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response to “The Uncertain Legacy of Jon Stewart” [SUSIH]

August 16, 2015

this is a response to this article  [ via Phil Ebersole ]

I am posting here because I thought it would be annoyingly long to post in the form of a comment on the author’s site. My 2 cents:


When Stewart says is a comedian, you have to remember, it defines more than just what he says and where he directs their/our attention.

It also defines how he says it and how he directs their/our attention. Part of being a comedian is making your audience feel relaxed. That means comedians have non-threatening body language and gestures, typically higher tone of voice, say self-deprecating things a lot, say childish things, make funny faces, etc. This helps people get relaxed enough to laugh, since laughter is in part something that gets mixed up with social reflexes.

In today’s political atmosphere, being ready to laugh is good, because it puts us in a frame of mind where we can dial back the normal process of blocking out new facts that create the feeling of cognitive dissonance. That defensive process is bad, and it is powerful.

And so we have little choice in the matter here. If you’re going to criticize the Bush Administration in the midst of the post-9/11 nation-wide anti-Arab rage, or if you’re going to criticize the Obama Adminstration in the midst of the Nobel-Peace-Prize atmosphere of nation-wide wishful-feeling-of-relief-that-the-Bush-era-is-over, you will have a better chance keeping your job talking like Jon Stewart than like Patrick Stewart. The reason is if you point out the exact same humor or irony in the Patrick Stewart voice, the group will percieve that as a threat, the “social immune system” will activate, and the source of the threat will be cut off from the organism, isolated, and neutralized.

Comedians get away without triggering the “social immune system”, so they have an opportunity to open the door to ideas that are off limits. But that’s all — dispassionate intellectuals have to be the next step, but they are a distinct step from comedians in the process of opening up to ideas.

If we really expect comedians, whether Stewart, or SNL, or whoever, to be our vehicle for public discussion of “serious” political issues, then that is a sign of trouble. Specifically, it is a sign that the social immune system is hyperactive, and attacks dispassionate examination of opposing points of view when it shouldn’t. It is a sign that the education system, which trained us to think that way, has let the nation down in a way that will take multiple generations to repair. And if that is so, given the vicious cycle that can happen, we are most likely irreversibly f*cked as a nation. And those of us with money or brains should move to Belgium or Switzerland or New Zealand, leaving the slow behind.

So I hope this article wasn’t serious.

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