Monday, November 01, 2010

Protest and promotion on the Mall

Not much for television myself, I don't know how Jon Stewart normally spends his time. But if his rally was any indication, he markets himself as a reaction against the mainstream cable news model. This format is sensational and alarmist; and although it attracts a certain audience normally and a broader one at the drop of a "crisis," many people don't like it. Stewart and the Comedy Central team have established their brand by acknowledging this fact.

This is all happening within the marketplace, and in some ways it is kind of cool: one business model thrives by challenging what is inadequate about the other. But that's about it. If you like Jon Stewart, you can watch him to find out what is wrong with his competitors -- and there's plenty wrong, so this can be fun -- or you can bear witness to the "hypocrisy" of the political class; for example, as when they are "caught" saying contradictory things to different audiences. The Daily Show exists to make of routine business and politics a kind of entertainment.

In this respect, the "Rally to Restore Sanity" was a savvy way to promote the show in the guise of a traditional political rally on the National Mall. Considering how few outlets there are for political participation by the working class, we can expect some tension between the organizers and the attendees of any such event. The average person probably does not attend a "rally on the Mall" expecting the political equivalent of a "concert in the afternoon"; although I admit to some uncertainty about which they would prefer.


Hattie said...

You might be missing the point. The crackers are trying to establish themselves and their bizarre ways as the norm. The sanity folks say, "No, we are the norm."
It was a youngish and mostly white crowd, and they were so civil they could almost have been Canadians.
I think we've gone far enough in the way of elevating losers and catering to their resentments. By which I mean, specifically, white losers, just so I won't be misunderstood. The Christian folks from Wal-Mart nation.
My word verification is "fargoism." Amazing.

Anonymous said...


according to Stewart, you are part of the "extreme left" and Marxists who are trying to subvert the American constitution:

“Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own?” Stewart asked. “We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is—on the brink of catastrophe—torn by polarizing hate, and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done. But the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day. The only place we don’t is here [in Washington] or on cable TV.”

from Chris Hedges' piece today at TruthDig:

Cüneyt said...

Anon, Stewart is passing on without comment a view of the right in this country. I can criticize him for a lot, including passing it on uncritically, and acting as if "Marxist" is as essentially objectionable as "racist," but I thought it should be said.

Hunter said...

I recently read the first chapter in a book about interface design, which was all about how McLuhan was the second coming of Marx or something (I'm being a little unfair to someone there, but whatever, onward to the point!), and a lot if the chapter was devoted to media criticism of the nineties (it was written in like '99) and it did have one interesting thing to say: the rise of the endlessly self-referentiality of nineties' television (from E! to Beavis and Butthead and back) was the symptom of an old medium attempting (and predictably failing) to 'fit' a new media environment. An explicit comparison was made to the 'talkies' of '30s radio, when radio tried (and predictably failed) to be television, until television itself really got sorted out. The implication being, that some new media environment was being birthed, and until its full flowering is upon us, the old media will try to do what they can to fill the void of our desires for what the new medium promises but doesn't (yet) provide, and which the old media can't (really) provide. The fake news shows seem like they fit well into this understanding...

JRB said...


I sympathize with all "losers" to the degree that they begin at a disadvantage -- and anybody within the working class does. So I think it's fair to extend the courtesy to anyone in that category, on those grounds.

The "norm" in the United States is shaped in large part by the interests which own it. We should ask ourselves to what extent we want to identify with that.


That Marx is deployed so often and in so different many ways is as good an indication as any that his ideas have life in them yet!


That's a great description of capitalism; and The Daily Show vs. Crossfire, Glenn Beck. etc., is a good example of competing capitals, with different parts of the working class endorsing one circuit or another.

Hunter said...

Hmm... That's not really what I meant. This is possibly going to turn massive and threadjackish, so feel free to ignore it, but I feel compelled to write it nonetheless.

So. Television and radio are (cultural) industries, and every channel is a factory (more or less). In that sense, Daily v. Crossfire is a perfect example of competing capitals, with different parts of the ...

But. The comparison to the birth of television was to point out that TV is a different industry than radio, and that it can do different things for us. When TV came on the scene, it supplanted narrative radio, because radio as a medium is not suited to the narrative form, but TV is. The rest of radio (music news, etc.) remains... profitable (as that is the criterion for industry).

The book referenced above mentioned the rise of self-referentiality as a clue that a new medium is being birthed: TV is not suited to remix culture, or endless commentary about commentary. The Daily Show, which is both, is a feeble attempt by the old industry of TV to give us what our networked, youtubed selves demand in a format that is inherently unsuited to the task.

If it were merely a matter of competing capitals, it would sound more like the difference between Pravda and Radio Free Europe: competing ideological propaganda talking past one another, with alternative views of the world. As it is, Daily and O'Reilly spend more time talking about each other than on the "real" world of politics. This is still capital competing, but in a different way, and a way that presages larger changes to come.

JRB said...


Competing capitals with competing technologies: check!

You say it wonderfully. May I ask: do you blog?

Hunter said...

I don't blog... yet.