Friday, August 04, 2006

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert

My sons (16 and 14) get all of what news they get from the Jon Stewart show and the Colbert Report, on Comedy Central. They often bring up something that was said there, as if it were simply true.

All I know about Stewart is his famous "confrontation" with Crossfire talking head Tucker Carlson, where Stewart said: "No. No. I'm not going to be your monkey." And Stewart also said, about his show and why people watch it for political news, "We have civilized discourse."

And, of course, Stewart ended his petulant school-marm-grabs-little-Tuckie-by-the-ear lecture with this exchange:


CARLSON: What's it like to have dinner with you? It must be excruciating. Do you like lecture people like this or do you come over to their house and sit and lecture them; they're not doing the right thing, that they're missing their opportunities, evading their responsibilities?
STEWART: If I think they are.
(LAUGHTER)
CARLSON: I wouldn't want to eat with you, man. That's horrible.
STEWART: I know. And you won't. But the thing I want to get to...
BEGALA: We did promise naked pictures of the Supreme Court justices.
CARLSON: Yes, we did. Let's get to those.
(CROSSTALK)
BEGALA: They're in this book, which is a very funny book.
STEWART: Why can't we just talk -- please, I beg of you guys, please.
CARLSON: I think you watch too much CROSSFIRE.
We're going to take a quick break.
STEWART: No, no, no, please.
CARLSON: No, no, hold on. We've got commercials.
(CROSSTALK)
STEWART: Please. Please stop.
CARLSON: Next, Jon Stewart in the "Rapid Fire."
STEWART: Please stop.
CARLSON: Hopefully, he'll be here, we hope, we think.
(APPLAUSE)
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.
We're talking to Jon Stewart, who was just lecturing us on our moral inferiority.
Jon, you're bumming us out. Tell us, what do you think about the Bill O'Reilly vibrator story?
STEWART: I'm sorry. I don't.
CARLSON: Oh, OK.
STEWART: What do you think?
BEGALA: Let me change the subject.
STEWART: Where's your moral outrage on this?
CARLSON: I don't have any.
STEWART: I know.


Oh, snap! What a cool guy! Gag me, please. I actually don't think
anyone was confused, Jon: Crossfire was an entertainment show, professional wrestling for wonks. Your little lecture was sad, and you are a pathetic, preening poseur.

Anyway, I did decide to see how Stewart and his boy, Colbert, were doing on the moral outrage front. Since Stewart wants more moral outrage, I mean.

So, I watched the Thursday, August 3, 2006 edition of both programs at 8 pm EDT (yes, those are reruns of the 11 pm live version from August 2; sue me).

THE JON STEWART SHOW

I have to admit, I did also know this, going in:

4-01-2004 -- Fake and scathing 1, fair and balanced 0. CNN and MSNBC have gotten used to losing to Fox News. But during the Democratic primaries, an unexpected foe stole the ratings crown from all three. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, a mock news program airing on Viacom's (VIA) Comedy Central, attracted more viewers at 11 p.m. than any of the cable news channels in the last two weeks of January, outdoing Fox by 20 percent even as the news network was running live campaign coverage. Stewart's fake news show has won ever-growing audiences with help from real politico guests like John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards.

So, I'm not so sure he can really leave the moral outrage to others.

Anyway, my "review" of the Aug 3 8 pm EDT showing:

1. He said "fuck" four times. It was bleeped out, but his lips said it clearly, and it wasn't really bleeped out very effectively. Saying "fuck", for a comic, is a lot like calling your opponents Nazis in a debate. It means you aren't very smart, and don't have any real things to say.
2. There was also a graphic, up nearly constantly, that showed "10th fucking (something or other" that was supposed to have significance for fans.
3. He said shit once, that I caught.

Remember, this is on standard cable, at 8 pm. I am glad to let the boy be potty mouth, if he wants, but why does he have to pretend to be a real news show, and then work as hard as he can to make it seem like the concept of news itself is boring unless you say "fuck" a lot. Well, and "shit."

