Professional fools are an ingrained aspect of our image of the medieval royal court system. Fools, more commonly known as jesters, were permitted to be asses for the amusement of heads of governments. While professional and respectful conduct was expected of most members of the court, the Fool existed to give an image of laxness. The king would not want people to think him an overly serious figure. Of course, the jester too had restraints. Many fools found their end after a misplaced joke on the wrong aristocrat.
The function of Jon Stewart in the eyes of many young people is to satirize the court, to make light of those in power and their media lapdogs. For awhile, this comfortable narrative of his position might have approached truth. However, Jon Stewart has yet again let this maverick pose slip. In a CNN interview covering the results of the American midterm elections, Stewart was asked if he voted, to which he responded, “I just moved. I don’t know even where my thing is.” Later, on The Daily Show, Stewart took out time to grovel at the feet of America’s greatest sacrament. Especially given the poor outcome for Stewart’s side, he thought that joking about not voting was nothing to joke about. He reasserted the importance of voting and apologized for being “flip” about such a serious matter.
First, I’d like to address the unimportance of Stewart’s choice to vote. Like him, I live in New York, though certainly a more red area of upstate NY. Even living around the few Republican lifeforms that inhabit NY, it is patently absurd to think Stewart could have somehow swayed the election away from the Democrats. New York, like Texas, is never flipping to the other side of the Color War. Moreover, the decision of one individual in deciding the results of any election is the great myth which fuels participation in this representative democracy. He and voters like him think far too much of themselves. They believe the story, told to them by the electoral system, that their vote does indeed matter. In all likelihood it does not.
Second, it is the job of the comedian to be flip. Stewart’s apology displays a subservience undue to a funny man post-Lenny Bruce. Stewart claims to be a devoted fan of George Carlin, and no doubt he is, like all comedians. George Carlin is a man who delivered one of the most blistering, debilitating rants against America’s democracy in his special “Back In Town”. He attacks the public’s obedience and inability to produce better results, then sees fit to end his rant and his special with a line about the superiority of masturbation to participation in the system. Stewart is of course his own man with his own opinions, but does he think Carlin was somehow being flip and disrespectful? Was Carlin responsible for the Republicans retaining the Congress in the 96 elections?
The difference between Carlin and Stewart is that Carlin was not beholden, he kept nothing as sacrosanct and by the time of his death had at one point offended the sensibilities of every demographic on the planet. He railed against the entire American political system and he did not apologize. Carlin is a comedian. Jon Stewart is a Fool. Stewart will go on with an air of being the rebel, the outsider until it might possibly impose a negative image on the establishment. Voting is no laughing matter for the politicians Stewart regularly entertains on his show. It is their livelihood. Most of their careers will be spent telling people to vote, rather than helping them. If Stewart wants to remain in with this crowd, he must respect the careers these professional hype men have made for themselves — even if he’s smart enough to see past it. It’s why he had to apologize this week. It’s why he had to beg for forgiveness for disrespecting Harry Truman, one of the great American mass murderers of the 20th century. Liberals can challenge actions like the dropping of the nuclear bomb until they realize that America IS the nuclear bomb, that the stars and stripes they pray to are kept above the rest of the world by mass violence. Then they will march in the streets next to the Republicans they claim to fear so much.
Is it any surprise then, that Stewart has also come out in support of a draft? Bemoaning declining youth involvement in their nation’s best interests, Stewart proposes, “There should be a draft where every young person has to do one year of something — military, public works — something so that we all feel invested in the same game, because that’s the part that we’ve lost.” This is a man who at least claims to have opposed America’s Iraq War, who criticized the Bush administration for its reckless foreign policy. This was all a veneer. Stewart really wants young people, otherwise known as his audience, to obey the orders of the nation state.
Stewart is a Fool. He will apologize to the King and his Court for disrespecting their most holy of political processes and go back to smashing pies in people’s faces as if that makes him different. He is in reality an integral part of the mechanism which maintains the legitimacy of the warfare state. His opinions differ in only boring, trivial minutia from your average Neocon. He must apologize because he realizes he doesn’t just mock the system but himself. He will never have to apologize for his comments on the draft. He will never have to apologize for his worship of Harry Truman. Frankly, as a fan of comedy and honesty, I wouldn’t want him to. Stewart has his beliefs and I want him to be open about them. I want to know who the warmongers are and who the fools are. I know now, like I never knew before, that he is a jester for murderers. Analysis of his comedy above that level is an insult to Carlin and to every revolutionary mind that made American comedy more than just a late night TV gag.