Yesterday I attended the Denver satellite of the Rally to Restore Sanity. Basically, for the hour the rest of the country listed to the Roots perform, we listened to speeches by candidates in small parties (like the Libertarians and the Green Party). That part wasn’t so exciting. Then we watched the Jon Stewart rally in D.C. on a jumbotron. Sure, I could have watched it at home, but it was a gorgeous fall day at Civic Center Park, and the leaves were falling, and there were 2,000 people there with whom to laugh and cheer. Afterward, we listened to a local rapper, Johnny 5 of the Flobots. (If you haven’t heard them, you must seek out a bit of their music; they made the charts with “Handlebars.”) He was great, very inspiring. I loved being part of the crowd and chanting “Rise!”
As evidenced on Facebook, a lot of people were tuned into Comedy Central in one way or another, and there were roughly 100,000 at the Mall in D.C. This morning, a former student posted a link on FB to “The Rally To Restore Vanity: Generation X Celebrates Its Homeric Struggle Against Lameness,” by Mark Ames. The student who linked to it is pretty liberal and very smart (former kick-ass debater), and I think he was simply trying to cede points to the other side to show his openness (Ames, too, to some extent), which ordinarily I approve of, but this time I think he ceded too easily. I posted the following reply:
Actually, I disagree on a number of levels:
First, the rally was targeted more to Stewart and Cobert’s age demographic (and mine) as evidenced by the presence of Father Guido Sarducci (an SNL staple for the over 40 set) and musicians like Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), Ozzy Osbourne, and the O’Jays. We are on the cusp, right in between the Babyboomers and Gen X.
Ames admits he didn’t stay for the whole thing. In fact, he didn’t stay for any of the substance. He had no idea what was parodied or how, and he certainly missed Stewart’s moment of reflection at the end. Because of that, he never found out that the whole thing was a parody of the media’s artificially created divisiveness, not political ideology. Ironically, Ames stepped into exactly the role the rally parodied: journalists and bloggers taking a tiny bit of the message and morphing it into something with which to create division.
What turned him off and made him leave? A little fun with science. He doesn’t like it when smart people have a little creative and mildly intellectual fun. He sounds like the kid at school who pokes fun at the smart kids by saying, “Oh yeah? Well, you’re such a smarty-smart-smart-pants! Why don’t you go home and play with your chemistry set!” Stewart did not characterize liberals as smart and conservatives as dumb. He said, “We’re all in this together. We’re all pretty smart and pretty thoughtful.”
Parody has a long and distinguished tradition as an agent of change. The court jester was actually one of the most powerful figures at court—the one who could speak truth to power with impunity. Satire dates back to the ancient Greeks, and probably earlier than that. The play Lysistrata has not survived since 400 B.C. because it proved that Aristophanes “wasn’t lame.”
You’re giving Ames too much credit, B—.