You would think after the events of the last few years there would be a lot less to laugh about today. After all, we live in fairly serious times. But Jon Stewart would tell you that we don’t just live in serious times; we live in “absurdly serious times.”
Night after night, with a critical eye, he goes out of his way to reveal the absurdities accepted by the mainstream media and, in so doing, earns unprecedented credibility, popularity and influence.
Bill O’Reilly interviewed Jon Stewart a few weeks ago and declared, “Come on, you do the research, you know the research on your program … Eighty-seven percent are intoxicated when they watch it. You didn’t see that?” O’Reilly then went on to refer to viewers of “The Daily Show” as “stoned slackers” six times in the short interview.
All of which we might be inclined to believe, except that the Annenberg Public Policy Center recently released a study that found viewers of “The Daily Show” scored higher on a political knowledge quiz than those who watched the nightly news or read newspapers regularly. The implications for democracy are truly frightening.
And onto this partisan election-year battlefield strolls the newest shot from The Daily Show’s sarcastic cannon, as Stewart and his Daily Show crew have moved their trade to a new format – a book.
The Daily Show’s “America (The Book): A Citizens Guide to Democracy Inaction” is simply the most revealing and humorous look at America to appear in recent memory. What else would you expect from them? Quite simply, it doesn’t disappoint.
The first thing that strikes you when you pick up a copy of “America: Democracy Inaction” is how it’s constructed identically to your old grade school textbooks, down to the smallest detail. You immediately have the urge to fashion a book cover out of an old brown paper bag. The inside cover even has the stamp straight from elementary school – the one where you write your name and the book’s condition when you receive it on the first day of school. A small note at the bottom reads, “We are fully aware that Dick Hertz, I.P. Freely and Heywood Jablome are not real people, so please exclude them.”
Every chapter ends with discussion questions, faithfully replicating the ludicrous educational idea that students would actually want to discuss what they had just read in their textbook. A sample discussion question on Congress reads, “If ‘con’ is the opposite of ‘pro,’ then isn’t Congress the opposite of progress? Or did we just f*****g blow your mind?!?” Sigh, if only our discussion questions had been that stimulating.
The book looks at the three branches of American government, and they are no longer the executive, legislative and judicial branches you remember from School House Rock. They’re now The President: King of Democracy, Congress: Quagmire of Freedom and The Judicial Branch: It Rules. The book also covers the past and future of democracy and America; The Rest of the World (“Australia: Much of the Australian national character can only be explained as a byproduct of their perpetual drunkenness.”); Campaigns and Elections; and the Daily Show’s favorite lampoon, The Media: Democracy’s Valiant Vagrants. It also includes a special 2004 election section in the back of the textbook, including a full-size poster of a boxing Kerry and Bush and the title “THE THRILLA IN VANILLA.”
The book does occasionally stray over the line of good taste; the showcase of nude Supreme Court Justices is an image that will literally bring you nightmares. I’m serious. Nothing is more frightening then a naked Antonin Scalia (Page 99, I suggest showing it to someone you don’t like).
Just how good is “America (the Book): A Citizens Guide to Democracy Inaction?” Well, it is currently sitting at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, if you care about that liberal media organization. The most relevant and impressive part of “America (The Book)” is the same as the television show; it’s only funny if you know what’s going on. The Daily Show’s viewers aren’t well informed because they watch Jon Stewart. They’re already pretty well informed and they enjoy Jon Stewart because he treats them that way.
This article appeared in the October 11, 2004 issue of the Hatchet.