If There was a March for Useful Incivilty, I’d Be Going

by Henry on October 27, 2010

More on McGarble later – Lemuel Pitkin and norbizness are hereby strongly advised to avert their eyes from my next post. But in the meantime, I wanted to point to Scott’s great column today (which is quite apropos in any event).

The Stewart-Colbert rally is bound to draw young people filled with unhappiness about how the world is going, and I’m not about to begrudge them the right to an interesting weekend. But the anti-ideological spirit of the event is a dead end. The attitude that it’s better to stay cool and amused than to risk making arguments or expressing too much ardor—this is not civility. It’s timidity.
“Here we are now, entertain us” was a great lyric for a song. As a political slogan, it is decidedly wanting. If someone onstage wants to make Saturday’s rally meaningful, perhaps it would be worth quoting the old Wobbly humorist T-Bone Slim: “Wherever you find injustice, the proper form of politeness is attack.”

{ 46 comments }

1

Brookes 10.27.10 at 1:15 pm

I am not sure that the attitude of many of the “young people filled with unhappiness about how the world is going” is anti-ideological, or that they think the appropriate attitude towards politics is better “to stay cool and amused than to risk making arguments or expressing too much ardor.” Stewart and Colbert don’t always remain cool and the I often take the attitude that underlies them and their primary audience to be one of anger. The anger is with the fact that people DONT risk making arguments. Take the funny signs that have been advertised for the event, for example, “I disagree with you but I’m pretty sure you are not Hitler.” That kind of message isn’t to say that people shouldn’t risk making arguments. Rather its to say that the mere expression of ardor is not argument. Simply taking a position isn’t engaging. I agree that when you find injustice you ought to attack in- but not everything is straightforward injustice. And at some point, if we only attack each other, with every potential type of gun in our arsenal, we aren’t actually making progress at solving….much of anything, injustice or simply bad policy. I’m by no means convinced that the rally will be efficacious ,or that all who attend it are there for the “right” reasons (where such reasons involve more than seeking amusement or participation in a cultural phenomenon.) But I don’t agree that the underlying mood of the event is timid. In the current climate of politics, standing up for actual dialogue (which is not the same as pretending that disagreement is necessarily a sign of failure, or that bipartisanship is a good in itself ) has gotten a number of politicians etc in trouble. To stand against that is not meekness.

2

qb 10.27.10 at 1:46 pm

better to stay cool and amused than to risk making arguments

Charity fail. Stewart’s not throwing the rally to promote quietism or apathy. Obviously.

3

qb 10.27.10 at 1:53 pm

Well, I suppose it’s not obvious if you’re the sort of person who thinks that making arguments and expressing ardor should go hand in hand. As a first pass, I’d say the point of the rally is to encourage us not to be that kind of person. It’s possible to have strong beliefs and to argue for them without being a zealous dick about it.

4

Daragh McDowell 10.27.10 at 2:02 pm

I think that Stewart’s march has suffered from an increasing unwillingness from even the comedians to forcefully challenge the ‘both sides do it’ trophe head on. Its pretty clear the ‘Rally to Restore Sanity’ is essentially aimed at the Tea Party which is indeed about as pleasant and sane as a pre-2009 LGF comments thread. But Stewart feels he can’t simply say those people are batshit insane and retain his credibility as a comedian, so he has to pitch it as a general call against an unhinged political process. The fact that the ‘competing’ rally is both labelled ‘Keep Fear Alive’ and comes from Colbert, I think bolsters this interpretation.

It would, of course, be nice if Stewart could simply say that the Republicans are simply evil and their ideas malign and crazy and that anybody making less thank $250K a year and voting for them is a chump and a sucker (with of course, the caveat that the Democrats are pathetic wusses whose entire political platform consists of making life marginally more bearable for the downtrodden without actually challenging the oligarchy that treads them down.) But I think that would certainly hurt his appeal and make him easier to dismiss by the corporate media, which already holds him in contempt since his most effective and biting attacks have actually been against the journalists, not the politicans. And given that the Tea Party has largely gained massive and adoring media coverage due to its ability to generate controversy through its insanity, rather that being condemned and ignored for it, a ‘Rally to Restore Sanity’ that will be peaceful, rather dull, and demand massive media attention due to the celebrity of its organisers actually sounds like an inspired form of media criticism.

5

sg 10.27.10 at 2:08 pm

be careful Henry, you’re cruising for a kerb-stomping from McArdle with this sort of violent language.

