By: Bailey Perryman
In 1996, The Daily Show premiered on Comedy Central. Fifteen years later, the show is more popular than ever with no signs of slowing down. Classified as a satirical news parody, many people and organizations, such as the Pew Research Center, claim that The Daily Show is the primary source for news for “young people,” though the shows staff publically reject the suggestion. In 2005, a spin-off show called The Colbert Report premiered to resounding applause.
In a time when so many news organizations have become completely polarized and spend the vast majority of their time shedding just enough light on a topic to show how the other guy is the cause of the problem, causing many to simply stop trying to get the news at all, these shows are captivating millions with real stories satirically told. While both Colbert and Stewart have repeatedly said that they have no political agenda, both of their shows are primarily focused on political news stories, and from Stewart, a generally middle-ground angle. Instead of simply taking a left-wing standpoint and shaking his finger at conservatives, Stewart is able to look at both sides of an issue and see the insanity of the whole.
In 2010, Stewart and Colbert held a Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington DC. Approximately 215,000 people were in attendance. Criticized by many political pundits before the rally actually took place, it brought in about two and a half times as many people as the Restoring Honor Rally held only two months before by Glenn Beck, arguably the most famous modern conservative pundit.
While it would be easy to watch shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report and simply write them off as meaningless satirical nonsense, meant only for entertainment, both hosts have proven over the years that they are important and influential voices of reason.
On January 8, 2011, there was a horrific attack in Tucson Arizona that left six people dead and another 14 injured. Many news organizations spent that weekend pointing fingers in any political direction to take the blame. Sarah Palin and the Tea Party were the first attacked for comments and graphics depicting Congresswoman Giffords in the Crosshairs of a gun. Later, however, Toby Harden stated that the suspected shooter has more left-wing tendencies than right and Keith Olberman was forced to make a formal apology over several remarks he made on his MSNBC show. That Monday, January 10, Stewart said that, though he didn’t know if political media was the real catalyst behind this crime, “For all the hyperbole and vitriol that’s become a part of our political process—when the reality of that rhetoric, when actions match the disturbing nature of words, we haven’t lost our capacity to be horrified. … Maybe it helps us to remember to match our rhetoric with reality more often.”
It’s a little disappointing that the voices of reason and sanity have to come from satire, but that seems to be where we are at as a society now. Tony Bennett said “There are specific and detailed technical and theoretical problems peculiar to television and film analysis . . . which no amount of general theorizing might resolve. Likewise, questions concerning the relations between . . . culture and nation remain vexed and complex, requiring separate and detailed attention if progress is to be made.” Media like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report should not have to provide moments of news-sanity. These shows have integrated themselves into the American pop-culture through their satire and comedy. That they are now our voice of reason seems unrealistic and unfair.