Powered by Google
Editors' Picks
Arts + Books
Rec Room
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Adult Personals
Adult Classifieds
- - - - - - - - - - - -
FNX Radio
Band Guide
MassWeb Printing
- - - - - - - - - - - -
About Us
Contact Us
Advertise With Us
Work For Us
RSS Feeds
- - - - - - - - - - - -

sponsored links
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sex Toys - Adult  DVDs - Sexy  Lingerie

  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

He stoops to conquer (continued)

Related links

The Daily Show is broadcast on Comedy Central Monday through Thursday from 11 to 11:30 p.m., and rebroadcast the following day at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Visit the show’s Web site for streaming-video highlights and other features. You can watch Jon Stewart’s infamous appearance on Crossfire last October at iFilm.com. In July 2003, Stewart appeared on PBS’s Now with Bill Moyers. A transcript of that interview is online.

Next up was Ward Churchill, the University of Colorado professor who referred to the World Trade Center victims as "little Eichmanns." Stewart sat through some video of Churchill ranting about his duty "to confront orthodoxy in a critical fashion" and "to insult people, if you will." Stewart: "Or you could, uh, teach."

Maybe this is why Sean Hannity calls Jon Stewart "my friend." Stewart is clearly a man of liberal sensibilities, and he caused a brief stir last fall when he said he would vote for John Kerry for president. But unlike the left-right paradigm that Stewart mocks in America (The Book), he’s willing to dish it out to all sides on his show. At a cultural moment when political discourse consists of trying to hold your ground no matter how ridiculous you look, this is refreshing. Of course, this also has frequently been a criticism of liberals: whereas conservatives will fight like crazed weasels, liberals are sometimes all too willing to see merit in the other side’s position. Few, though, are as hilarious at it as Stewart.

Take, for instance, the matter of Douglas Wead, the evangelical author who secretly taped conservations with then–Texas governor Bush in the late 1990s. Stewart played a tape of Bush telling Wead why he wouldn’t talk about his young-and-foolish days on the campaign trail: he didn’t want a kid to be able to say, "Hey, Daddy, President Bush tried marijuana, I think I will." Much hooting, as Stewart snickered and made fun of the way Bush said "Hey, Daddy." Next we heard Bush saying that he would not discriminate against gays if he became president. "I like this guy on tape," Stewart said. "Why did this guy" — he pointed to a photo of Bush in ’98 — "get replaced by this guy" — the photo changed to a picture of Bush delivering his recent State of the Union speech. "I like the tape guy. The tape guy seems nice. That guy — not so nice."

But if Stewart was put off by Bush, he seemed equally offended by Wead, whom he described as "following in the footsteps of Linda Tripp." He played a clip of Wead telling CNN’s Anderson Cooper why he had decided to turn the tapes over to Bush and to stop doing interviews.

Wead: "I would rather be a good man with mediocre book sales than a mediocre man with big book sales."

Stewart: "Would you settle for douche bag with a library card?"

It was the sort of thing you could almost imagine Bill O’Reilly saying. Only he wouldn’t have laughed.

BUT IF STEWART’S take on the news is inspired, the interviews that fill up the second half of the program are not. Stewart took some heat last August for conducting a suck-up interview with John Kerry. The thing is, he does suck-up interviews with everybody. During a recent run of programs, he interviewed actresses Rachel Weisz and Christina Ricci, ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, and environmental contrarian Mark Mills. All of them were pretty much a waste of time.

The Jennings interview was a disappointment. He was there to promote some hideous-sounding special he was hosting on UFOs, and Stewart let him promote away. Jennings did tell a funny story about an e-mailer informing him that the "shadow government" had no doubt decided to let him reveal the existence of extraterrestrial life as compensation for the work Jennings had done in covering up the truth about John Kennedy’s assassination. Jennings added, amiably, "I believe there are unidentified flying objects. I just don’t know who’s driving." Briefly, Stewart was able to steer the conversation to bloggers; Jennings said he likes them. But otherwise Stewart’s guest could have been just another actor pimping a movie.

