TV postsMonday August 10, 2015
I'm going to miss this.
The day after Jon Stewart's final show on “The Daily Show,” we got rid of our Comcast cable box. We probably would've done that anyway, and sooner, but we held onto it for an extra two weeks or so just to watch Stewart's last shows.
I was late to that party, by the way. Not sure when I began to watch him regularly. For certain periods in the 2000s I didn't have cable, certainly 2005 to 2007, so maybe I caught up with him via the Web? I mean, I know I knew him in 2005 when Stephen Colbert broke off for his own show, because I—like the great prognosticator that I am—thought that wasn't such a good idea, that a half-hour-long spoof of Bill O'Reilly just couldn't last. (You're welcome.) I certainly knew Stewart by the time he hosted the disastrous “Crash” Oscar ceremony in March 2006 and by the time that Colbert took it to Pres. Bush and the D.C. establishment in the greatest White House correspondents dinner roast ever.
But I know I began to watch him regularly in the fall of 2007 when Patricia and I moved in together. He and Colbert were my guys in the last sad days of the Bush II administration and the awful leadup to the 2008 presidential election, followed by the even worse right-wing reaction to that election: the rise of the Tea Party and Glenn Beck and all that nastiness and stupidity. The bullshit, the bullshit.
Did you see the segment from Wednesday, “The Daily Show: Destroyer of Worlds,” where Stewart pretends to revel in in all of the hyperbolic headlines about how he and the show eviscerated or crushed or annhilated this or that enemy of the show (racism, Wall Street accountability, FOX News), only to discover, oops, that the enemy was stronger than ever? It leads Stewart to wonder what it was all about. “The world is demonstrably worse than when I started!” he cries. “Have I caused this?”
I actually think that this is what finally got to him and why he decided to leave. Not that he made things worse; but that he was purposeful and funny and true and on target ... and the bullshit didn't go away. In some cases, it got stronger.
Did you see the final episode? All the talent he helped create? The heartfelt praise he was forced to accept from Stephen Colbert? That's truly one of the loveliest, most heartfelt and educational moments I've seen on TV in recent years. And then his final words to us? Warning us about the bullshit, as he has all these years, with a take on the “If you see something, say something” civic vigilance campaign:
Bullshit is everywhere. ... Comes in three basic flavors.
One: Making bad things sound like good things. “Organic All Natural Cupcakes” because “Factory-made Sugar Oatmeal Balls” doesn't sell. “Patriot Act” because, “Are you scared enough to let me look at all your phone records Act” doesn't sell. So whenever something's been titled, Freedom, Family, Fairness, Health, America, take a good long sniff ...
Here's another one: simply put, banks shouldn't be able to bet your pension money on red. Bullshitly put it's, hey, this. Dodd-Frank. Hey, a handful of billionaires can't buy our elections, right? Of course not, they can only pour unlimited anonymous cash into a 501c4 if 50 percent is devoted to issue education, otherwise they'd have to 501c6 it or funnel it openly through a non-campaign coordinating Super Pac with a quarter... “I think they're asleep now, we can sneak out.”
And finally, it's the bullshit of infinite possibility. These bullshitters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry. “We can't do anything because we don't yet know everything. We cannot take action on climate change until everyone in the world agrees gay marriage vaccines won't cause our children to marry goats who are going to come for our guns. Until then, I say teach the controversy.”
Now, the good news is this: bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy and their work is easily detected. Looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time. Like an “I Spy ...” of bullshit. So I say to you tonight, friends, the best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something.
He's asking us to pick up the slack. I don't know if we're worthy.
It's only been a few days but it's still chaos on bullshit mountain. We got all the blah-blah of the GOP debates, and Trump's umbrage at Megyn Kelly, and then his Twitter and verbal attacks on Megyn Kelly, not to mention the idiots at #BlackLivesMatter, or some subset, disrupting a Bernie Sanders rally in downtown Seattle, and dooming, to my mind, his already quixotic campaign. (Future attack ad: “If he can't stand up to two girls in the middle of downtown Seattle, how can he stand up to ISIS in the middle of a war?”)
As I heard about all this stuff, I kept wondering what Stewart was thinking about it. Was he going, “Damn, I left too early” or “Phew, glad I'm outta there”? Either way, today, for the first time in 16 years, I won't be able to find out.
Let Us Now Praise a Funny Man
Some encomiums and links on the way out, as Jon Stewart hosts his final “Daily Show” tonight ...
