Crucial Minutia
it's the little things...
Courtney E. Martin
Composing a Life: Too Much Sugar, Not Enough Medicine?
2 Comments | posted April 17th, 2007 at 08:26 am by Courtney E. Martin

stewartA new study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press confirms the obvious hunch that Americans are not so informed about current events. They concluded this by asking people stumpers like, “Who is the current vice president?” Thirty one percent of people either didn’t know or were too embarassed to utter Slick Dick’s name.

Here’s the really interesting bit, though: of the six news sources cited most often, “The Daily Show” and “The Cobert Report” were tied at the top with websites of major newspapers. As “well, duh” as that seems, we have to take a moment to reflect on how totally unprecedented it is that the majority of Americans are getting their news from a comedy show.


I’m all for laughing our asses off, but as anyone knows who read my piece on the dangerous pacifying force of chuckling our anger away, I’m not sure this is an unequivicably good phenomenon for the American people and our chances at social change.

On the one hand, at a time when people are this poorly informed, I guess any news is good news, even if it tends towards the hyperbole, slapstick, and silly. On the other hand, I’m afraid of the way in which humor diservices our motivation for engagement. Ignorant right-wing idealogues–under the scrupulous, hillarious parody of Cobert–become sort of likable. We forget that they are trying to take away our right to choose and give the rich inexcusable tax breaks. We forget to get off the couch and do something about it.

Composing a life of importance surely must include, first, being aware of what’s going on in the world, and second, enacting some kind of real civic engagement. I fear most of us are failing on both accounts. My intuition is that all of this gravitation towards fake news is a sign that we are reaching for a new way to engage in the news, and in politics more generally. We are too savvy for inefficient protest marches and too empathic to keep watching the same sad stories about Sudan and Iraq run on the traditional nightly news.

But what is it we are reaching for? And how can it mean powerful action and not pacifying giggles?

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 17th, 2007 at 8:26 am and is filed under Politics, In The News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There are currently 2 responses

  1. Theo Gangi

    I’m not sure the ‘fake news’ tag is quite right. At times, John Stewart makes me feel sane. He’s easily as legitimate as Fox news, a station whose bias may be questioned, but not its ‘realness’. The sooner Stewart realizes he’s really telling the news, and really offering a nationally needed perspective, the better his show will be. No more four nights, no more weeks off– get a sub anouncer like a real news show.
    It reminds me of the washington dems– even when they’re right, and represent the majority of the country, they don’t seem to know it. Like Hillary compromising on Iraq– her base is trying to pull her to the anti-war view held by the majority of the country, and she resists. She’d rather be close to the right than in the right. With the execption of Chuck Shumer, the dems didn’t even think they would win in 06.
    It seems connected to labling a clever, well thought out and expressed political perspective with a national audience as ‘fake.’

    April 17th, 2007 | 3:40 pm
  2. Kate Torgovnick

    I personally love these shows. I wouldn’t count on them for news alone—I also read the newspaper—but I do think these shows add something beyond the laughs that I truly appreciate.

    One of the huge problems, I think, is that local news coverage is so abyssmal. You can get a great idea of who got shot or robbed that day and where the fire was, but very little indication of what’s happening in the world. I’d love to see the local news get less scare-mongering, the Daily Show take itself a little more seriously, and major networks to stop giving me super biased coverage.

    April 18th, 2007 | 8:35 am

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