6

christian h. 10.27.10 at 2:21 pm

Does anyone have any idea what qb is talking about? Stewart did mention calling Bush a war criminal in his pitch for the rally as an example of “insane” discourse. What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with not being all civil about hundreds of thousands people killed? Being civil is code for not rocking the boat. Count me out.

7

chrismealy 10.27.10 at 2:40 pm

The Stewart part is offensively Broder-esque, but Colbert’s “Keep Fear Alive” part should be a blast.

8

Consumatopia 10.27.10 at 3:31 pm

I suspect that the goals of the center-left simply aren’t compatible with screaming matches. If someone with a household income of 50K sees a class war going on, they’re going to realize that, in global terms, they’re actually among the world’s highest earning people, and they’re going to side with rich people. You could try to promise them that you’re only going after those making 250K+, but if there is an atmosphere of mutual hostility and distrust, they won’t believe you. It’s incredibly hard to argue someone into trusting you.

9

Steve LaBonne 10.27.10 at 3:33 pm

Stewart has always tended to veer off into Broder-land from time to time. He is good at puncturing cant but does not appear to have well-formed political convictions himself.

10

voyou 10.27.10 at 4:35 pm

It’s possible to have strong beliefs and to argue for them without being a zealous dick about it.

True; but that very way of phrasing it suggests that the problem is the zealous dickery, not the argument about beliefs.

11

The Modesto Kid 10.27.10 at 4:42 pm

If you are going, Washington City Paper provides guidelines on how to attend without opening yourself up to charges of partisanship.

12

JP Stormcrow 10.27.10 at 5:00 pm

I don’t know, this fatuous hand-wringing over this rally sponsored by *comedians* looks to one of the most annoying progressive blogsphere fails I’ve seen in awhile. But I’ll withhold full judgment until after the thing goes down.

13

h 10.27.10 at 6:42 pm

Stewart and Colbert may be able to finesse this, but earnestness is not funny and humor is not earnest. No. Seriously. It’s not funny.

14

Substance McGravitas 10.27.10 at 7:02 pm

But Stewart feels he can’t simply say those people are batshit insane and retain his credibility as a comedian

The rally is called The Rally to Restore Sanity so , uh, whatever comedic credibility you think he is supposed to have is gone. What I hope is that the rally is funny.

15

incredulous bastard 10.27.10 at 7:15 pm

Post like this are why I remember to remember that. Maureen Dowd came out against the iraq war before josh Marshall and Mat Yglesias.. this is nothing but the snobery of people with graduate degrees. McLemee gets a pass because he’s a reformed communist and therefore intellectually serious.

This has got to be the most backassed post intellectually and politically that I’ve read on this site. You write like a ‘serious’ journalist whining about the internet.
The rise of comedy central is as impotant as the rise of fox. And stewart and colbert give me more hope for democracy than. Anything on SSRN.

You’re truly a schmuck.

16

incredulous bastard 10.27.10 at 7:18 pm

Wow. Typing blind. Funny huh?

17

Salient 10.27.10 at 7:24 pm

Stewart and Colbert may be able to finesse this, but earnestness is not funny and humor is not earnest. No. Seriously. It’s not funny.

Stewart does the valuable service of providing a context in which I can laugh at obtuseness that would otherwise make me wince and might in toto compel me to just fucking give up and retreat from the world, impotent and bullshit-crushed. Through laughing, I can express an emotional rejection of that obtuseness that’s far more cathartic and soul-cleansing than expressing a carefully reasoned rejection. Then, a bit more revitalized, it’s easier to competently address the bullshit with what reason and care I can muster.

When I heard he was doing something called The Rally to Restore Sanity, I figured at first that it was just a temporary renaming of the Daily Show in the week headed up to the election, and it made sense to me.

18

politicalfootball 10.27.10 at 7:36 pm

Incredulous B, Jon Stewart would not approve of your vitriol

19

politicalfootball 10.27.10 at 7:38 pm

credibility as a comedian

I love this phrase from Daragh McD, because it really encapsulates the change that’s taken place in the media in my lifetime. Time was, comedians were supposed to be funny and journalists were supposed to be credible.

20

burritoboy 10.27.10 at 7:47 pm

I like Colbert quite a bit, but it is shocking how servile the vast majority of American comedians are. We’re ruled by such child pornographers, meth dealers, degnerates, thieves, vipers in human form, pimps and moral midgets as Schwarzman, Koch, Mellon-Scaife, the decadent Walton brood, Si Newhouse, Barry Diller …..(and on into infinity) and the comedians don’t lust to poke fun at them? These rulers who are devoid of any virtue, any grace or any knowledge beyond lining their own pockets? Loathsome creatures who repulse by their ugliness any true human being?

