Jon Stewart, America’s biggest news douche
There was a time I used to admire Jon Stewart. In fact, that would be putting it mildly. I was a diehard fan of Jon Stewart.
But the fun has clearly gone out of the funnyman and the sheen has clearly gone off his show. The Emmy-award winning Daily Show has evidently lost its bite, having become repetitive, redundant, regressive, raucous and rabble-rousing and if that is one alliteration too many, well, that is just my way of trying way too hard and being too clever by far.
Stewart uses a bludgeon when a scalpel would do, a nudge and a poke in your eye when a mere wink would do, a far cry from the witty satire and subtle sarcasm that was once his trademark.
Now his daily show has to trawl the bottom of the barrel for inspiration and range everywhere from Iran to India to raise a laugh, picking out even more absurd ideas, creating even more ridiculous skits, so he can still prove himself important and relevant in the times of Obama and avoid any real, uncomfortable issues all in favour of a cheap laugh or a snide giggle.
His trademark twisted smirk today seems more irritating than winning, seeming to say, hooah, I got away with it again this time, keeping my too-cool-for-school, court jester cum pontificating pundit image intact but I also played it safe so there is no costly litigation, diplomatic incident, irate protesters, nasty editorials and ratings decline and I can go home safe in the knowledge that I can live to propagate such self-serving rubbish another day and my fat salary remains intact, so that I can keep my three multi-million dollar houses owned by secret trusts named after my pets and I can still play the gay Gordon in my debonair suits and ties with abandon and with a hey and a ho and a hey nonino, all is right with my world.
Going by his latest gags, Jon Stewart is running out of ideas. God help him if there are another eight years of the Democrats in Washington, he may be forced to shut shop or reduced to borrowing lines from stand-up comedians, In fact, Jon Stewart is getting a bit ahead of himself, thinking his left-of centre constituency will keep him in business for another eight years, but he may even be offered Jay Leno’s show as a tradeoff for shutting down his own, who knows.
He is a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat but has to pretend to keep some distance and so is forced into manufacturing ridiculous shenanigans to maintain some show of impartiality. Increasingly, his shows have become more and more disingenuous, manipulative, self-righteous and hypocritical. The Emmys still beckon bright but boy does he have to tie himself in knots to get one, and increasingly, the means have become more important than the end. Crude, crass, dumbed down and pandering to the lowest common denominator, his show now caters to the same chattering, twittering class who watch Jay Leno, E Entertainment and all the other late night entertainment that has put America in the top spot in the world for the most number of idiotic shows on the idiot box. The salt on the wound is that unlike the other comedians who are honest in their intention of merely trying to raise a laugh at any cost, Stewart still doesn’t want to get off his grand perch of pretending to save the world and redeem America, while simply catering to a gaggle of genuflecting acolytes.
Stewart once took on Jim Cramer and his colleagues at CNBC, men who have to make a living in the hard-nosed world of finance instead of faffing about in a TV studio, blaming them for participating in America’s financial collapse and calling their behaviour ‘disingenuous at best and criminal at worst.’
Today, we can use the same words to describe Jon Stewart’s tactics. He edits, redits and hacks his subjects sound bytes till they lose all rhyme or reason and then mashes them up into a stream of consciousness drivel to suit his diatribe of the day.
He sent actor Jason Jones to India recently to do an article on ‘paid news’. Instead of any earth-shattering revelations, what does he get you, an inane interview with a humming and hawing Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN-IBN which is cleverly edited to show the clueless chap in the poorest light possible.
Then he goes begging from door to door for a feature to be published on him as a popular journalist and six-times Mr Canada entrant. Supposedly Millennium Post sends a reporter on his request, probably as a courtesy as such mindless items are a staple of our entertainment pages – we are desperate to fill up column space with Kim Kardashian’s booty and photoshopped pecs of Mr Jones scrawny torso, because we are terrified of libel cases if we publish the wrong kind of gossip on Bollywood stars. And Indian readers still salivate at the display of gora log in various states of undress over their morning cuppa, even if it be Mr Jones’ obviously fake and if you pardon me, disgustingly pale and ungroomed abs in these days of bronzed and waxed perfection. The poor reporter from Millennium Post giggles over the ‘Canadian Journalist’ with his phoren accent and charming wit trying to pull a fast one on the gullible Indian public and is then offered up as a prime example of corrupt and unethical Indian journalism! What Stewart forgets to mention is that the poor reporter did not receive a single penny from Jones nor did she ask him for a dime. When he asks her will you write paid news, she asks him in turn in a bewildered voice, ‘If you pay me?’ but the inflection of surprised questioning and disbelief in her voice is ham-handedly edited out so as to show that she is confirming that she will write his article only if he pays her.
