Yes, I know this is posting a full FIVE days after the actual rally- gasp! Timeliness has never been the forte of this blog. And besides, I was (quasi) sick on Monday. Jesus says relax. Without further ado, my top-five reactions to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear:
1. 1. The Roots are the greatest band in today’s America.
I, like much of the crowd, found the forty-minute beginning jam a tad long. After all, we were there to see Stewart and Colbert, not listen to Tuba Gooding Jr. get down. However, if I saw that same forty minutes in a proper concert venue, I would have been freaking out. John Legend taking over Jim James’ duties on Dear God 2.0? Sugarhill Gang cover? Wow. All this, of course, before The Roots backed both Yusuf Islam and Ozzy Osbourne at the same time. I don’t know how much time the band had to learn the wild Peace Train/Crazy Train mashup, but I can’t imagine it was long. I, a longtime fan, was pretty doubtful about the legendary Roots crew’s move to late night as a house band for Jimmy Fallon, but that risk enabled them to become America’s premier backing band. No other group around today could have pulled off the feats performed on Saturday with such a perfect degree of panache and self-awareness.
2. 2. The crowd was, indeed, surprisingly reasonable.
We’re talking about numbers that set a record for Metro ridership. A crowd that came together without, to be perfectly honest, much of a uniting common cause. In any huge gathering, there is a high potential for your time to be ruined A Jerk. He might be too drunk, or too angry, or too pushy. With the exception of an extremely tall young man with an overly loud, obnoxious laugh (not really any fault of his), the people around us were polite, conscientious, and clearly striving to live up to the name we were gathered in.
3. 3. Signs were fantastic.
Good overview from Buzzfeed here, Politico here, HuffPo here, “offensive” signs spotted by Mediate here. (I gave “offensive” the scare quote treatment because while some are truly offensive, most are just poorly executed jokes. Or, perhaps, “jokes.”) My take? I loved how many signs were simply calls for moderation. It was amazing (and dreamlike) to see huge seas of people waving signs calling for civility. Given the polemic nature that is at the essence of a rally sign, it was like the irony that’s defined the youth generation for thirty years has found a productive use of its time. I wasn’t a big fan of the anti-Tea Party signs (of which there were surprisingly few) and was a big fan of those geek-themed (of which there were a surprising number). Personal faves: “My wife is a Muslim, not a terrorist, and I’m still afraid of her” and “Is this the line for Justin Beiber tickets?”
4. 4. Jon Stewart’s “sincere” speech was both sincere and spot-on…and had media types weeping into their notebooks.
Full text here. There was a lot of angst in the media (aka the 24 hour politico-pundit panic conflictinator: David Carr, Gawker, Baltimore Sun, Daily Beast) over how Stewart was blaming said media for the country’s problems. However, that same media constantly claims it is the “Fourth Estate,” society’s watchdog on the government. “Don’t shoot the messenger!” they shout whenever a charge of being part of the problem is leveled. Well, you are part of the process, and thereby part of the problem. You can be part of the solution, too. Handwringing over the reach of cable news is disingenuous at best. The message, as it comes through the media, frames the debate. I think Stewart’s point was that the media has refused to acknowledge their responsibility in favor of gaining cheap ratings. For me, I’m thinking beyond the Glenn Becks of the world and looking at all media’s desperate attempts to force all events (especially, but not limited to, political events) into cohesive “storylines.” “What’s the theme of these mid-term elections?” “How does his reaction to the BP oil spill reflect President Obama’s personality?” “Lead in our water: does it explain your kid’s attention span?” Since our newspapers, TV shows, and cable networks are profit driven, and that profit is derived from advertising revenue, and that advertising revenue is based on appealing to as a wide and/or dependable an audience as possible, certain sacrifices have been made. Informative coverage is forfeited in favor entertaining coverage. Entertainment, in this context, has become increasingly polemic- and it has a definite effect on our political process. No semi-ironic rally will solve these issues, but I think it was important for those involved in the problem to see that their abdication of responsibility has not gone unnoticed. Keith Olbermann has begun to react.
5. 5. Jon Stewart is not to be f**ked with.
Why do you think Obama went on the Daily Show right before the midterm elections? Did you watch the interview? Stewart…let Obama talk. He…asked hard questions without seeming argumentative or aggressive. They had a productive, entertaining conversation that no other news anchor, personality, or even writer seems capable of having with…anyone, but certainly not a sitting President. Personally, I think Stewart lacks the ego that sinks others. Can you imagine Beck or Olbermann or Matthews or Lauer be willing to cede their interest in promoting themselves in favor of trying to inform their audience? I simply can’t. Much as tries to he dodge the mantle, Stewart is one of few media figures able to wear the mantle of a Cronkite. What’s more, his self-aware style speaks to a generation rooted in awareness that everything around them is actively trying to manipulate them. We know that shows and advertisers try to create a schema you can literally buy into. We know what you’re trying to do. Stewart respects that, and also remembers that we deserve better than most news outlets and certainly the government gives us. Don’t f***k with him.