Jon Stewart Is Back to Weigh In - The New York Times
Category: Op/EdVia: thomas • 4 weeks ago • 25 comments
By: David Marchese
Jon Stewart Is Back to Weigh In
By David Marchese
For all the value Jon Stewart delivered as a political satirist and voice of reason during his 16-year-run as the host of ''The Daily Show,'' it's quite plausible to suggest that the political and media Bizarro World in which we live — where skepticism is the default, news is often indistinguishable from entertainment and entertainers have usurped public authority from the country's political leaders — is one that he and his show helped to usher in. ''Look, we certainly were part of that ecosystem, but I don't think that news became entertainment because they thought our show was a success,'' Stewart says. ''Twenty-four-hour news networks are built for one thing, and that's 9/11. There are very few events that would justify being covered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So in the absence of urgency, they have to create it. You create urgency through conflict.'' That pervasive sense of political and social conflict has only grown since Stewart left the air in 2015. It has also made Stewart's post-''Daily Show'' silence — apart from a few guest spots on his old friend and colleague Stephen Colbert's show, he has been mostly out of the spotlight — more intriguing. What has he been thinking about this country while he has been gone? Now he has returned with some answers.
Stewart, who is 57, has written and directed ''Irresistible,'' a political satire about a small Wisconsin town that becomes engulfed in a political spectacle when a Democratic strategist and his Republican counterpart become fixated on the larger symbolic value and bellwether potential of the local mayoral race. The film, which will make its theatrical and video-on-demand premiere on June 26, is evidence that being away from the grind of a daily TV show has expanded rather than shrunk Stewart's satirical powers. He's well aware, though, that in this exceedingly polarized time, making a comedy that takes shots at both political parties, as ''Irresistible'' does, is an invitation to criticism. ''You're going to have people on the left who go, In the time of Trump, all you should be doing is a 'Fahrenheit 11/9'; there is no purpose other than to destroy the mother ship,'' Stewart says. And the other side's possible reaction to his return? ''There are people on the right predisposed to say, '[expletive] that guy.' '' Some things never change.
How strange is it, after having been basically out of the public eye for five years, to be coming back with something now? ''The world is on fire, here's my new movie'' seems like an awkward spot to be in. It's like showing up to a plane crash with a chocolate bar. There's tragedy everywhere, and you're like, ''Uh, does anybody want chocolate?'' It feels ridiculous. But what doesn't feel ridiculous is to continue to fight for nuance and precision and solutions.
You know, I've been trying to think of some precise, encapsulating question to ask you about what we've been witnessing over the last few weeks, and everything I was coming up with felt forced or phony. Maybe it's better, because you've been eloquent during times of crisis in the past, just to ask what you've been thinking about and seeing in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing? I'd like to say I'm surprised by what happened to him, but I'm not. This is a cycle, and I feel that in some ways, the issue is that we're addressing the wrong problem. We continue to make this about the police — the how of it. How can they police? Is it about sensitivity and de-escalation training and community policing? All that can make for a less-egregious relationship between the police and people of color. But the how isn't as important as the why, which we never address. The police are a reflection of a society. They're not a rogue alien organization that came down to torment the black community. They're enforcing segregation. Segregation is legally over, but it never ended. The police are, in some respects, a border patrol, and they patrol the border between the two Americas. We have that so that the rest of us don't have to deal with it. Then that situation erupts, and we express our shock and indignation. But if we don't address the anguish of a people, the pain of being a people who built this country through forced labor — people say, ''I'm tired of everything being about race.'' Well, imagine how [expletive] exhausting it is to live that.
I get that you're saying that the police and policing are a mirror of societal power structures, but it doesn't quite address police brutality. We can't absolve that. Police brutality is an organic offshoot of the dehumanization of those power structures. There are always going to be consequences of authority. When you give someone a badge and a gun, that's going to create its own issues, and there's no question that those issues can be addressed with greater accountability. It can be true that you can value and admire the contribution and sacrifice that it takes to be a law-enforcement officer or an emergency medical worker in this country and yet still feel that there should be standards and accountability. Both can be true. But I still believe that the root of this problem is the society that we've created that contains this schism, and we don't deal with it, because we've outsourced our accountability to the police.
Does the scale and intensity of the protests suggest some positive strides toward accountability? Maybe. Look, every advancement toward equality has come with the spilling of blood. Then, when that's over, a defensiveness from the group that had been doing the oppressing. There's always this begrudging sense that black people are being granted something, when it's white people's lack of being able to live up to the defining words of the birth of the country that is the problem. There's a lack of recognition of the difference in our system. Chris Rock used to do a great bit: ''No white person wants to change places with a black person. They don't even want to exchange places with me, and I'm rich.'' It's true. There's not a white person out there who would want to be treated like even a successful black person in this country. And if we don't address the why of that treatment, the how is just window dressing. You know, we're in a bizarre time of quarantine. White people lasted six weeks and then stormed a state building with rifles, shouting: ''Give me liberty! This is causing economic distress! I'm not going to wear a mask, because that's tyranny!'' That's six weeks versus 400 years of quarantining a race of people. The policing is an issue, but it's the least of it. We use the police as surrogates to quarantine these racial and economic inequalities so that we don't have to deal with them.
Given all that has happened over the last four years — let alone the last month — is there any part of you that wishes you were more regularly a part of the conversation? No. I think there are different ways to be in the conversation. I consider a career to be a conversation. Action is conversation, and I've taken more action in the last four or five years than I ever have in my life. Sometimes that action can speak more profoundly than a daily monologue. So I don't view myself as being out of the conversation: I view myself as not having a show. And if you're asking, Do you wish you had a show? Sometimes I do. But not the one that I had. The one that I had is in wonderful hands and continues to elevate in a way that I couldn't have. My efficacy for that kind of conversation has passed.
Who is online