“He is not so much pro-left as he is anti-bullshit.”
--David Remnick, “Exit, Stage Left,” in The New Yorker
“The narrative you helped give us, to navigate the madness that is this world, cannot be overstated.”
-- J.J. Abrams on “The Daily Show” last week
“He says he's just a comedian but he's more than a comedian and I think he knows that. I spent three decades-plus doing network news but if you ask me today, what do I pay more attention to, John Oliver and Jon Stewart or the evening newscast, it's not close. I get much more out of Oliver and Stewart when he's cooking than I do out of those formulaic 22-minute newscasts.”
--Jeff Greenfield, in “Jon Stewart, Sarcastic Critic of Politics and Media, Is Signing Off,” in The New York Times
“Only Megyn Kelly and her ilk will breathe a sigh of relief when he’s gone.”
-- Charles Kaiser, “Jon Stewart made sense of the insanity all around us,” Columbia Journalism Review
“You had the guts to address yourself in the mirror, and say, 'Jon? It's not working.' For 17 years you've banged yourself against this desk, and we've all watched this trainwreck go on. You never found your voice, you never found your audience, you don't know what the fuck you're talking about.”
-- Will Ferrell on “The Daily Show” in March
Louis C.K. Prefigures the Lesson of 'Inside Out' by Two Years
The lesson is in the final third of the video, but the whole thing is worth it:
My review of “Inside Out.”
Comparing Louis C.K. to Proust.
The Limits of Revenge: The Fifth Season Finale of 'Game of Thrones'
The fifth season finale of “Game of Thrones” was all about the hollowness of revenge (warning: spoilers ahead):
- Arya Stark finally gets Meryn Trant alone, No. 1 on her hate parade (“You were the first person on my list, you know?” she says), and plucks out his eyes and slits his throat. For this she goes blind.
- Brienne of Tarth finally gets revenge on Stannis Baratheon for the shadow-killing of his brother three seasons ago. But by then he's a defeated, wounded man, slumped against a tree. Worse, by taking a revenge that doesn't need taking, she misses her chance to help her charge, Sansa Stark, who is still imprisoned by her husband, Ramsay Bolton, and who instead jumps (seemingly) to her death.
- And we finally get revenge on Cersei Lannister, who has wreaked havoc on the show with a small, contempuous smile for the past five seasons. After her son Joffrey died, and before Ramsay took over the slot, she was No. 1 on our hate parade. Oh, to see her humiliated by the people of King's Landing! Well, in this episode, we finally get to see it. And it's awful.
In some ways, this is the most underappreciated aspect of HBO's show. the characters change; they can be redeemed in our eyes. Who, for instance, didn't want Jamie Lannister dead after the very first episode? Over time, he's become a favorite.
That said, the final death in the episode made me want to take revenge: on George R.R. Martin or the show's producers. Someone. It's not that I was a huge fan of Jon (“Winter is cooming”) Snow or his storyline. The opposite, really. But I endured his trials and tribulations because I figured it was going to lead somewhere. It seemed like it was important even as it bored me to death. I mean, what was all that “Kill the boy” talk a few weeks back? Maester Aemon essentially tells Jon to make the difficult decision, he does, he pushes it through (and surivives it: wildlings and white walkers, all), only to get the shiv for it. And this is what Sam wants to be? A maester who gives crappy advice? Shame. Shame. Shame.
Cersei being prepped for the Walk of Shame.
David Letterman: Puncturing the Culture Rather than Propping It Up
I think The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum describes his revolutionary appeal to my generation better than anyone:
For more than thirty years, David Letterman has been the guy working the talk-show host. But he's never hidden how tricky it is to move those levers, which has been his appeal to fans: in a job made for smoothies, he's kept showing us his flaws, those spikes of anger and anxiety, almost despite himself. Now that Letterman's a flinty codger, an establishment figure, it's become difficult to recall just how revolutionary his style of meta-comedy once felt. But back when I was sixteen, trapped in the snoozy early eighties and desperate for something rude and wild, Letterman seemed like an anarchist. His manner suggested that TV could puncture the culture rather than prop it up. My friends, particularly the guys, became his acolytes, quoting his catchphrases (“They pelted us with rocks and garbage”) and copying his deadpan affect.
The whole piece, “Good Night: David Letterman's last weeks,” can be found in the latest New Yorker. Or here.
I missed that first show, but not much from that first year.