21

Daragh McDowell 10.27.10 at 8:03 pm

@burritoboy 20

Unfortunately Stewart, Colbert et al are still mocking the media and mainstream news, not generating it. Until actual cable news starts covering the puppet-masters, rather than obsessing over the composition of the string Stewart and Colbert have nothing to work with.

That’s not a criticism, BTW, its just an unfortunate truth about the limits of effecting political change through late night comedy.

@politicalfootlball 19 – Given the low esteem in which almost all the institutions of governance in the US are now held, public faith and trust in the comedic establishment is vital if the nation is to hold together.

22

Tom T. 10.27.10 at 8:35 pm

I think Henry’s misreading the likely audience. Attendees aren’t going to be struggling blue-collar workers who could be fired up by a good old-fashioned Wobbly rally. They’re going to be apathetic young college and office drones who voted for Obama in 2008 because it seemed exciting but who lost interest because actual governing isn’t fun. Stewart’s goal is to get them to the polls, and an angry hard-edged protest won’t do that for these squishy kids; it’ll scare them off. He’s going to intersperse a hundred reminders to go vote, and a lot of winking and nodding about who to vote for.

23

Lemuel Pitkin 10.27.10 at 9:01 pm

I look forward to the day when every CT post comes with guidance about whether I should read it.

24

Substance McGravitas 10.27.10 at 9:05 pm

I look forward to the day when every CT post comes with guidance about whether I should read it.

Should be relatively easy to come up with.

25

incredulous bastard 10.27.10 at 10:56 pm

Interviewd by Larry King years ago Stewart called himself a socialist. But from what I read elsewhere today about Medea Benjamin’s recent experience, I may have to take back my earlier rant. I’m not a fan of high brow politics but I’m not a fan of middlebrow medicrity either.
Hope there are fewer typos this time

26

Henry 10.28.10 at 12:48 am

bq. I look forward to the day when every CT post comes with guidance about whether I should read it.

We’re still working on “training the spambots to do this”:http://xkcd.com/810/

27

Anonymous 10.28.10 at 2:35 am

Post like this are why I remember to remember that. Maureen Dowd came out against
the iraq war before josh Marshall and Mat Yglesias.
this is nothing but the snobery of people with graduate degrees.
McLemee gets a pass because he’s a
reformed communist and therefore intellectually serious.

This has got to be the most backassed post intellectually
and politically that I’ve read on this site. You write like a ‘serious’ journalist
whining about the internet. The rise of comedy central is as impotant
as the rise of fox.
And stewart and colbert give me more hope for democracy than.
Anything on SSRN.

–Anonymous, “Anything on SSRN”, in “Unwired Musings”.

28

qb 10.28.10 at 9:26 am

voyou: That’s my point. I don’t think Stewart has a problem with argument so long as the opposing sides are arguing for plausible positions in good faith, and so long as they’re not being pointlessly inflammatory about it.

christian: Stewart might right about the need for civility, but wrong that calling Bush a war criminal is uncivil. Or he might have meant that some of the people calling Bush a war criminal were doing it in an uncivil way.

29

BenSix 10.28.10 at 12:15 pm

On “civility“…

Bill Kristol, a repeated guest on The Daily Show, is invariably polite on television, yet uses his soft-spoken demeanor to propagate repellent, destructive ideas. The same is true for war criminal John Yoo, who also appeared, with great politeness, on The Daily Show. Moreover, some acts are so destructive and wrong that they merit extreme condemnation (such as Bush’s war crimes). I don’t think anyone disputes that our discourse would benefit if it were more substantive and rational, but it’s usually the ideas themselves — not the tone used to express them — that are the culprits.

Civility can be good for rhetoric and, well, just polite – in other words, I’m not issuing an open invitation to be called a dick – but it’s not dreadfully valuable.

30

ejh 10.28.10 at 1:00 pm

There’s a passage in Darkness at Noon where the German diplomat says to Rubashov that he doesn’t really disagreee with the Fuhrer’s programme: “but I wish he wouldn’t shout so”.

That said, I think it’s not just a problem with these people that they do shout so, it also tells us something very true and nasty about who and what they are.

31

Eli 10.28.10 at 1:50 pm

Ben Six, I agree that Yoo and Kristol needed more of a drubbing. But how often have either of them appeared anywhere outside FOX news? Having them on the Daily Show, subject to specific scrutiny was something at least.

