Of course, Stewart's power in political discourse was once again asserted. But what does it all mean? What does it mean when two of the most powerful political pundits hail from Comedy Central? What makes comedians more capable of capturing the voice of the American public than any other cable-television source?

In her article for the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum wrote, "I don't know about you, but my heart sank when I read about Jon Stewart's Million Moderate March… My heart sank further when I learned that liberal groups, lacking any better ideas, have decided to take this endeavor seriously." The liberals of the world took Stewart's event as a rallying cry. Yet the event itself remained apolitical, jovial, funny. Rather than calling for specific reform or give much needed support to struggling Democratic candidates, the comedic duo chose to make fun of those already in power. Rather than serving as a counterbalance to Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally, the Rally to Restore Sanity lacked political bite.

Stewart's event was given the opportunity most other rallies on the Mall seldom get. Sure, Stewart is charismatic, presenting a rallying point that interests people. Most importantly, however, Stewart has a cable network backing him, allowing him to be heard. This is what separates his rally from that of the labor movement only weeks before (which obviously no one heard about). In this sense, mainstream media seems a low apple to grab for a man who momentarily occupied the attention of the American public. Why not be political? The Democrats are sure to suffer major losses in today's election. Why not beg, "please baby, one more time"?

Instead, Stewart took to mocking those who feel inclined towards political activism. As Ed Morrissey at Hot Air described, "Basically, this is a celebration of political laziness masquerading as ironic detachment, which is something generations have enjoyed in their early adulthood without making it an industry. Instead of having making actual, serious, and developed political arguments, it's much easier to make fun of those who do on both sides of the political divide and pretend that one is above it all." Although obviously not the intent, the rally spit in the face of previous generations who thought of politics as something worthy of their time and passions.

And it isn't like Stewart doesn't have the legitimacy to make a statement. After all, President Obama appeared on his show only three days before the event. If that isn't implicit validation, I don't know what is. The reality is this: when given the world as a stage, Stewart chose to make us laugh. Sure, laughter is medicine. We all love to laugh. But to me at this moment, politics is no laughing matter. The elections are coming. Stewart should have embraced his role as a liberal leader and yelled for us when he had the chance. Yes, yelling can be "annoying"; We all agree on that. Agreement, however, does not make it a rallying point. Sometimes yelling is the only way to be heard over the yammer Stewart so vehemently attacks. He, of all people, should understand that.



Lorraine Nicholson '12.5 is a literary arts concentrator from Los Angeles, Calif.



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