Jon Stewart, the go-to guy for sanity in a world allegedly beset by right-wing craziness, the one man who for years could be counted on to deflate the Fox News bluster with his unique brand of satire, got called out on his white privilege by Wyatt Cenac, a black Daily Show writer, and of course Stewart totally took it personally and served up an F-bomb-flavoured meltdown in response.
Guys like Stewart, the sanity-restorers, are so smugly confident that they have the code cracked. Every night on the Daily Show, Stewart sat behind that desk, making his silly faces, taking his clown nose off and putting it back on again, acting like the right-wing rantosphere was a world apart from him. When he spoke, that audience cheered and clapped like trained seals and an army of Facebook and Twitter commenters lauded him for showing up the right-wing hype machine for what it supposedly was.
Can you imagine, then, how horrified and insulted Stewart must have been when this nobody of a writer had the temerity to call him out? After years of pranking Bill O’Reilly and Tucker Carlson and the rest of the poor deluded conservatives, suddenly he, Jon Stewart, is the bad guy? The nerve of these people! If anyone is entitled to special dispensation from the whole white privilege shakedown (he must have been thinking), it’s me!
I am tempted to engage in moralizing of the he-who-fights-monsters-should-take-care-that-he-himself-does-not-become-a-monster variety, or wonder whether it is sad or funny when the satirist becomes indistinguishable from his targets, but the truth is that Jon Stewart and true satire parted company a long time ago.
Satire is edgy, and reflexively bashing conservatives (which is all the Daily Show does) is anything but. There’s nothing edgy or groundbreaking about making fun of Herman Cain, which is what Stewart and Cenac fell out over, because the joke had been exhausted already. The Daily Show could have ignored Cain entirely and the point would still have been made a million times over.
The trouble is, though, that the Daily Show audience are primarily millennials who believe that everything wrong in the world originates with white CEOs with too much power. Fixing the lack of diversity on the Fortune 500 is #1 on their priority list, so the Daily Show gets the message that satirizing corporations and Republicans is brave and noble even as Charlie Hebdo cartoonists are being killed for mocking Islam.
Stewart may have endured one too many meetings where he was told he couldn’t make jokes about this or that, or he may have believed that since Cain was a Republican, nobody cared whether using an Amos n’ Andy black voice was offensive or not. Either way, Cenac’s comment came as a surprise to Stewart, which is strange because you would think a self-appointed voice of reason like him would be able to handle that kind of criticism without flying off the handle like he did.
Unless, of course, you consider that the Daily Show has become as much (if not more) of a hype machine as it accuses Fox News of being. It reinforces its audience’s beliefs rather than challenging them. When Stewart (accidentally) steps over an actual line, he becomes angry and defensive. He, and his social-justice-minded audience, are more interested in sticking to what’s safe and profitable rather than driving actual change.
They are the hypocrites. They are the ones deserving of mockery. But worst of all, they are boring. Their entire social justice crusade is no crusade at all, and Wyatt Cenac, to his credit and to Stewart’s chagrin, exposed that.
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