More emblematic of Stewart’s shortcomings as an interviewer was his encounter with Mills, the co-author of a book called The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy. Stewart seemed fascinated with Mills’s theory that there is actually far more oil beneath the earth’s surface than is generally supposed, provided we are willing to pay for the expensive technologies that would be required to extract it from such places as the sand fields of Canada.

Stewart: "Why don’t we invade them, then?"

Mills: "Well, probably because it would be harder to occupy than Iraq, is what I’m thinking."

Stewart: "Canada? We can do that tonight!"

But though Stewart was taken with Mills’s theory that there is no scarcity of oil — and Mills may well be on to something — Stewart really didn’t try to pin him down about the larger issue: the consequences of burning increasing quantities of fossil fuels for decades to come. Stewart mildly asked, "Where have the environmentalists gone astray?" To which Mills responded, "We all want a cleaner environment. Where they’ve gone astray is missing a fundamental fact: we’ll always want more energy, not less."

Well, yes. But as Stewart had said in the preceding segment, riffing on a similar statement from a right-wing think-tank guy on how decreased energy use would cost jobs: "And we’re going to need those jobs as we evolve into a black-lunged race of sun-blistered ocean-dwellers." I’d like to have seen Mills respond to that.

As with most of us, though, Stewart — his Crossfire appearance notwithstanding — is a lot less polite when he’s talking to a TV screen than when he’s face to face with an actual person.

ONE RECENT night, Rob Corddry was walking through the produce aisle at a supermarket. His mission was to expose the most recent fad diet: a government-sponsored report urging Americans to exercise, watch their calories, and eat nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day. "Here’s what the government’s not telling you," he said angrily as he picked up a whole pineapple and bit into it. "They taste like (bleep)!"

This bit of media theater was part of a recurring segment called "Come On! with Rob Corddry," a dead-on parody of John Stossel’s ludicrous "Give Me a Break" segments on ABC News. Like Stephen Colbert’s report from "Brussels," Corddry’s exposé laid bare the absurdity of certain television-news conventions by showing them for what they are: manipulative, distorted half-representations of the truth, played strictly for fake drama and ratings. It is this, as much as anything, that makes The Daily Show subversive. Once you’ve seen Corddry, how can you watch Stossel without bursting out laughing?

So it was, too, with a feature story on the Rapture, in which, among other things, Ed Helms interviewed a lawyer who was selling some sort of Rapture protection. "It’s fascinating to me that you’re a lawyer and a Christian," said Helms, who then begins to squirm as his faux pas dawns on him. Or Stewart’s own "In-Depth Minute" (gee, a whole minute?) on Social Security reform, in which the invocation of the term "trust fund" somehow led into a graphic featuring Paris Hilton. Bush’s message, according to Stewart: "I’m the head of the federal government, and I can’t be trusted with your money." And if Social Security is to be privatized, Stewart asked, "why not let people direct their own air traffic? Inspect their own meat?" It was beginning to sound suspiciously like a semi-serious political rant — until a giant, phallic pepperoni flashed on the screen to illustrate the "meat" bit. Stewart considered it for a moment before saying, "I believe that is a poor choice of visuals."

Perhaps it is Stewart’s perpetual willingness to bring everything back to a seventh-grade level that is The Daily Show’s saving grace. As sophisticated as the program may be about politics and media, those matters always take a back seat to penis jokes. After all, it’s hard to be pompous when you’re snickering because a hunk of meat looks like a dick.

Dan Kennedy can be reached at dkennedy[a]phx.com. Read his Media Log at BostonPhoenix.com.

page 1  page 2 

Issue Date: March 4 - 10, 2005
Back to the News & Features table of contents
  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

about the phoenix |  advertising info |  Webmaster |  work for us
Copyright © 2005 Phoenix Media/Communications Group