Comedy: The Unlikely Influencer

Posted on November 9, 2010 by 3 Comments

In the last several months, three significant rallies have taken place at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The first rally had 85,000 attendees; the second, 3,000; and the most recent one, 215,000 attendees. The first rally was the Rally to Restore Honor held by conservative radio personality Glenn Beck. The second was the Rally to Reclaim the Dream held by Rev. Al Sharpton. The last and most widely attended of the three was dubbed the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear … it was held by comedian and political satirist Jon Stewart.

Stewart’s rally was not only massively attended but also streamed online and televised by numerous media outlets, which garnered over 2 million viewers. During the weekend of the rally, the WE twendz pro™ service captured 9,715 tweets pertaining to the event, which included a potential reach of 22,373,540. Ariana Huffington, Eddie Izzard and The Huffington Post were among the top influencers tweeting about the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.

The event was a culmination of success for Stewart.  Within the last two weeks, he was voted the most influential man of 2010 by askmen.com and interviewed President Barack Obama on his ‘fake news’ show, “The Daily Show.” Stewart, started out as a small-time comedian in the ’90s before making his way onto Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and transformed the segment into a popular critical/comedic commentary of the U.S. media and government. Throughout his years on “The Daily Show,” Stewart has not only interviewed some of the most powerful politicians and celebrities, he has asked them critical questions while still maintaining a comedic atmosphere. Stewart — a comedian — has become known as the most trusted man in politics and possibly even in America. Why is that?

Satirists and cartoonists have always held an important place in the media. One such example is that of Thomas Nast.  Nast was a cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly when Boss Tweed, a corrupt politician, defrauded New Yorkers out of millions of dollars in 1860s New York. Tweed’s influence was so great that many reporters would not write anything against him or were bribed into not publishing their stories. Nast refused Tweed’s bribes and utilized his comedic cartoons to illustrate the politician’s crimes to the general public. Many of Tweed’s constituents were illiterate, which made Nast’s communication through illustrations all the more powerful in Tweed’s downfall. By the time Tweed was up for re-election in 1871, he lost and his hold on the local government was broken.

In terms of heroes and villains, Nast was the hero in the story, and the obvious villain was Tweed. In Jon Stewart’s world, the vilified are the American news media.

Stewart’s main demographic are people in my age bracket (Generation Y). This is a generation that has grown up with a strong distrust of both the government (excluding the 2010 presidential election) and media all together. It is perceived by many in Generation Y that the government, along with major news networks, lacks adequate accountability. So when a comedian has the guts to call out Democrats and Republicans alike on their discrepancies in a smart and incredibly comedic way — it’s attention-grabbing.

Once more, Stewart’s appeal lies on both sides of the political spectrum. As askmen.com pointed out, Stewart, a Democrat, has no special treatment for the Democratic Party when it comes to criticism: “And despite being an Obama supporter himself, Stewart is the first to blow the whistle on the president’s shortcomings… Left-wing or right-wing, no one is off-limits to Stewart.”

Like Nast, Stewart communicates in ways almost everyone can understand and identify with. He keeps his rhetoric relatively plain and simple, at the level that a 13-year-old can understand, but without dumbing things down. When many news segments can be difficult to follow due to lack of focus or convoluted questions, Stewart cuts straight to the point.

This was especially evident in 2004 when Stewart was a guest on CNN’s, now canceled segment, “Crossfire.” An argument with host Tucker Carlson ensued after Stewart stated that “Crossfire” was not living up to journalistic integrity. When Carlson countered that Stewart wasn’t fair in his interview questions with John Kerry, Stewart famously responded with, “You’re on CNN! The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls; what is wrong with you?”

Stewart’s response highlights a double-sided point. He is a comedian and, therefore, not held to the standards journalists are. Furthermore, this position allows him to take anyone to task and do it in an entertaining way.  Shortly after Stewart’s appearance, “Crossfire” was canceled. CNN’s CEO Jonathan Klein cited Stewart’s visit as part of the reason behind the cancellation.

