Thursday, March 19, 2009

In Honor of Jon Stewart (of The Daily Show)

I don't typically like writing about contemporary politics... Haven't we come to face the obvious facts that the system of governance to which many subscribe in America and the "developed world" is a farce on the highest order? That Liberal politico-moral economy has  taken the day, our bodies, values, and friendships/loves/families are enmeshed in insidious matrixes of population-control governed by regimes of discourse that we incite, perpetuate, and create ourselves in the image of? Namely, that Foucault's analysis of bio-power was prophetic, and political aspirations of "liberation" only breathe new life into the very problem? That we have our heads in the jaws of the beast and fancy we enjoy the shade.
And then to what end is the constant exercise of pointing out the obvious? Ultimately, the wealthy remain wealthy, politicians are disingenuous, cynical opportunists, and our media is complicit in the perpetuation of a society of fear, greed, and nihilistic moralism.

There are, however, moments when my pessimism is eclipsed. Over the last two weeks Jon Stewart and his team at the Daily Show have unleashed a sustained assault against one head of the hydra: the CNBC network.
The pleasure of hearing him say, boldly, "Fuck you" to the pundits, and Jim Cramer especially, is difficult to describe. Something on the order of finally hearing a voice that reaches millions speak truth to power: Foucault's _parrhesia_.
Last night in an interview with Jim Cramer Jon asked if it would be possible for the journalists to go back to actual reporting so that he could return to fart jokes. Cramer said, "Deal." This is telling: Stewart, though he denies it publicly, is one of America's true investigative journalists, and the "journalists" like Cramer et al. are feeding America the equivalent of fart jokes. He also demanded that Cramer admit his interests: who are you on the air for? the general public or CEOs? (Cramer never did answer that one.)
This is not the first time Stewart has confronted pundits for their active participation in the discursive economy of intrusive power. He appeared on Crossfire and essentially begged the hosts to ask real questions and discuss matters of substance. Bill O'Reilly as confessed, "You know what scares me?: You have influence."

I tell my students that we are reading Plato, Aristotle, and the pre-Socratics in a epoch that bears great resemblances to the time in which these ancient figures lived. We, like them, are confronting a "barbaric" East, are torn apart domestically by factions, and threatened with tyranny and imperialism; our scientific advances butt against mysticism, our politicians are demagogues, and our principles assaulted by oligarchic aspirations.
Drawing a line from the Athenian polis and today's America, Jon Stewart is our Aristophanes: a fierce defender of the democracy, a scathing cultural critic, and a comedian. (True, Aristophanes got Socrates wrong, but he got almost everything else right.)

Today was one of those days when my pessimism was eclipsed, and so I offer up this moment of appreciation for Jon Stewart, who allows me to feel like perhaps not all is lost. Yet.

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