Jon Stewart's rally begs the question: Can a healthy dose of satire save America?
It's an idea that's already been endorsed by David Letterman, Arianna Huffington and the president of the United States, Barack Obama.
But even as Daily Show mastermind Jon Stewart talks up his Oct. 30 Rally to Restore Sanity on the National Mall — and mock grouses about fellow Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert's "competing" March to Keep Fear Alive demonstration the same day — I wondered: What exactly will they do there?
Will we mostly see Serious Stewart, the guy who took down CNN's Crossfire with a single, searing confrontation? (The show was canceled after he told the hosts their partisan bickering was "hurting America.")
Or is this all a grand bit of performance art, highlighting the absurdity of this election's increasing extremism — and traditional media's complicity in enabling it — with a spectacle of satire that even the audience can participate in?
Stewart did talk about it a little more in a recent interview with Terri Gross of NPR's Fresh Airat the 92nd St. Y in Manhattan (somebody alert Rick Sanchez; the building is also a Jewish community center and Gross and Stewart are both Jewish. That's satire, people.)
Toss in Colbert's recent, intermittently serious appearance before Congress and you must wonder: Can these guys pull off what a devalued, increasingly compromised and sometimes bitterly partisan media structure cannot?
Can a concentrated dose of satire save America?
"People are lamenting that these comedians are playing this role, but a better use of energy might be lamenting that our politics and media have reached the point where this is necessary," said Danna Young, an assistant professor at the University of Delaware.
"Stewart and Colbert are necessary because … they're not just saying 'Let's question the content of politics,' " she added. "They're saying 'Let's question whether the way we experience the political world makes sense.' "
What we don't know for sure yet is what Stewart wants us to do after we ask the question.
Click here to read the rest of the column, which ran Sunday in the Times' Perspective section. It's a meditation on the de-evolution of traditional news, especially on TV, and the horrifying possiblity that, even if Stewart and Colbert pull this massive joke off, we all may be so trapped in ourp olarized political attitudes, we don't get it.