When a generation looks at the American news media and government and sees a lack of check and balances from the journalists who are supposed to be supplying accountability, it’s obvious a gap needs to be filled. So far, Jon Stewart has been the one to fill that void.

Six years after the “Crossfire” incident, Stewart once again took the U.S. media to task in his closing statements to those at the Rally for Sanity and/or Fear.

The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen. Or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire, and then perhaps host a week of shows on the ‘dangerous, unexpected flaming-ants epidemic!’ If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”

Image by cliff1066™.

The Legacy of Social Networking

Posted on July 28, 2010 by 3 Comments

My favorite teacher in high school was my sophomore history teacher, Marvin Reed. History for me has always been akin to storytelling, and that was exactly how Mr. Reed taught. He sat there in his chair in the middle of the classroom and, without notes or an overhead projector, dove into detailed lectures about the wars of Europe, the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the crazy royal families. Yet, the most important thing I learned from Mr. Reed had nothing to do with history.Letters as a Legacy

In his classroom, Mr. Reed had various sorts of historical artifacts. He collected several of them when he was living in Europe in the 1960s — others had been given to him. These pieces included both the Berlin Wall and — thanks to my Japanese teacher’s gutsy defiance of Chinese law — the Great Wall of China. But the most interesting artifact in the classroom had little to do with history and everything to do with legacy. It was a giant ball made completely of plastic grocery bags in the middle of his classroom.

“The ball,” as Mr. Reed referred to it, had grown over the years from the size of a basketball to twice the size of your average yoga ball. What does a giant ball of plastic grocery bags have to do with legacy? Mr. Reed’s idea was that long after our generation had passed, archaeologists of the next generation — or, by chance, if aliens came to Earth — would find this huge ball and know that intelligent life once existed. The ball would be something left behind long after we were gone. The ball is the most vivid exemplification I have of both future and past all in one. History is created by the stories and artifacts we leave behind, so that they may, in turn, continue to tell our story long after we are dead.

For me, this begs the question of how my generation, Generation Y, will be remembered?

We remember our grandparents or great grandparents by finding old love letters or journals and diaries that they wrote during WWI or WWII. Through these personal letters, we get an intimate snapshot of what their lives were like and who they were as people. However, with technology and communication becoming more and more synonymous every day, it does not seem so far-fetched to say our children and grandchildren will relive the stories of our lives through old hard drives and Internet files.

It slightly disturbs me to think my children will be able to access my old Facebook status updates to see what my thoughts or activities of the day were. They will be able to see firsthand my pictures and interests, as well as everyone I was “friends” with via social networks. The truly scary part, however, is the possibility that they will remember me not through an intimate account of my personal thoughts and details of my life events, but rather through a public forum that gives a watered-down description of who I am.

Social networking is so thoroughly integrated into our society that it is not just my generation that has adapted to it but also my parents’ and even my grandparents’ generation that have bought into it. Even e-mail is less frequent because all my friends and family have the ability to keep up with me by writing short messages on my wall, viewing my pictures and seeing my daily status updates. “Real time” has become so paramount that people take pause in milestone moments to inform the world of said milestone moment through status updates.

Moreover, how we represent ourselves through these mediums is interesting as well. The operative word in public forum is public. Much like when we are going on a first date or meeting new people, we tend to want to look our best. It’s no different online. Social networking — despite how much we all want to deny it — has a large component of vanity to it. How many of us have gone through our Facebook profiles and untagged all the unflattering photos others have taken of us? Or spent a precarious amount of time editing and re-editing our interests and “about me” sections? It’s still us — but it’s the more dressed up, “show-and-tell” version of us.

Social networking has made itself a staple in our society and has proven that it is here to stay. That’s all fine. But let us not forget to leave something else behind. These “artifacts” could be diary entries that we wrote thinking no one would ever read them, handwritten letters to relatives who don’t know how to use e-mail, and maybe even choosing to leave the bad photos on Facebook along with the good. Because for a generation that has so much potential, we don’t deserve to be remembered solely through our status updates.

Image by Muffet.

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