AKA "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear"
October 31, 2010 | It was a pretty audacious play: hold a rally on the Washington Mall featuring the two "fake news" anchors of Comedy Central, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Their satire works in half-hour segments, but would people actually come long distances to attend a rally with no cause except to "restore sanity" or "keep fear alive"? Originally, two competing rallies had been proposed, but were merged into one a couple of weeks ago (at least officially).
I tuned in after the rally had started, and when I did, all the camera shots were fairly tight ones of the stage and the people in front of it. Uh-oh, maybe there aren't that many people. Wrong! When the camera angle shifted, there were thousands and thousands and thousands of people, stretching across the mall. Stewart facetiously announced attendance at 6 billion. Expectations were clearly modest: the permit issued by the Park Service was for 60,000, but additional sections of the mall were opened to accommodate the number who actually turned out, and Washington mass transit was overwhelmed by riders. Let the bidding start at 100,000. Do I hear 200,000?
While the show was staunchly non-partisan, it was decidedly political. The stage proscenium framed the Capitol dome and deftly chosen video clips skewered the excesses of not only the usual Fox News suspects, but also over-the-top liberals, like Keith Olbermann. It was, in effect, a seminar on media criticism via satire and humor.
There were inspired bits, like having Colbert hiding in a cave below the stage, refusing to come out until he was assured that people had, in fact, come to the rally. Then he emerged in a capsule drawn through a hole in the stage, like the Chilean coal miners. Priceless.
The rally was also unabashedly patriotic: American flags flanked the stage and served as motif for Stewart's and Colbert's costumes.
The rally was a bit didactic as well, with Stewart trying to moderate the extremism of Colbert. For instance, Kareem Abul Jabar and R2D2 were used as object lessons to demonstrate that you can't generalize about all Muslims or all robots, even though specific ones may be bad. Not at all subtle, but making the point.
It was only at the very end that the rally turned serious, when Jon Stewart changed into a suit and tie and took aim at the media:
This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times — not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.
But unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke.
The country’s 24-hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying 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 sudden, unexpected dangerous flaming ant epidemic.
If we amplify everything we hear nothing.
Using a video of cars merging from many, many lanes down to one to go through a tunnel as backdrop and metaphor, Stewart made the point that Americans don't live their lives driven by ideology, but just trying to get things done, usually running slightly behind, and making countless small compromises along the way. He pointedly said, "The only place people don't work together to get things done and get along is here [pointing to the Capitol] and on cable TV."
As the sign says, if only our politicians could make similar sense and be taken seriously.
Last updated on Apr 13, 2018