Do you get your news from Jon Stewart and The Daily Show? If you do, you're not alone, and if you don't, then you turn to actual journalists for actual news.
It concerns me to some degree that so many people turn to a comedy show for their news--to be honest, I have more faith even in Twitter to get news, or in Facebook or anywhere else but a comedy show. Could it be that journalism has been so downgraded and so compromised that the public are just ditching them entirely? Maybe. Journalists as of late have made no secret of their bias, so it's not surprising that so many viewers simply shut them off.
Of course, Jon Stewart's biases are no secret, despite his many protests to the contrary. He may call it as he sees it, but that doesn't mean he calls it as it truly is. True, a good portion of his audience is already well informed about the news of the day, which is great, but that also calls into question the purpose of the show as well as the cultural and political impact of the show. For many, Stewart's comedy reaffirms what they already think about politics and the world, which could explain why so many of them gush about how he's so spot-on and how he just nails every topic so perfectly. Success is easy when you're standing before an already sympathetic audience.
Of course, it is just comedy, not news, and it provides a convenient excuse for any controversial remarks on the show. Everybody may understand this about The Daily Show, but does everybody really believe that? Those are two different things, and unfortunately, the consequences of this difference can have a huge impact on the direction of our country. It seems crazy to place such a level of importance on a TV show on Comedy Central, but the audience's response to Stewart has made this the case.
So let's take Stewart's mid-September segment on climate change and Congressional Republicans (the part about Congress starts around 3:50) and try to break down Stewart's "logic." Let us also note that the show has multiple writers, so that Stewart's supposed brilliance is a collective effort:
When Dana Rohrabacher asked about potential toxic levels of CO2, Stewart brands him as a baby or a cat. Stewart fails to recognize that maybe Rohrabacher has a point, considering that carbon dioxide is such a small portion of global emissions. But that doesn't fit with Stewart's paradigm, so the Congressman is an idiot and Stewart is brilliant. Never mind that Rohrabacher's background is in public service and politics whereas Stewart's is in menial jobs and comedy, but apparently he knows everything.
When Congressman Larry Bucshon expressed his valid and understandable doubts about global warming, all Stewart could do is a dramatic facepalm, then suggest that the Congressman look at the AMS journal to get "educated." Let's just point out one kind of important thing: Bucshon's background is in science, whereas Stewart worked as a puppeteer at one point, though I don't know whether that was before or after his stint as a busboy. Clearly, Stewart's rigorous intellectual background is so much more significant than some dumb old heart surgeon. Conveniently, Stewart failed to mention is that nearly half the membership of the AMS does not believe that climate change is caused by humans. He also makes a hasty generalization that Bucshon relies on a YouTube feed to form his political opinions. What an insult, particularly to someone who actually has a real background in science. No kiddie volcanoes needed here, except maybe for Stewart or his team of writers.
Bucshon went on to point out what is pretty widely known, especially to anyone in academia or in science, that climate science is notoriously politically motivated and that universities tend to deny funding or fellowships to "climate deniers." Scientific and academic journals are also more likely to publish articles favoring human caused climate change, so yes, Mr. Stewart, that is a reality. Stewart totally mischaracterized Bucshon's comments by saying, "I do not believe the scientists because it is their profession, not their hobby." Nowhere did Bucshon mention the word "hobby," so this is just Stewart putting spin on the comment, and then getting outraged. This sort of Straw Man "reasoning" is flawed at its core because Stewart is just making up an opponent and then skewering him. Maybe if his background extended beyond being a stock-boy, he might know that.
Stewart then produced evidence--hard evidence: the evil Koch Brothers helped fund Bucshon's campaign!!!! How can Bucshon DARE say anything about our fragile climate when he's in bed with the evil Koch Brothers? Unfortunately for Stewart, that doesn't really take away from Bucshon's point. This sloppy sort of ad hominem attack never works because instead of taking on the substance of what Bucshon says, Stewart simply lashed out at individuals who donated to his campaign. The Koch Brothers' funding has nothing to do with the issue of politically compromised researchers, but Stewart drags this up in order to show Bucshon both as a fool and as corrupt. This kind of lazy thinking is almost entirely based on emotionalism and not on reason or actual evidence. Oh, but this is comedy, right? Thank goodness for that, as Stewart lacks the intellectual gravitas to do much else.
