My Relationship with Jon Stewart
Argumentation (RHMS 221) with Professor Gantt religiously begins with a discussion of current events followed with a well intertwined, popular application of theory. The particular footage that has stood out to me the most has been an interview between Chris Wallace and Jon Stewart of The Daily Show in Wallace’s neck of the woods—the Fox News studio. The two men obviously were highly capable of talking well into the night and equally equipped at drawing an audience. Class continued to revolve around the application of presumptions and claims, specifically looking at Stewart and Wallace’s debate on the prevalence of (liberal vs. sensational) bias; a debate set
However, Chris Wallace brushes on an interesting point regarding The Daily Show’s identity. Wallace accuses Jon Stewart and The Daily Show of utilizing a “get-out-of-jail-free card” when presented with dispute and criticism of their journalistic standards. Wallace sees Stewart as hiding behind his comedic role and is in turn held unaccountable for his messaging. Stewart describes an empirical difference between himself and Wallace:
“I’m a comedian first. My comedy is informed by an ideological background. There’s no question about that. But that’s not [my] primary motivating force. I’m not an activist. I’m a comedian.”
Wallace debates what Stewart precisely aspires to be—pointing to him as an aspiring political activist.
*Enter the audience*
Stewart sees himself as a comedian; yet what about the audience? The Wallace-Stewart debate is heavily concerned with the aspirations and desires of Stewart and Wallace as microcosms for mainstream media than the role of the audience. Is his self-identity more important than how his audience identifies him? What is my relationship to Jon Stewart, and how does that act as an example of audience perception? Do I see him as an authoritative voice? Do I make exceptions on journalistic standards which I shouldn’t be?
Admittedly, I learn from The Daily Show. It is with initial reservation that I say that—no one wants to admit to Comedy Central expanding their horizon. However, the sheer capacity of a multi-million dollar studio allows for far more extensive news gathering and analysis than a college student could ever dedicate to headlines. The 14 writers that compose the staff represent untold hours of research and digestion of news. An unknown number of interns add to this expansive process. The person-power represented in The Daily Show inherently makes it a more knowledgeable and well versed source than myself. Yet does knowledge equate to authority or activism in my eyes?
Selection bias is the process through which these tiresome hours develop into a half-hour production—bringing the role of Jon Stewart into question.
What makes The Daily Show such a favorite among young audiences is the Jon Stewart-brand humor that cuts through noise generated by other mediums. The Pew Research Center found that a vast majority of viewers are under 30, and that 43% of viewers elect to watch for the entertainment value. The same study reported 10% watch for its news headlines and another 2% for their in-depth reporting. This would support a comedian-first approach by the viewers of The Daily Show.
“Have I ever steered you wrong?” This adage may explain why viewers are able to see Stewart in his comedic role. An older Pew Research Center study (2006) found that The Daily Show viewers were consistently more informed than other network news stations, finding that 54% fell in the “high knowledge” category as opposed to 34% of viewers of morning network shows. Note that this study measures viewers’ general knowledge, and is not review of accuracy of material presented in The Daily Show. However, the presumed knowledge of the audience could represent a general attitude towards The Daily Show of acceptance and depressed skepticism.
Personally, I find that Jon Stewart embodies a role of saliency. In personal experiences most Daily Show fans convey a deep sense of admiration and respect for Jon Stewart. I suspect that these feelings on Stewart inadvertently raise him to an authoritarian position. Viewers who tend to identify with Stewart do so through variety of ways: with his humor and comedic repertoire, intelligent insight through clever analysis, knowledge and reputation as a source, as well as his ability to vent on systemic issues closely associated with youthful frustration. Stewart’s ability to establish identity with an audience encourages them to both; (a) place greater trust in him, and (b) be influenced by the philosophy of Stewart. Through segments, interviews, commentary, story building, and many other “fake news” techniques grounded in Stewart’s comedic genius The Daily Show awards saliency towards current events for select fans.
I draw distinctions between Wallace’s “activist” label and an agent who inspire saliency for his viewers. I understand an activist as one who acts procedurally and aims to generate systemic change via organizational and grassroots-pressure. Stewart, alternatively, aims to influence the attitude and insight of his audience rather than motivating and directing action. (These distinctions are open to wide criticism, and I would be curious if readers agree, disagree, or find such a distinction irrelevant.)
Lastly—I argue that Jon Stewart’s reported Summer-time hiatus from The Daily Show in favor of film begs a complex reading of his role. Evidently, Stewart is continuing to determine and evolve his niche in modern civil discourse. Having focused on audience entertainment for so long, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has become dependent on audience perception. Stewart’s drive to explore other media, such as a movie, may serve as a means of shaking the confines fabricated by the audience and an appropriate reaction to such external influences.
Class of 2014, Political Science Major
*P.S. The author offers his sincere apologies for not posting sooner—this post took on a course of its own and required a great deal of cutting, refocus and reconsideration. Unfortunately (?), unanswered and unaddressed questions may motivate a Part 2, or perhaps inspire an analysis in other realms of Stewart’s “fake news” (Boy—that is quite a loaded label).
**P.S.S. Follow the Lewis & Clark Politics Club Twitter handle! @LC_Politics! Event, meeting, and club details will be further developing! Aiming to provide twitter-sphere commentary. Look for Facebook activity as well!
***P.S.S.S. Contact me for interest in any Poly Sci socials!