I had many reactions to Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity — all good. These thoughts were stored up like nuts in a squirrel’s cheeks during the rally as AT&T couldn’t cope with so much sanity, and so I tweeted them in a flurry afterwards and will expand on them here.
Stewart’s close was pitch-perfect, presenting optimism, perspective, honesty, and humor in exact proportion.
He brilliantly separated himself from media, politics, and government, setting him closer to us, the people. In other circumstances, that might sound like a populist’s positioning: Stewart as Evita (don’t laugh for me, New Jersey). But that’s why the apolitical nature of the event matters: He wasn’t selling an agenda or buying power. He was leading and inspiring. He was recognizing and supporting the best in us.
Stewart was raising a standard for how our alleged leaders should respect us so we could respect them in return. “Because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false,” he said. Stewart was doing nothing less than resetting the relationship of the powerful to the public. He was re-empowering us. His speech and his event were profoundly democratic. Not Democratic or Democrat—democratic.
Media took most of his barbs and for good reason. I must confess that I came away feeling a bit ashamed to be a member of the media and journalism tribe (even as I played hooky from the Online News Association’s annual and newly exuberant confab uptown). Stewart and Colbert rightfully castigated us. Oh, yes, they aimed mostly at cable news. “The country’s 24-hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems but its existence makes solving them that much harder,” Stewart said.
But the rest of us in the news business are not blameless. We, too, monetize fright. We are evil coaches on grade school playgrounds, making sides and then pitting them against each other. When we in the press included TV and cable news people in our journalistic club and rejected bloggers and citizens, we legitimized them. When we don’t repudiate their ways, we excuse them. Shame on all of us.
The coverage of the rally I’ve seen so far tends toward the dismissive, as does its play on the home pages of The New York Times and Washington Post. “Nonpartisan bits, musical entertainment and gentle ribbing of the purported enemies of incivility,” is the Post’s view of it. Cute. Unimportant. A trifle. Pay no heed to its criticism of us; it’s just a joke, after all. Ex-Postie Howie Kurtz was surprised at the size of the event. He underestimated. I didn’t. He called it “shtick” and “weak” at that. His was an entertainment review. That’s how The Times saw it, as “part circus, part satire, part holiday parade.” You know how those kids love a parade with clowns, yet.
Well, judged as entertainment, Kurtz isn’t entirely wrong. Except it wasn’t entertainment. The event used entertainment to be something else, to make a different point. At least The Times’ wunderkind, Brian Stelter, got a blogging chance to call it what it was: media criticism. But sadly, the media don’t even realize they were being criticized, not really.
There was so much about the day that was so encouraging.
It was indeed wonderful and hopeful to hear Cat Stevens/Yusef/Joseph/Joe sing Peace Train. On Twitter, @msbellows said its humor advanced the cause of Muslim moderation 20 years.
It was equally wonderful to hear Stewart thank the un-tolled masses for massing. “Sanity,” he said, “will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder. To see you here today and the kind of people that you are has restored mine. Thank you.” On Twitter, I observed that these people came not for a show but for (a) reason. (Stelter, by the way, agreed.)
I was most heartened — overjoyed, really — by the fact that I shared this day with so many people my own age and just as many my son’s age. I was lucky that he happened to have taken the weekend away from college and could come with me, along with a high-school friend of his. I was crammed in in front of them. To my left were more young people. To my right and ahead were people my age who understood what a big deal it was for Cat Stevens/Yusef/Joseph/Joe to return to a musical stage — and share it was Ozzy friggin’ Osborne (which made it worth the frustration of hearing Peace Train interrupted after all these years).
My son’s friend, Ben, said he’d never been to a rally before. Emily Bell tweeted that she used the opportunity to introduce her newly arrived sons to the idea of rallies and had some trouble explaining to her 6-year-old the reason for them.
No, this wasn’t their Woodstock 2.0. It was just a rally. In my youth, in our fabled ’60s, we had them all the time because we had cause and because we believed we could — must — change government and society. That was change we could believe in. Now Stewart has given us reason again to come together, to set new standards, to expect real change, to celebrate democracy (not government), to communicate (around media) — in short, and in every sense of the word, to rally.
: Oh, and I almost forgot: I was also delighted to see NPR and other haughty temples of journalism get shit from Stephen Colbert for forbidding their employees unless assigned from attending the rally. As son Jake said afterwards, it was an insult to the people at that rally. What, do we have cooties on us? Damn it, every one of the journalists on those staffs could have learned a great deal today. But they weren’t allowed to. Because that’s not officially journalistic. Well, once again, Jon Stewart proved to be closer to the public than the journalists charged with serving them. That’s why we trust him and not you, media people. He’s not afraid to get a little of us on him.
: The morning after: The Rally to Restore Sanity was about media, but media didn’t hear. The New York Times, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, MSNBC, and, of course, Fox News all played it down on their home pages; the Guardian and Die Zeit Online played it bigger.