The first segment was about President Bush, being fat. Stewart called him a "fat fuck," facing full on into the camera. It made me proud to be an American. I'm glad that my sons get to be exposed to such an enlightening display.

Why would we expect civility in discourse, which Stewart says he wants, when tomorrow's generation of voters are being told the President is a fat fuck?

The second segment was a montage of interviews from Florida. Excellent stuff, very funny, I did laugh out loud. Just letting people be themselves. The Republican congressional hopeful from Florida who sang the rap sang about gays, and cocaine, was excellent. And the lap dancer...and the woman who wants to ban Satan. Nice television. One thumb up, at least.

The final segment was Chris Paine, and his omni-present "Who killed the electric car?" movie promo. Still, the questions were fine, and Paine is a smart guy. I have to give Paine credit, he noted that independent carmakers could produce electric cars, and would as soon as it was truly economical to do so. Still, I wondered why he (or Mr. Civility, the host) didn't announce they were starting a new electric car company. If it's that easy to do, and you could make money, why not do the free media thing and announce it on the show? Maybe it is NOT that easy? Maybe the fact that no one has produced a commercially successful electric car means something other than a grandiose capitalist conspiracy. Still, Paine has some good points, and I'll probably see the movie.

All in all, this is a 7 out of 10. Without the hypocrisy about civilized discourse, I might even have thought the "fat fuck" bit was funny. But if you go on other entertainment shows and give them lectures about morality, you have to have standards yourself.

THE COLBERT REPORT

I was really prepared to hate this, a lot. The guy who went looking for Mr. Goodwrench, doing political comentary? He is such a gut-wrenchingly horrible guy.

Starts with a bit about the empty chair for Senator Lieberman, and a box of Cocoa Puffs. And some sort of running gag about milk, and nausea. Then a skit about the "on-notice board." This was as bad a skit as I have ever seen on TV. Saturday Night Live would not have run a skit this lame even if Regis Philbin were the host and they were looking for philler.

Then, the segment on "The Word," apparently a regular feature. Pretty darned funny. Quick, witty, clever. Excellent stuff.

Then, some calls from "listeners." I assumed an outbreak of lameness was imminent, but it was great. Colbert is actually a good actor, as long as he gets to shtay in his shtick, and the callers did a good job, too. Way better than such a lame concept should have been. Nicely done.

Finally, a guest "interview": Linda Hirschman, flogging her book on why woman should work outside the home. It's called, GET TO WORK. Colbert actually does this bizarre, anorexic Benny Hill dance on his way over to the interview table, and then does a moderately serious interview.

Hirschman actually said, at one point, that all of western philosophy was on her side, and that women should work because if you read western philosophy that's what it says. I'm paraphraising, but that's pretty close. Well, my own reading of Aristotle (for example) would say that "Silence is a woman's glory." (Politics, Bk I, pt 8). Linda H didn't really take THAT part of western philosophy very seriously. Hirschman was incredibly sure of herself, and her own ability uniquely to dictate right and wrong to other women. But to give her credit, she made some valid points, and was brave, given the atmosphere. She summarized her claim this way (again, not quoting exactly): we need to move toward the middle. Men should feel free to spend more of their time on children, and women should feel free to spend less on children, and more on work outside the home. Except she didn't mean it; Hirschman clearly thinks that if women only work inside the home, then a squad of long-haired men and short-haired women should visit and reeducate them.

Colbert did ask some pretty pointed, but useful questions. His best shot, which was exactly right, was: You just want others to have to want what you want. Why can't they want what they want? Why isn't staying home and raising children a perfectly valid choice? (Full disclosure: my wife is an attorney, full time, and has been straight through except for two maternity leaves. I am the cook in the family. So I agree with Hirschman, at least to the extent that I want women to have the OPTION of working outside the home, and I agree also that husbands are obliged to accomodate that choice if that is what the wife wants).

But Colbert also just made fun and constantly interrupted Hirschman, and made me much more sympathetic to her personally than I was to her totalitarian arguments.