Stewart also assumes that the scientific community "at large" agrees with his view, but that is not the case. That might be fine for his devotees who think he's some sort of genius (and therefore above reproach), but in fact, Stewart reveals how woefully out of touch he is with the actual science. According to a 2013 report by David Legates, only 1.6% of academic articles published claimed definitively that most global warming since 1950 was caused by humans. Stewart also seems not to know that RSS satellite data shows no sign of global warming for the last 17 years. I guess when you rely on a former bartender to give you scientific information, you run the risk of it being on the inaccurate side. Who's facepalming now?
Finally, Stewart mischaracterized Bucshon's point about using scare tactics in the global warming discussion. Bucshon rightly advocated a cautious approach, that maybe it's better to look objectively at the issue rather than to use "the sky is falling" tactics that are so common now, particularly among people like Jon Stewart. I've seen these Chicken Little tactics myself: just last year, I saw a presentation regarding global warming suggesting that if we don't do something about pollution now, and if we don't start recycling and embracing sustainable living, we'll end up in World War III! To quote Stewart, "are you f@@@ing kidding me?"
But maybe Jon Stewart should get a break. He doesn't seem to understand what Bucshon meant there, because his narrow world view causes him to misinterpret these remarks; strangely enough Stewart seems to think that the Congressman just doesn't want to look at the scary consequences of our own actions, which is not what Bucshon said at all.
No, that's silly. After all, despite his ho-hum, intellectually inferior background, Jon Stewart really is a smart guy. He understood Bucshon perfectly well, but he chose to skew the Congressman's words to fit his own agenda and to get a cheap laugh from his audience. That might work for comedy, but the reality is that The Daily Show is way more than just comedy, even if it is just comedy. Because so many people go there for validation, in fact, the show ends up doing its fans a huge disservice. Rather than challenging an audience, it endorses a lazy attitude that never asks for more than a cheap laugh and a feeling of self satisfaction. It strokes the ego, to be sure, makes the audience feel cool and smart and self-righteous, but that's about it.
Don't get me wrong here, if you enjoy The Daily Show, that's fine. If you laugh at Stewart's jokes, great. But let's not fool ourselves into thinking that this is just "just comedy," any more than Rush Limbaugh is just, as he puts it, a "harmless little fuzzball." I think Jon Stewart and his army of writers know that very well, even if he won't admit that on Bill O'Reilly or anywhere else. After all, that's show business.
Add up one social climber, two ex-pats, one "ugly American," plus two posh birds and what does one get? Another Bravo TV "reality" show: Ladies of London.
I have a confession to make: I am a pretty regular watcher of Real Housewives of New York, so I thought this British twist might be interesting and fun, especially as an Anglophile and American patriot all wrapped into one adorable bundle. Thus, when I watched a few episodes, I ended up learning less about cultural differences, learning instead that self-absorption and materialism are not unique to Americans, despite the convenient stereotypes.
In fact, posh socialite and Royal gal-pal Caroline Stanbury is among the worst of the lot. With her exaggerated make-up, phony tan and snarky mouth (clearly her best quality), she brings a tone of expected British haughtiness, with a healthy dose of an American-like obsession with material items. This isn't to say that the Brits aren't interested in conspicuous consumption, because I'm sure they are, however, the attention given to Stanbury's lavish collection of designer clothes, Hermes bags and all the bling-bling even the Queen couldn't afford makes me think that either the show is pandering to an American audience unaware of British sensibilities (ya think?) or that Stanbury has an ironically middle-class obsession with how much things cost. Aren't the posh classes supposed to be more subtle and not flash their wares about?
