The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear
“You go. Then I’ll go. You go then I’ll go. You go then I’ll go–Oh my God, is that an NRA sticker on your car? Is that an Obama sticker on your car? Well, that’s okay—you go and then I’ll go..“
The key issue to remember, if you watched the event on TV, the event wasn’t designed for television. Watching the event on TV probably seemed like something of a disaster for the home audience. It probably stopped and stalled and you wondered what the hell you were watching.
Indeed, even I wondered why I was there for a bit. The Roots, John Legend, and (as charming as they were) the Mythbusters, seemed like stalls for time. I didn’t come for the music. I came for the sanity. I came for the fear. I came for a group satirical event laced with utter sincerity. And while it took a while to get there, I got it at the end.
Walking to get to the Mall was fun, but it was a throng of people, all converging on this one stretch of land. And there were folks there for just about every possible cause. Sanity and/or fear, of course. But also people for a variety of causes: DonorsChoose, Reedit, D.C. statehood, healthcare reform, Harry Potter-heads, legalizing pot, and zombies (and one sad sack who wanted Obama to bring back the XFL (not the same sad sack who wanted to know where Olivia Munn was)).
I had the fortune to receive a Guest/VIP pass that got me pretty close to the stage (about 75, 80 feet away), but this was also true of another huge throng of people, too so it didn’t feel super selective. The irony, for me, was not lost on the fact that rally about sanity, about common people, included a VIP section, but so there was one and I was there. Liberal elitism thrives.
And the rally, thankfully, acknowledged this to a certain degree. As Stewart noted as he came out and talked, he played some pre-emptive defense, pointing out that other members of the media will point out how much of a line he crossed between comedian and pundit, and they also addressed the whiteness of the crowd. And it was a pretty white crowd of people. Middle to upper-middle class no doubt, too. Quickly acknowledging that, and making a joke of it may diffuse the criticism, but, to be fair, the event never seemed focus on particular demographics, though I don’t know if people expected a more diverse crowd.
Certainly the crowd was on the left of the political spectrum, but the event itself wanted to avoid that sort of partisan acknowledgment, even timidly so. The medals of sanity and fear, while amusing, avoided that sort of acknowledgment of serious political courage. The baseball player who was okay with a call from an umpire? Yeah, it’s nice that he didn’t kill the umpire, but as a small act of sanity, it didn’t lead to much else. Indeed, I was hoping they’d keeping building to a legitimate example, only to be fairly disappointed.
The rally, as a whole, was what Stewart and Colbert have done for years: critique the media. Fear montages from Colbert were particularly nicely done (as they always are), but the conflict between Colbert’s satire and Stewart’s earnestness kept stalling a little bit (though nicely realized in a sing-off between Ozzy Osborne and Cat Stevens (“Who is Cat Stevens?” a guy old than me asked). I get that the attempt to really bring into focus Colbert’s parody of the 24-hour pundit machine against Stewart’s exasperated jester was the goal, but it never really came together for me.
Not that it mattered all that much. Until the last 10 minutes, everything was humor and good times. Sam Waterson’s reading of Colbert’s “Are You Sure?” poem was a personal highlight, made all the better by the end of the poem being buttoned with a Law & Order chung CHUNG noise, something I don’t think Waterson expected as he looked startled by the sound. The tiff between Osborne and Stevens becoming The O’Jays asking us to form a love train (What’s to fear on a love train? STDs and heartbreak) was absurdly inspired.
At the end though, Stewart stepped out from all of it (having defeated Colbert and his giant paper-mache puppet) to address the crowd directly, and the point of the rally. While some of it seemed so politically-written that I expected him to announce his candidacy for some federal-level office (“Through the darkness and into the light?” Oy vey.), most of it worked and was earned by the event.
While the metaphor of people driving in traffic was a little trite, it works really well for the event, a way to explain what is really necessary for the message of the event. Indeed, in a crazed political state since the 2008 election, that how many thousand people attended the rally, and however many more watched on TV, came to see a political speech about getting over political differences says something about how a number of people feel about the current state of discourse in the country.
I saw a sign ask what it meant that a comedian was having to act as our fourth estate (and the sign had a picture of Howard Beale being mad as hell), while a YouTube comment I read afterwards questioned the state of discourse that a jester is speaking truth to the emperors. I’m not sure these folks totally understand how the jester works: the jester always speaks in jokes laced with truth (go read King Lear. I’ll wait.). If the jester wasn’t speaking as well as possible, what, then, is the point of the jester?
Stewart stopped being a jester for his speech. He became a regular guy who had an outlet for his views, and shared them with thousands of people. Sanity felt restored. And yet it slowly slipping away as I watch CNN in the hotel room, waiting for a pizza.
- October 30, 2010