Still, you know what this reminded me of? One person trying to score debating points, and another person interrupting and making fun of them? It was just like....Crossfire.

I have expected the moral authority of the universe, Jon Stewart, to come in and lecture Colbert on the importance of civility. But for some reason it didn't happen.

13 comments:

Robi said...

"One person trying to score debating points, and another person interrupting and making fun of them? It was just like....Crossfire."

Thats exactally the point of the shaw isn't it. The Colbert on the show is a character. Unlike Stewart who host as himself. Colbert's show is hosted by a "cable news guy" named Colbert. It all gets a bit postmodern at times, but when it works it works. See his interview of Bill Kristol on YouTube. Or his bit on Wikiality.

mungowits said...

Well, yes, that was my son's point also. And, as I said in the post, "Colbert is a good actor, as long as he stays in his shtick." You can't possibly interpret that any other way than that I think he thinks he is playing a role.

On the merits: I am a convert. Colbert was great. I wanted to hate it, but the show was terrific. And the interview was really good.

But look, pumpkin: The people on Crossfire were playing characters, too. It was entertainment, professional wrestling for wonks, like I said.

Let me simplify:

Colbert--me like much, was wrong
to think bad
Stewart--me think big dickhead, was right to think bad

Finally, "postmodern" is a synonym for "moronic, but incredibly self-satisfied."

Anonymous said...

Really, don't you have better things to do with your time?

Anonymous said...

That's why nutsos like Mungowitz are tenured. So they can waste their time with nonsense and make the big bucks. Yipee!

mungowits said...

Now, now: that's not very nice, suggesting I should use my time better. We all need hobbies.

Also, if I may, at least I was WRITING something. You two anonymorons were wasting time READING this crap!

Kyle said...

What I can't understand is how so many people think that Stewart's Constant mugging of the camera and making faces is funny. It's actually only annoying.

If you really want to see non-news or psuedo-news that is unintentionally funny then I suggest you watch Olbermann, for as long as you can stand it.

Anonymous said...

Now, now: that's not very nice Mungowitz, going after your "critics" like that! Or do you only write for your fans?

mungowits said...

Golly sakes, I would have said that calling my own writing "crap" would have been primarily an insult to my fans.

Fortunately, all my fans (can you use "all" when there are only two?) are pretty thick-skinned, and don't really care much what I think about them, anyway.

Robi said...

For the record the I was not either of the anonymous commenters before. I come here because I LOVE the crap you write.

You point about Stewart is well taken. I do generally find the show funny, but I think that has more to do with the writers than Stewart. In fact most of what I find funny about the show are not his parts, but the corespondents.

I am not a devote of either one. I just wanted to make sure you were not missing the fundamental difference between the shows. It can be subtle and with the generational gap you suffer from I just wanted to make sure you got it.

I am glad your boys could explain it to you and you could get the meta-ness of it all.

mungowits said...

Robi makes a good point. The difference does seem to be generational.

I am not sure if old people (such as I) are just crankier in general, or if there is a fundamentla difference in experience that explains why people less than about 40 tend to like Stewart more.

I guess we'll see as people age....if you guys STILL like Stewart, then it really is a difference in love of postmodern dada thinking.

David said...

I watched that very same Colbert episode and incidentally, it was my first time as well. I'm not sure what to make of the format (I do like Stewart), but I was unnerved by Hirschman's repeated claim that women must not only have the right but the obligation to work outside the home. I thought that the seriousness of this belief was lost in the humor of the interview; since everything was made to be a joke, Colbert's remark sounded like little more than another laugh cue instead of a valid point.

Anonymous said...

Re the expression, "A fat fuck." It seems to me that might have an Italian origin. I think that, in Italian, "Il fuco" might mean, "a drone (bee)."

Many years ago, I read an interview with Senator Moynahan, in "Rolling Stone." The Senator was quoted in the article as calling the interviewer, "a rich fuck." Since Moynahan used it, I'd think it was a familiar slang term in use somewhere. Reykr

Aaron said...

You really don't get it...
/facepalm