Tag Archives: Jon Stewart

Happy 30th Birthday, MTV, For “Shore”

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MTV, which marks its 30th birthday today, has changed a lot since I wrote this Boston Phoenix article marking the channel’s 10th birthday.But one thing remains the same: it’s still a channel that’s all about the search for identity. Well, maybe “search” isn’t the right word; “shopping trip” might be more apt. Continue reading

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Farewell to a Focked-Up Year

Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller in "Little Fockers"Visiting Colorado this week, I was chatting with a couple, family friends, who remarked that I was the first person they’d met who admitted to having voted for Obama. Of course, where I live, in a New York City suburb full of elite media folk, no one will admit to not having voted for Obama. Except for the politics, we had a pleasant conversation, but it dismayed me that we continue to live in two countries with seemingly irreconcilable views, not only on which policies and politicians should govern, but on how to interpret real events we all experienced.

There’s Fox Nation, where Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are distinguished sages, where Juan Williams is rewarded for the thoughtless bigotry for which NPR punished him, where Obama is an alien bent on destroying capitalism, where Andrew Breitbart is the wronged party after he’s condemned for making Shirley Sherrod notorious and costing her her job, where a proposed YMCMA a few blocks from Ground Zero is a shrine to a terrorist victory, where the midterm elections are a sign of genuine populist rejection of the Democrats’ big-government agenda, and where white Christian male privilege is a sign of embattled martyrdom and not still at the centers of power in most places.

And then there’s the place where the rest of us live, a place that doesn’t even have a name because we’re too disorganized, disputatious, and dispirited to give it one (per Yeats: the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity); call it Colbert Nation — a place where jesters Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are taken seriously because they’re the only media/political watchdogs still actually doing their jobs, where Obama is a  Wall Street sellout who’s been too deferential to implacable obstructionists, where the midterm elections are a sign that a well-funded right-wing astroturf campaign beats an ineffectual Democratic party any time, and where the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is the only sign that we’re not on the verge of a wholesale repeal of every positive social advance of the last century.

During my brief visit to Fox Nation, I found only a couple of signs of hope that an America riven into two seemingly irreconcilable camps can find something to agree upon. Continue reading

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Filed under 2008 Election, Arts, Barack Obama, Feuds, Media, Movies, TV

Finding Myself in the Awkward Position of Defending Glenn Beck

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AOL asked me to write a blog post this week on all the comic invective directed recently toward Glenn Beck, knowing that both his defenders and detractors would come out of the woodwork to wage war in the comments section.* And come they did, by the tens of thousands, thanks in part to a headline on the AOL welcome screen that overstated my concern about some of the more below-the-belt spoofs. (“Attacks on Beck Crossing the Line: Our Writer Says Recent Parodies Are Anything but Funny: Skits Under Fire”)

Now, I’m not a Beck fan, as even a cursory reading of the article would make clear. If anything, the assignment gave me an excuse to embed videos of several Beck-lampooning sketches, some of which I think are perfectly fair. The best of these was the Stephen Colbert monologue embedded at the top of this post, which perfectly mimics Beck’s performance style, calls him on his BS, and does so without resorting to ad hominem attacks. What I objected to was those sketches that got personal — Jon Stewart appearing to make fun of Beck’s recent health woes, Andy Cobb taking Beck’s icky incest fantasy from his book The Real America: Messages from the Heart and Heartland out of context to imply that Beck really meant it (he did not; he was merely making an offensive analogy to gay relationships), and The Onion wishing for Beck to die a violent and gory death (a video that contains some NSFW language). Continue reading

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Filed under Barack Obama, Feuds, Late Night TV, Media, Saturday Night Live, TV

O’Reilly and Olbermann Muzzled

Tiresome as the Bill O’Reilly-Keith Olbermann feud has become, the two are within their rights to criticize each other and each other’s employers. Now, however, their respective bosses at Fox and MSNBC have forced them to silence their mutual criticisms so as not to rock the boat for either corporate parent. This New York Times story lays out how, despite the fact that the feud was ratings manna for both channels, their CEOs decided that it had become an embarrassment to both corporate parents, so each side agreed to muzzle its own attack dog.

There are often complaints that the mainstream media are too biased toward the left or the right, but they’re really biased toward the corporate interests of the companies that own them. Usually, journalists working for big media outlets don’t have to be told by their bosses what news to downplay or ignore so as not to embarrass the parent company; they simply do so automatically. It’s rare for the bosses to have to admonish the reporters directly; rarer still for them to acknowledge such self-censorship in the pages of, say, the New York Times. Remarkably, the Times story presents its account of the gag order as if it were a sports or gossip story, about the feud between two colorful personalities, rather than as a cautionary tale of how two big rival corporations, out of mutual self-interest, shut down the free expression of each other’s employees and silenced possibly newsworthy criticism of each other. Well, maybe it’s not that remarkable; the Times, too, is pro-corporate, so it’s not going to present the story in a way that recognizes that the free expression rights of reporters at all major media outlets, including the Times, are at risk. Continue reading

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Filed under Censorship, Feuds, Media, TV

Obama’s ‘Special’ Visit to Leno

Not sure why, aside from his wince-inducing Special Olympics joke (about 20 minutes into the clip below), President Obama’s visit to Jay Leno’s Tonight Show last night was considered such a shocking breach of presidential protocol. It’s just like when the Republicans derided Obama, puzzlingly, last summer for being too much of a “celebrity.” As if America didn’t love its celebrities, or thought there was any big deal about a presidential politician appearing on a late-night talk show. I don’t remember such complaints when Arnold Schwarzenegger (who warmly embraced Obama yesterday) announced his gubernatorial candidacy on Leno’s stage, or when John McCain announced his presidential candidacy on David Letterman’s show. Yes, Obama is now a sitting president, not a candidate, but yesterday’s visit was certainly a campaign whistlestop, and one as canny as any media-op staged by Ronald Reagan Bill Clinton, or George W. Bush.

Maybe old-school media gatekeepers are just as upset about this as GOP politicians are — after all, Leno is trespassing on their turf. But they ceded that turf to Leno, Letterman and other entertainers long ago when they allowed political chat shows (both the Sunday morning network interrogations and the nightly cable screamfests) to degenerate into pro-wrestling matches. Also, when they abdicated the role of tough, probing investigative reporter to the likes of Leno, Letterman, and Jon Stewart. The line between political journalism and entertainment has long been hopelessly blurred, and it’s awfully disingenuous to start complaining about it now. Hey, pols and press, do you want TV to take politics more seriously and stop treating it as a division of show business? Physicians, heal thyselves.

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Filed under 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Media, TV