Last week was the end of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. I don’t think that I’ve missed an episode in the last six years. It was a good show — very funny and reasonably well informed. And we will see if The Daily Show With Trevor Noah manages to maintain the level of quality. But I don’t suspect that it much matters. I feel the same way about Jon Stewart that my father’s generation felt about Johnny Carson. It isn’t that I thought he was that great, but I liked hanging out with him and seeing his perspective.
On the last show, Stewart spent one segment actually talking about politics. But it was actually what I most dislike about him, Three Different Kinds of Bulls**t. He starts out, “Bullshit is everywhere.” But that’s not really true. Or if it is, then it is a totally pointless observation. If you really think that everyone lies, then it isn’t worth mentioning. It’s like saying, “Food is everywhere.” But I take his point: people pile it on to make unappetizing things seem appetizing. And when we don’t call it out, we allow ourselves to be manipulated. People were indeed more likely to support the “Patriot Act” than the “Security State Liberty Killing Act.”
But somehow, he gets from that to claiming that Dodd-Frank is nonsense because it could have just been, “Banks shouldn’t be able to bet on red.” This is the easiest kind of commentary, which is found all over Fox News. How many times have we heard that Obamacare is bad because it is 33,000 pages? As though complexity is necessarily a bad thing. Why are laws complex? Certainly part of the reason is corruption. But the main reason is simply that laws need to be clear so that they can be applied equally.
Dodd-Frank is not the law that I wanted. But noting that it is 2,300 pages long is not only a specious argument against it, it is also completely without content. No one becomes more informed by being told that bills in Congress are long. What’s more, it seems to give ignorant viewers a pass, “You don’t need to know what is in this bill, because they made it too long.” And The Daily Show was at its worst when it used this kind of contentless carping and easy “centrism” with its implication that if we all just chose to get along all would be well.
Just the same, I would never complain that Dennis Miller’s political comedy lacked substance. All he has to offer are jokes based upon pointed ignorance of what’s really going on in the world — the intent to see everything in the most simple minded way possible. Jon Stewart, on the other hand, was usually far better. When he encountered “bullshit,” he usually dug into it and presented at least a fair amount of the truth that it obscured. And that’s why the media ecosystem will be a lot worse off with him gone. I expect that Trevor Noah is going to be a lot like Larry Wilmore: funny but not terribly interested in digging down into the “bullshit,” except to find a joke or two.
Luckily, we still have John Oliver.