Did you catch Rachel Maddow’s interview of Jon Stewart? Here it is in its entirety, unedited:
The interview bordered on the philosophical and was extremely engaging, touching on complex topics such as the role of a satirist in our society and the state of our news media. Stewart stuck to arguments that qualified his role as purely that of a satirist; he also used that mantle to justify why he should try to avoid stepping out of that role lest he crossed over into more of an advocate one.
While Jon Stewart may be right in that we must encourage more dialogue in our society’s daily discourse rather than shutting it down, it seemed a bit disingenuous that he blamed the polarization of our politics solely on problems of “tribalism” between the left v. the right and thus chose to gloss over the massive disparity (and what’s behind it) between the might of right-wing media infrastructure v. those few dissenting voices that run counter it.
By the same token, it was interesting that Stewart had such a purist idea of what a satirist ought to be, glossing over how sometimes a person can define a role, rather than passively letting the role define you. It would certainly not be unprecedented for a satirist to make a deliberate choice to advocate for a cause that he or she deems worthy of such a choice. In fact, his colleague Stephen Colbert did just that recently when he testified in front of Congress in support of AgJobs, stepping for a moment out of his role as a satirist and cross over into that of an advocate, embracing a level of responsibility of what was in his power to do in support of migrant workers’ rights:
Furthermore, it would seem that Stewart has chosen to stay frozen in time, reminiscent of that infamous appearance he made on Crossfire that preceded conservative pundit Tucker Carlson being fired from CNN. As such, it seems that Stewart continues to insist that the cable networks are “tearing our country apart” by pitting two positions, “left” v. “right” on the screen and turning the arguments into apparent circus events. Ironically, by pretending that “the left” v. “the right” have equal footing in this country’s corporate media, Stewart is really doing the same thing the networks he criticizes are guilty of: painting two positions as if they had equal validity, damn the details or grey areas all in the name of hiding behind ascetic roles of “neutrality” or “centrism”, which in the end abdicate responsibility of any kind.
Ultimately, it is Stewart’s right to remain in a role of a “pure” satirist as he defines it in his worldview to serve the purposes that he has defined for himself, but perhaps he should acknowledge that it is a choice he makes, rather than pretending that some form of sanctity in being a “satirist” would be in peril should he define it otherwise.