Ironically, he then picks up the newspaper to show her the article, which has already been published! So is he trying to inveigle her into taking a payment for a second article. Why didn’t he pay the poor reporter for the story on camera, she seemed all in a daze at Jones haranguing her and would hardly have caught on. Is there any proof at all that you paid her? If you paid some foxy fixer instead who took you as another clueless American trying to comment on a complex political system and media that you haven’t the faintest idea about, and wanting a bit of self-promotion in the process, well the joke is on you Mr Jones. He took you for a ride, as such amoral middlemen are wont to do. You don’t need to pay $ 2500 to get your PR piece published Mr Jones, Rs 25000 to any PR agency would do. In dollar terms, I guess you can buy space in American newspapers as cheaply. And a rather goofy PR piece is all it really was. If you wanted to ‘expose’ Millennium Post or any other paper by publishing your ape-like bodybuilder pose, shouldn’t you have paid the Millennium Post reporter herself rather than some unnamed third party. And couldn’t you have chosen a slightly more entertaining subject? Canadians are the salt of the earth, but pardon my bluntness, they are not exactly the life of the party.
I mean you seriously think someone will fall for your stunt of exposing the deep, dark underbelly or the Indian media with a hamhanded article on some Canadian bodybuilder and pollster, or make that shyster, who provides such a cartoonish description of himself that it simply makes him look like a buffoon rather than serve serious purpose. Really, such a newsworthy way to take on corruption in the Indian media. I think the Indian media is safe so long as it doesn’t have unscrupulous actors like Mr Jones and unethical journalists like Jon Stewart to safeguard its morals.
But that is exactly the point you are missing, Jon stewart will crow with his snarky toothy grin. You are not getting the joke. It was all a bit of harmless fun, so what if we had to indulge in some unethical editing to force our point home, so what if there was no meat to our story and we had to resort to some senseless ruse to make it stand up and be part of the skit to justify the five-star expense of sending our guy all the way to India, so what if we had to bang on a hundred doors and desperately shove $ 2500 into some shady agent’s pocket simply to get our ruse running and get him to con some poor slob of a reporter who would oblige by publishing a ‘scandalous’ story on a Canadian willing to bare his pasty white middle for all the world to giggle at, so what if we had to drag some poor girls name through the muck and ruin her career even though she was completely unaware of the cruel joke we were playing on her just to prove our point, whatsoever it may be, as the means always justifies the end doesn’t it? And always, the end is just a bit of a giggle isn’t it? The audience still guffawed inanely into their after dinner nightcap didn’t they, just as they do at all other drivel we dish out daily, where we pull apart some other poor schmuck who doesn’t have a clue, where we have a good laugh at his expense and go to bed satisfied at a job well done but the poor fellow has to live down the jeers and sneers for ages to come.
What Jones and Stewart misses in all this was a fact about Indian culture that may not be too predominant in their own circle – Indians are courteous to a point, and they fall over themselves to accommodate foreigners as guests from abroad must be obliged at any cost and made to feel special, so they don’t carry away a wrong idea about our manners or lack thereof. Towards that end, the fixer, the Millennium Post reporter and Rajdeep Sardesai, the busy head of a news channel were all trying to be courteous to a foreign reporter asking for help, all trying to be kind to a clueless American looking for some help in opening doors and gaining insight. But such niceties are lost when you are desperate for ratings in the cutthroat world of American late night television.
Put your money where your mouth is Jon Stewart. Show us the entire, unedited clip with the lady reporter from Millennium Post, or even Rajdeep Sardesai for that matter, so you don’t have to prove your intellectual superiority over Indian editors by stooping even lower than them. Don’t be such a news douche Jon Stewart, you are no longer the bright light you used to be, you are increasingly irrelevant rather than irreverent, please don’t get reduced to the main player and perhaps the only one in your theatre of the absurd.
To quote from an article in the Daily Beast, a couple of years ago profiling Stewart, ‘A serious man needs a serious mission, however, and this is suddenly a problem. With Bush gone and the Republican Party in chaos, most of Stewart’s targets have disappeared. Yet rather than pivot with the times and challenge those now in power, Stewart continues to attack the same old enemies, at this point mostly straw men and pipsqueaks. His studio audience loved it, though that isn’t saying much. Stewart’s audience would erupt if he read the phone book, or did his monologue in German, a response that over time is a threat to any man’s soul. During many segments, Stewart’s audience doesn’t laugh so much as cheer, a distinction that would bother most comedians. Stewart keeps them around anyway. Uncritical praise corrupts absolutely. As he becomes more self-righteous, he inevitably becomes less funny. Sanctimony is the death of humor, and also of innovation.’
‘No one this earnest can remain an effective satirist,’ said the Daily Beast and Stewart must make up his mind, does he want to preach or does he want entertain, he can’t have his cake and eat it too, as he simply ends up making a sorry spectacle of himself. To paraphrase, he insists his fake news is real. He acts the buffoon but wants people to take him way too seriously and nobody takes anybody as seriously as Jon Stewart takes himself.
‘Once journalists who cover business regain their sense of responsibility and start getting back to fundamentals on the reporting,’ Stewart said gravely in the interview to the Daily Beast. ‘I can get back to making fart noises and funny faces.’ But, as the writer commented, ‘It’s too late. The great comedian is gone, maybe forever. Jon Stewart is stuck in lecture mode’. Today, we add to that, he is also stuck in ‘paid news’ mode. He gets paid a multi-million dollar annual salary to manufacture news on corruption and criminality, because without such fake news his show would have been over long ago.
The author is group editorial director