Jon Stewart = Idiocracy

For many years, I heard people – intellectuals, media critics, activists – complaining about the “infotainmentization” of news. The news, we were told, was not like the old Murrow/Cronkite days of hard-hitting journalism, but was increasingly becoming an entertainment product – dumbed down, more concerned with stirring emotions than presenting facts, less and less serious and adult. I should point out that most of these critics were on the left, politically – and also that I have long agreed with them.

Ladies and gentlemen, I assert that “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” are the living embodiment of everything that these people had complained about for decades, and the perfect reflection of our current state of Idiocracy. I further assert that the fact that these shows lean left politically has indemnified them from the full brunt of criticism to which these critics would otherwise have subjected them, and which they richly deserve.

We now have millions of Americans who get their news and political commentary from the Comedy Network – and who consider themselves knowledgeable and sophisticated for it. Am I really the only one who sees a problem with this? Am I really the only one who thinks that Jon Stewart’s middlebrow know-it-all routine is a shit substitute for actual news or sober, informed, in-depth commentary? Sure, Stewart is a smart guy. So was Mark Russell, and yet if I said that I got my serious news and commentary from him, people would tell me I was a damn fool. But these days, people will look at you as if you’re a mouth-breathing rube for not knowing what Jon Stewart said last night – i.e., for refusing to get your news from a standup comedian on Comedy Central.

To those who claim that it is simply a meaningless comedy show, and I should not take it seriously at all, I say this: If Stewart and Colbert wanted to do a pure comedy that spoofs the news, they could do a 30 minute version of the news segment of Saturday Night Live, or of Jay Leno’s nightly monologue. But that’s not what they do – they talk about serious politics in at least some depth, and with very serious points to be made behind it. And occasional disclaimers in interviews aside, neither of them have done anything serious to discourage people from using their shows as serious news and commentary. Why would they? They wouldn’t want to drive their audience away.

Actual news can be found plenty of places. Al Jazeera streaming is free on the internet. BBC, RTE, CBC, NHK English, and PBS produce multiple daily news podcasts, which are also free. If you go to the CNN International website (as opposed to the US-focused website), you’ll find real news. Smart, well-informed columnists abound on all sides of the political spectrum, from the liberals of Counterpunch to the conservatives of Taki’s Magazine to the libertarians of to unclassifiables like Fred Reed. All are better options than getting your news and views from the Comedy channel.

So, everyone, I beg you: Stop going to comedians to get your news and commentary! Or at least, stop doing that and acting like you’re an intellectual for doing so. People who get their news from comedians aren’t well-informed. Why does anyone even have to point that out? It’s like what Orwell said about, in crazy times, it being the increasingly the duty of sane people to point out the obvious.


Tywin Lannister For Pope

As the era of Benedict the Hapless comes to an end and the time to elect a new Pope approaches, the Holy Church finds itself in some dire circumstances. Some of these are the result of the vast, impersonal Spenglerian forces that are currently sweeping over the descendant West, and others are of its own making. An article at the Washington Post sums up some of the problems pretty well. Yes, the WashPo is an establishment liberal newspaper that hates Catholicism (along with all things religious and traditional), but that doesn’t mean that everything they’ve got to say is wrong, and much of the article has the ring of truth to it. Specifically: that the Vatican is run by an out-of-touch gerontocracy that has no idea how bad a shape the church is in vis-à-vis the world, how far discipline has lapsed inside it, how strong and strident the forces that oppose it are, how those forces operate, or what might be done about all of this. They continue with a bizarre obsession with Italian politics at the expense of their global reach, they can’t come to grips with the mistakes they’ve made, and they are either unwilling, or, more likely, unable to restore order.

In short, the Vatican desperately needs new leadership – one that’s unafraid to clamp down on sex scandals, corruption, and serious ideological deviation equally. This bunch of leaders seems to be one dogged by weakness and unseriousness. It’s not just one thing, it’s everything – they just seem unwilling and unable to crack down on anybody over anything. When that’s the case, and people know it, things get out of hand. Which they have.

Thus, as much as I hate to make a somewhat banal comparison in all of this, the next Pope must be something of a Tywin Lannister. Those who have read the books know that Tywin’s father was so weak that his holdings went to chaos. Scandals and corruption broke out, order broke down, and nothing got done. Lord Tywin cleaned house and put things in order, though it took him twenty years in order to do it, and he came away hated and feared in his own lands as well as across Westeros.

We need a man like that in the Vatican. We need a man who knows that the church cannot make its enemies love it with appeasement nor even civility. We need a man willing to excommunicate those who believe that they can call themselves Catholic while standing against everything the Church stands for. The next Pope is going to have to be fearless, cagey, realistic, and a man with an iron backbone who is utterly unafraid of being reviled by the prevailing culture and power structure – both inside and outside the Church – and hated by many more. It will take a man willing to make powerful enemies, and to accept, at least temporarily, a smaller, better church.

So I say: Tywin Lannister for Pope – or, absent him, whoever we can find who’s most like him. The next Holy Father must be such a man, for it will take nothing less to put the Church back in order.