On the other hand, I sort of like the second Brit, Annabelle Neilson, former model and muse of the late great Alexander McQueen. Funnily enough, she self-identifies as his muse, which makes me wonder a bit. Isn't "muse" a gift title that other people call you, rather than what you would call yourself? I'll have to check with Debrett's on that. Despite that little faux pas, I appreciate Annabelle's way. Sure, she's a bit of a toff, but she's consistent--she snubs people equally. And at least one can see a certain standard that she lives by, despite her lack of subtlety in conveying that to the others, and in particular to the Americans. I would think that losing a dear friend to suicide is enough of a shock to bring anyone back to earth, and to her credit, Annabelle doesn't seem interested in engaging in petty battles...yet.
One of the Americans, Caprice (who apparently only needs one name), is sticky soft and entirely self-obsessed. She has hired a "gestational carrier" (I swear, I'm not making this ***t up) to have her baby for her, but wait! The so-called "miracle" of modern science has allowed little Caprice, who sells lingerie and swimwear, to have as Juliet said, a "real baby in her stomach." Caprice is all oohs and ahhs and sweetness, that is, unless she's smirking over getting better press than the Duchess of Cambridge--that's Kate to you and me. As a Catholic viewer, I think that Caprice troubles me the most, as she seems so cavalier about using artificial means of conception, yet showing no care for her other children who are currently frozen in a test tube somewhere.
Another American, social-climber and attention-whore Noelle Reno, seems to have a penchant for multi-millionaires. Her first notable boyfriend was from the Mellon family, and now, she's hooked up with Scot Young, who unfortunately has his vast fortune locked up in a messy divorce. The ever-pouting Noelle can thus always find an excuse for why her life is so crappy right now. It's always Scot's fault. Easy-peasy, right?
Marissa Hermer, on the other hand, seems to have it great. Her husband is a successful restauranteur and club owner, they've got a smooth as cream life, and now, she's becoming a British citizen. I wondered at that a bit, but on the other hand, with things in the States as they are, perhaps Marissa is making a good move and plus, she can still retain a love for her country of origin, especially in these troubled times.
That just leaves loud, honking, crass, obnoxious Juliet Angus, who seems to have a problem with Annabelle for being "all fancy and polite." Seriously? OK, she has cute kids. Enough on Juliet.
Watching this show has been interesting, to say the least. I was initially taken by the cultural differences between British and American society, and I found it amusing to watch these very American women try to make it in reserved, posh British society. I appreciated the notion that one doesn't make a scene, unlike on RHONY, where there's a scene every ten minutes (especially when Aviva is around). Naturally, as this is a show, that standard of British reserve gets chucked out straight away, usually involving Juliet. I guess that's how people want to be entertained, by watching grown women snatch at each other like seventh graders.
Maybe that's why I started to like Annabelle in episode three, because she chose to leave a party rather than to make a scene about something she saw as inappropriate. Could this doyenne of the fashion world be growing up? Has the devastation of personal loss had a humbling effect on our Annabelle? Let's hope so.
By the time the fourth episode ended, I found that none of these women really has a grip on anything corresponding to the real world or real concerns or real people. Granted, shows like this are something like the Busby Berkeley lavish, escapist musicals of the 1930's. In times of financial woes, people like to see the rich and snobby annoying each other, fighting each other, sabotaging each other. It's sort of like socialized dysfunction, where everyone gets a fair shot at indulging petty drama and arguing over conjured up spats.
In the end, however, so what? These women in many ways are rather common, in that they work, they have a personal life and they pretty much go about their days. None of these women are going to change the world or offer anything particularly deep to the international conversation. Sure, they wear pretty dresses and have lovely homes, but where's the challenge in that? I can't learn from them because their experience is too mundane or based on pure self. So will I watch again?
Probably. After all, when you've had a crappy day and there's too much on your mind, sometimes you need a bit of shallow escapism, if only for an hour. It's harmless fun, I suppose, and the British accents are nice. A show like this would never take the place of EWTN or any other serious media outlet, but hey...you gotta relax a little, have a laugh!
God bless America.
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Culture is all around us, in the city, the country, everywhere. We see it from the old world and the new, and as Catholics, we have a rich tradition of developing Western culture throughout our history.