“You poor bastards.”
It was with the sarcastic assurance of those words that I finally lost interest in what Jon Stewart had to say on October 30, 2014. Before then, I’d nodded my head in accordance with the “Blueless” segment‘s jokes about my home state of Texas and its peculiar brand of politics. A lot of it made sense, and quite honestly, the show’s satirical criticisms of Texas were generally necessary. But when Stewart’s satire devolved into admonishment, I stopped listening.
You’re probably thinking, “Jeez, this guy can’t take a joke!” It’s an easy critique to make — after all, most politicians, pundits, and media personalities resort to ad hominem character attacks every day. Yet it wasn’t the jokes from the program’s final South by Southwest Festival show in Austin that turned me off from The Daily Show. It was Stewart’s presumption to chastise the state’s progressives via his position as a national figurehead that finally soured me. Besides, I’m pretty sure the comedian wasn’t going to cast a vote in the Texas gubernatorial race.
Yes, this sounds like a bunch of whining, and yes, it’s timed with Stewart’s upcoming departure from The Daily Show. Is it opportunistic? Absolutely! Then again, so is every other retrospective and listicle published about the comedian this week. I’m not looking to beat Stewart’s many mistakes into the ground. I just want to explain why he ultimately disappointed me.
“Are You OK?”
Hold the rewind button down for 13 years, one month and 10 days.
On September 20, 2001, The Daily Show returned to business as usual a week and a half after two planes struck the World Trade Center in New York City, a third dive-bombed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a fourth crashed in rural Pennsylvania. An obviously distraught Stewart tried to keep his composure throughout the nearly nine-minute introduction, but he eventually cracked and gave into his emotions. He mourned the missing and the dead, praised the city’s response, and vowed to make us laugh again.
Even though I was just a scared teenager at the time, I counted myself among that “us.” I’d grown to like Stewart because he let me know it was okay to be scared. And since I’d watched the towers fall moments after a lecture on the history of America’s use of the draft during wartime, I was scared shitl*ss. I didn’t want to leave my family behind, and I sure as hell didn’t want to die fighting in a conflict I wasn’t likely to believe in. Yet many of my friends were already discussing the matter, and a few were even thinking about enlisting.
So as soon as the introduction was over, I was hooked. Stewart’s emotional honesty was powerful, and the comfort it inadvertently gave a confused high school junior in Houston, who lived 1,500 miles away from the chaos in the northeast, was unlike anything else.
Plus, he wasn’t at all ashamed to follow that up with a rather goofy selection of segments, including the previous year’s “Ad Nauseum – Nads” with Steve Carell. Did it have anything to do whatsoever with the terrorist attack that took place nine days prior? Nope, not one damn bit. But it was funny, lighthearted and just the kind of humorous distraction everyone needed then.
“Democrats in Texas Are Like…”
Towards the end of “Blueless,” Stewart capped off the segment’s roundup of conservative politics in Texas with a montage of pundits and politicians opining that the state would soon be “flipped.” That is, the traditionally red-leaning state would go blue when the electoral votes were counted. So why all the progressive-leaning press in an otherwise conservative state?
It was mostly due to Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), the state senator whose 11-hour filibuster to block a bill that would add additional restrictions to abortion thrust her into the national spotlight in June 2013. A few months after her marathon speech, she announced her intention to run for governor as the Texas Democratic Party’s candidate. Both her filibuster’s national renown and subsequent gubernatorial campaign fired up Texas Democrats and progressives more than any other person or group had in recent memory.
Davis eventually lost in a landslide to Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate who served under Governor-turned-presidential hopeful Rick Perry. Yes, it wasn’t all that surprising that she lost — especially when you consider the amount of bad press she and campaign garnered for her biography’s inconsistencies and a rather uncouth ad that targeted Abbott’s disability (he’s confined to a wheelchair).
Of course, the election hadn’t happened yet when Stewart used his Austin-based stage to rip into the left’s efforts in Texas. After the audience erupted into a volley of cheers following the montage, Stewart shook his head and smiled:
“You poor bastards. Democrats in Texas are like the drunk guy at the bar who won’t stop hitting on a girl even though he knows she’s a lesbian. ‘No, no, no! Dude, trust me. I can flip her. I just need time!'”
The live audience laughed along with each beat. After all, they were there to be entertained by The Daily Show. As one of the millions of Texas Democrats sitting at home, watching Stewart simplify all our efforts into a single joke about a guy at a bar, I wasn’t laughing.
Is the joke funny? Yeah, it actually is. So too were many of Stewart’s observations about Texas politics leading up to the segment’s conclusion. What I didn’t find all that funny, however, was the admonishment clearly evident in his head-shaking smile and the words, “You poor bastards.”
Maybe it was his delivery, but I didn’t feel any comfort when Stewart ridiculed my state’s efforts to try and politically reinvent itself. Instead, I felt uncomfortable, ashamed even. Like I was a child being reprimanded for doing something an adult didn’t think was childlike.
That’s when I realized that even a national treasure like Jon Stewart, a person beloved by his viewers and respectfully disliked by his detractors, wasn’t worth listening to 100% of the time. There’s a fine line between satire and just making fun of somebody because you can, and what I saw him do at the end of that segment wasn’t constructive. It was just plain mean.
[Image via Comedy Central/screengrab]
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