Zoà Hesp, HESPZC@MUOHIO.EDU

Oct. 30, I found myself surrounded by an estimated 215,000 other comedic enthusiasts at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. This very unlikely gathering was, in its nascent machinations, proposed as a sort of snarky response to Glenn Beck’s Tea Party rally to Restore Honor. Despite its entertainment, however, we must address Stewart’s aptly articulated question of: “What was this?”

After two and a half hours of parody and nonsense, we came to understand the rather poignant message of the day’s events. Here was Colbert with his series of hysterical accusations of quotidian terror, seemingly endless video montages of fear and hate-spewing media pundits. This was served in conjunction with flamboyant comedy with ridiculousness that made us quite, well, aware of the fascination that nonsense holds for its own sake, whether it comes from a comedy hour that mocks the news or the actual news itself. For us, the news has become just as disturbingly addicting as Stewart and Colbert’s nightly comedic routine — both, in the end, make grand characterizations of reality that are equally overblown, exaggerated and sensationalized. Perhaps best described in Stewart’s own words, our media has become too amplified. To further paraphrase this increasingly serious man in his grave serenity as the rally approached its closure: 

“The intention of this rally was not to ridicule, condescend or suggest that we have nothing to fear, because we do,” Stewart said (the audience as unnervingly silent as at the recent Dalai Lama visit). “We live in hard times, not end times … But 24-hour media pundits make solving our problems that much harder.”

Why does the media have this effect? I feel it is because the “serious” media functions on the same basis as “fake” news in its utilization of hyperbole to command attention. Again using Stewart’s words, “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing,” for when every bit of news is emphasized at the same level of fear-mongering paranoia, we are rendered impotent in our ability to discriminate between what authentically merits our concern and what is fictitious drivel that dissembles its intentions.

It is not simply that the media has an obsession for exhibiting what we should fear/buy insurance against/defend ourselves in the apocalypse from, but it foremost promotes the idea that Americans truly are fearful of these said ideas. “The image of Americans by the media is false,” Stewart stated. The media lends a sense of confidence to the rest of Americans that it is quite all right to be afraid of everything, because everyone else is as well. 

Returning to the original instigator of this gathering, Stewart and Colbert craftily utilized the same sense of communal bandwagon that Glenn Beck invoked at his own rally. Perhaps the ultimate message of what we can do was simply this: put down the remote. Stewart brandished to the public the television remote from his hotel as he referenced this possibility. Knowing that we will be interminably assaulted by the news (or at least what passes as news), even as such fabrication obviously exists to fill up those lagging 21 hours in between old school prime time hours, we do still have the shocking choice to (unpretentiously) turn off the TV (and perhaps read instead).

One terminating observation concerning the rally crowd itself: I have never encountered a more genuinely polite and gracious gathering. There were no vision-obstructing signs during the speeches, no pushing, no shoving during the exit and no yelling. The mien of the assembly manifested more sanity than I had ever imagined possible by such a hoard. And yet, Stewart and Colbert demonstrated that they could, literally, affect a miracle of sanity on the spot.

In short, any rally-goer at Saturday’s proceeding could, with an honest heart, claim that they were nothing short of moved. Perhaps that emotional movement still remains a bit vague, but even so, in a surprising turnabout, Stewart and Colbert managed to instill their audience with a sense of hope that was, for once, credible because that hope was inspired by the fact that someone told the truth

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