Stewart, the Fox and the Wizard

Jon Stewart this week brilliantly withstood Fox News’ concerted effort to destroy The Daily Show host by turning their 24/7 propaganda machine against him. Instead of shrinking away as many Fox News opponents do, including the president of the United States, Mr. Stewart took what I can only refer to as the Art of War approach.

After trying to spin a fairly accurate impression of presidential candidate Herman Cain as a racial slur, Fox News ordered its Death Eaters to target a comic known for roles in such classic movies as Half Baked, Death To Smoochy, and Big Daddy. Clearly in the public’s interest of course. My, how petty Roger Ailes looked when Stewart returned fire by playing a reel of all his cultural, political, geographical, and ethnic impressions since steering The Daily Show from its Craig Kilborn celebrity-driven days.

These often over the top satirical impressions resonate with people who process the fabric of this multicultural democracy of ours through humor. Don’t Fox News commentators and republicans in general constantly berate the media for being too politically correct? I don’t remember Fox converting nearly as much air time into “fair and balanced” news when a GOP official in Southern California sent around a picture depicting President Obama as an ape, saying “now you know why no birth certificate.”

By depleting their ammunition, Mr. Stewart forced Fox News to slink back into the primordial soup from which it sprung a little over a decade ago. Jon Stewart stood by his sketches, his analysis of Fox programming, and most importantly, his humor.

This experience should teach the world two important lessons:

(1.The best way to beat a storyteller isn’t to fight with facts.

Good storytellers make the audience suspend disbelief for the sake of a narrative. For example, the idea a Kenyan Muslim illegally infiltrated the US, gaining access to the highest levels of government by becoming President of the most impregnable political system in the world so he can enslave white people and lead a jihad against American Exceptionalism, forces us to suspend disbelief just as Superman can somehow hide his identity with just a pair of glasses. Facts take a back seat in any narrative.

Fox is a greater storyteller than Disney (oddly enough both are often accused of supporting fascism). Stewart defeated Fox by embracing their narrative of him as an unflinching liberal and hypocrite who reverts to using racist attacks against anyone who disagrees with him. Unlike Sean Hannity or the dearly departed Glenn Beck, Jon doesn’t need to personally or culturally attack someone that disagrees with him because he’s not afraid of people who disagree with him. It’s refreshing to see someone in the political arena that recognizes the strength in our country’s political system in allowing, and at times encouraging, dissent among its citizens.  I think that’s pretty exceptional.

(2. The mainstream media proved itself lazy when it began to accept Fox’s narrative, just as they did during the presidential vote counting in 2000.

Bloggers chided Stewart for not being more partisan, news outlets questioned the role of satire in today’s political media environment, and some commentators went so far as to demand that Comedy Central get a right-wing comedy show. I won’t go into how inane this last comment is except to say these 3 things: conservative parody never seems to find an audience (look at Dennis Miller); Comedy Central runs such “real America” comics as Larry the Cable Guy and Jeff Dunham, the puppeteer with a Halloween skeleton dressed in a dish rag posing as a dead suicide bomber; and it has South Park which has espoused libertarian ideals like ending hate crime legislation and even inspiring the phrase “South Park conservative”.

Fox has created an illusion and promoted it as reality. While the height of their soapbox and strength of their megaphone may be sizable, they are nothing more than a device used to distract and intimidate those who think for themselves. The illusion itself is weak because it can’t adapt or change. Post-colonialists from Gandhi to Mandela to Guevara refused to fight imperialists on terms dictated to them by their oppressors. Instead, they fought their adversaries by unraveling the illusion of perceived power and brining to light the weaknesses inherent in the colonizer’s authority. Or, as Professor Dumbledore told Harry Potter in book 7 “just because something’s in your head, doesn’t mean it’s not real.”

Stereotyping is Funny

Following the success of the film M*A*S*H (1970), the war parody depicting life during the Korean War for a group of drafted doctors, was adapted for TV. When the show ended in 1983 after it’s eleven-year run, it was the most watched season finale of all time. M*A*S*H not only satirized the military and the American government, but various American personalities. Best example: Major Frank Burns. A wealthy, patriotic gun lover, the conservative doctor constantly bragged about having his own practice “back in the States,” quoted from the Bible, and quipped about his strict wife while having an affair with another major.

In the second season episode titled “The Chosen People,” the following exchange takes place in the operating room:

HAWKEYE: Frank, by a strange coincidence, the inhabitants of Korea communicate in Korean. It wouldn’t hurt us to speak their language.

FRANK: I speak American. And I can go any place in the world.

TRAPPER: We can have you packed in 20 minutes.

HAWKEYE: We’re living in Korea, Frank.

FRANK: Not me, fella! I’m part of the American military establishment. I eat in an American mess, I shop in an American Px. All I want to do is save these people and go home.

DR PAC: And we thank you from the bottom of our bomb craters.

Twenty three years after the last M*A*S*H aired, from the minds behind Saturday Night Live blossomed 30 Rock. Quirkier than M*A*S*H was ever allowed to be, 30 Rock not only pokes fun at the American conservative, but the American liberal as well. Like Frank Burns, the portrayal of characters on 30 Rock skirt the line between reality and fiction. Yes, some wealthy conservatives said President Obama could actually be from Kenya, but none have an invisible AMEX card or “whip pennies at the drum circle” in Central Park.

But what do these political portrayals accomplish?

The depiction of the extremes for comedic reasons makes the stereotypes all the more apparent to the viewer. In one of the most brilliant episodes of 30 Rock, “Brooklyn Without Limits,” we see Liz Lemon obsessing over how socially conscious her new jeans company is, only to discover it’s owned by Halliburton, while Jack tries to aid a conservative Tea-Party-esque politician, he realizes that someone who wants to put casino’s on the moon should not actually be elected to Congress.

Plus, we learn that Che Guevara’s great grandfather was Domingo Halliburton and liberals should really find someone else to wear ironically on t-shirts.

How Dare You Perpetuate the Stereotype…

When Will and Grace debuted in 1998 it was the first primetime sitcom to give us the gay man-straight woman combo as the leading characters, and was largely the instigator of the pop cultural wave that brought homosexuality into the average American household.  This clip, from the 6th season episode titled “A-Story, Bee-Story,” is the perfect example of the ability of parody and satire to evoke stereotypes while making fun of the audience for believing them in the first place.

In this clip, Jack (Sean Hayes) is expressing his anger at Karen (Megan Mullally), who tried to help him cheat in the gay spelling bee,  first by offering to write the words on her breasts, then by shouting out the letters during the contest.  In the secondary story line, Grace (Debra Messing) has decided to leave the country for a while with her husband Leo (Harry Connick Jr.), leaving Will (Eric McCormack) without her an indefinite time period.  The whole clip is pretty fantastic, but you’ll want to hit it 7:35 through about 8:30.