Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Daily Show: The Future of History

Posted By on Wed, Aug 18, 2010 at 1:48 PM

click to enlarge jonstewart.jpg
There are some television shows that make you excited to be alivewhen 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 grainyblack-and-white films, or Ken Burns' drone as he pans over your dustyphotographs.

Now watch The Daily Show tonight. Watch the most clever andinsightful monologues on television. These are the clips futurehistory classes will show to explain the time we had that awfulrecession, or the days of that terrible oil spill, or why we, as anation, 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. Theyshouldn't. The Daily Show is informative and — more importantly —effective at being informative. Humor makes facts more memorable andcan make arguments far more cuttingly than a CNN report or a TV punditmonologue. Mockery can sink a candidacy or construct an entire newnarrative.

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" weact like history is some all-knowing impartial god. It's not. It's justas vulnerable to being skewed by a funny monologue or conventionalwisdom 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 withoutlooking at how we used to laugh at the events of the day, isn't doing avery good job. And for that, The Daily Show will leave a legacyin the way most other TV shows for not. Stewart may publicly mock hisown news program — calling it fake news — but the political andhistorical stakes of his program are very real. And I think Stewartknows it.

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