There are some television shows that make you excited to be alive
when they're airing. There's the feeling that you're experiencing an historic "moment," like the moon landing, except with a studio audience.
But The Daily Show doesn't just make me excited as a news guy or a political junkie or a TV fan or a person who enjoys laughing. It makes me excited from the perspective of a history major.
Think back to your old history classes. Think back to the grainy
black-and-white films, or Ken Burns' drone as he pans over your dusty
Now watch The Daily Show tonight. Watch the most clever and insightful monologues on television. These are the clips future history classes will show to explain the time we had that awful recession, or the days of that terrible oil spill, or why we, as a nation, cared so much about Snooki.
When they hear young people get their news from The Daily Show, some people pretend to weep for the state of our nation. They shouldn't. The Daily Show is informative and — more importantly — effective at being informative. Humor makes facts more memorable and can make arguments far more cuttingly than a CNN report or a TV pundit monologue. Mockery can sink a candidacy or construct an entire new narrative.
That's why people get angry if they feel The Daily Show isn't being "fair" or that it's "biased." When we use phrases like "history will absolve me" we act like history is some all-knowing impartial god. It's not. It's just as vulnerable to being skewed by a funny monologue or conventional wisdom as the present.The Daily Show is to the present what Thomas Nast political cartoons were to the days of Tammany Hall. Any historian who examines the first decade of the 21st century without looking at how we used to laugh at the events of the day, isn't doing a very good job. And for that, The Daily Show will leave a legacy in the way most other TV shows for not. Stewart may publicly mock his own news program — calling it fake news — but the political and historical stakes of his program are very real. And I think Stewart knows it.