August 6 was the last day for Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central. Based on the laments I see on Facebook and other social media, I guess I’m one of the few people who will not miss him.
Since I have never had cable, I never caught Stewart’s show regularly. In the last few years, as The Daily Show has been offered on streaming services and as clips on the internet, I’ve seen more and understand his schtick. He can be funny, yes. He can even be poignantly funny at times.
However, more often Stewart comes across as a smarmy, self-righteous comedian masking as an intellectual who makes fun of the people who are actually engaged in a debate, while offering no real solutions. Case in point: the Jon Stewart Popcorn GIF used on social media as both a way to ease a heated conversation and ridicule those involved.
Stewart isn’t the first person to go down this path. He follows social critics like Mark Twain, who was also adept at pointing out the hypocrisies and foibles of his time. There is a place for this type of humor. At its best, it keeps us humble, grounded and is sometimes instrumental at solving actual problems by seeing the big picture. However, there are big differences between Twain’s and Stewart’s approaches.
In his writings and speeches, Twain mused about everything and everyone. He was an intellectual and an everyman. More often than not, it was a good-natured laugh about life while making people think about a particular societal construct. Twain didn’t like the congress (on either side of the aisle) or some of the absurd machinations of power.
The most important aspect of Twain is that through all of his well-worded and thoughtful musings, he counted himself among the hypocrites of life, stating that “not only am I marching in that parade, I am carrying a banner.”
Stewart, on the other hand, comes across as the exact opposite. He is not an everyman, but an elitist “intellectual.” Yes, he does indeed point out absurdity (most of the time warranted), but does so as if he is on a higher plane of existence, mocking all of the smaller, less intelligent people running around below him. Stewart also seemed to go after one ideological side more than the other (even after one particular television network more than others). He is a social critic, but does so with no warmth – just sarcasm, condescension, bias and snobbery.
Perhaps the most egregious portion of Stewart’s act is his unbelievably cynical outlook on history, particularly American history. It is fashionable in today’s world to look with contempt on those who have come before us, to think ourselves better for no other reason that we possess the power of hindsight. Stewart himself perpetuates this outlook and simplifies the most complex of historical issues.
Since a large collection of people got their news from Stewart’s show, this viewpoint is not helping people understand historical events in ways they should. I can’t tell you how many of my friends have posted clips from The Daily Show on their walls and feeds, and have lauded Stewart’s awful perspectives.
The prime example was during Stewart’s 2009 interview of Cliff May, President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy. Stewart declared that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II were war crimes and not necessary, a position that sadly many Americans agree with.
Normally, I simply rolled my eyes at most of the insipid ideas Stewart espoused. But this incensed me more than anything he has ever said because it is a gross oversimplification of an important historical event, and perpetuates people’s inability to learn from history (often leading to societal repetition). Writing off something like that as “war crimes” causes today’s society to shrug it off as an evil act perpetrated by the terrible, warmongering Americans, with zero justification.
Never mind that the bombings, as horrible and tragic as they were, shortened the war and did in fact prevent more loss of life on both sides in what would have been an all-out invasion of the Japanese home islands. But of course, the overall context is never fairly presented.
Around the time of Stewart’s comments, Bill Whittle, an internet commentator for whom I have a lot of respect, refuted this charge and many others people like Stewart hold about the atomic bombings in a very detailed video. Whittle outlined with historical fact (gasp) just how short-sighted Stewart’s position actually was.
Stewart’s claim was particularly vexing for me because, like Whittle, I too have a relative who would have been sent to the invasion of Japan. My grandfather was called up to the Navy shortly before the end of the war, and would have been among the millions of fighting men who would have had to endure Operation Downfall. People like Stewart don’t understand that in war, it is very common to be in a position to have to choose the least awful scenario in order to win the war and prevent greater loss of life. It was not a paltry choice, to be sure.
It’s quite ironic that Stewart’s last day at The Daily Show was this past Thursday, August 6. That was the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. Thanks to those men who sacrificed their lives in the Pacific War, Stewart and people who share his views will (God willing) never have to experience the horror they did.
It’s easy for people like Stewart, far removed from the situation in both time and distance, to poke fun at and decry the choices made by people in the heat of a world-wide conflict who didn’t have the gift of knowing who would eventually triumph.
Belief’s like Stewart’s are common in those who think themselves above it all, evolved from the common people and here to lead us to a better way. If people are honest with themselves, there will figure out that we are all hypocrites in one way or another. We all fall short, especially those of us who profess to believe in a higher power with higher standards.
That’s just one of the reasons why I am so thankful that God offered to give grace to someone like me – a sinner and a hypocrite who didn’t deserve it. I continue to strive to be like Jesus Christ, but fall short. However, His love and faithfulness is enough to sustain me to keep trying.
I have no illusions that Trevor Noah, the new host of The Daily Show, will not take up the mantle left by Stewart. While Noah has stated that his version of the show will be different in scope and perspective, I’m sure it will be infused with snark, elitism and historical ignorance. But, we’ll wait and see.
Besides, Stewart has already spawned several equally smarmy clones like Stephen Colbert, John Oliver and Larry Wilmore.
I sincerely wish Jon Stewart good luck on his future endeavors. He is very talented, and I’m sure he’ll be successful. However, he has left a legacy of intellectual dishonesty that continues to cloud truth in discourse. Holding court with a legion of fans pouring over his every word, presenting his opinions and theory as fact, and almost exclusively ridiculing the other side to the point of absurdity is hardly an environment for thoughtful, reasoned debate.