And I think Stewart and Colbert also have to practice the perilous feat of interviewing these people while remaining funny. If every interview became a serious showdown of ideas, we’d be watching C-SPAN. I’m not sure audiences would approve. That may not be a moral argument for being soft, but it’s a practical one.

In the end though, I think Stewart/Colbert do the best they can. I am generally impressed with the sustained ability to call guests out on issues that most other media figures can’t/don’t.

32

qb 10.28.10 at 2:22 pm

Neither the fact that some polite people peddle terrible ideas, nor the fact that it’s often the ideas rather than their mode of expression that are the problem, suggest that civility is “not dreadfully valuable.” That’s like saying that since sometimes good waiters bring bad food, and since bad dining experiences often result from bad food rather than poor service, good service by good waiters isn’t very valuable.

33

qb 10.28.10 at 2:35 pm

It’s also worth pointing out that a lot of terrible ideas wouldn’t get much uptake if it weren’t for the use of the fundamentally uncivil rhetoric of fear-mongering, name-calling, and race-baiting.

34

Jerry Vinokurov 10.28.10 at 3:14 pm

This seems woefully ungenerous to Stewart. Sure, he sometimes does that “both sides,” schtick which is unfortunate, but, um, it seems pretty clear that 99% of the insanity going on in the public sphere today is due to conservatives. So calling something “The Rally to Restore Sanity,” seems like a pretty obvious dig at just those people (especially given how it’s basically a parody of the Glenn Beck rally). Furthermore, anyone who watches the Daily Show will be able to see that when Stewart takes Democrats to task it’s largely for their failure to enact exactly the kind of platform that they ran on.

I’m not sure why people think that earnestness can’t be funny or that Stewart has the obligation to air some particular political platform on his show or in his rally (and I say this as someone quite likely far to the left of Stewart). He’s doing a comedy routine that aims to poke fun at the fact that we can’t seem to even have normal debates about things anymore because we have a broken system of public discourse, and he largely succeeds.

35

Scott McLemee 10.28.10 at 3:16 pm

A “reformed communist”? Well, admittedly I can’t pretend to understand how having reservations about the Stewart-Colbert event is comparable to supporting the Iraq war, either. Maybe in the sense of “reformed Lutheran,” rather than “reformed criminal”? You could spend hours trying to figure this kind of thing out, and probably end up none the wiser.

A better use of the time would probably to think about what Rob Horning has to say at Marginal Utility: “[R]egardless of the announced intent, it seems like the purpose of getting aloof fans of a TV show to make the highly inconvenient gesture of showing up somewhere is to habituate them to the effort of protest, to radicalize them to some degree, to make them feel the intoxicating, potentially disinhibiting energy of massification. It calls forth a collective identity and reveals the subjectivity possible beyond the limits of individual identity. Whether that is a good thing, or even registers as something different from the awareness of being part of a large TV audience, remains to be seen.”

36

Jerry Vinokurov 10.28.10 at 5:06 pm

Scott, you say,

The attitude that it’s better to stay cool and amused than to risk making arguments or expressing too much ardor—this is not civility. It’s timidity.

Please correct me if I’ve misidentified this as the basic reservation you have about the event. If my identification is correct, then my counterpoint to you is to say that I think you’ve basically misjudged Stewart and the people who are likely to attend this event. You don’t have to be a religious viewer of the Daily Show to know that there’s plenty of place for outrage on that program. So I guess I don’t know where this idea comes from that this is about being “cool and amused,” although surely amusement is part of it. And why can’t it be?

37

Henri Vieuxtemps 10.28.10 at 5:24 pm

Hmm. Could this be a mere publicity stunt for two TV shows? You know, for better ratings, for more money…

38

JJ 10.28.10 at 5:44 pm

“If someone with a household income of 50K sees a class war going on, they’re going to realize that, in global terms, they’re actually among the world’s highest earning people, and they’re going to side with rich people.”

I hear what you’re saying and, up to a point, I agree. But here’s the point:

$0| |$50K |$1,000,000

39

JJ 10.28.10 at 5:50 pm

So much for HTML formats. Class War, Take Two:

$0||||||$50K||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||$1,000,000

40

KCinDC 10.28.10 at 7:30 pm

I find it hard to believe that Republican success is a result of too many $50k earners taking a global view.

41

mds 10.28.10 at 8:17 pm

I find it hard to believe that Republican success is a result of too many $50k earners taking a global view.

Oh, come on, KCinDC, hardly a day goes by when I don’t give thanks that my landlord charges me the going rate for rentals in Mogadishu, or that my son’s predicted college expenses are based on attending the University of Bucharest. And hey, if I become unemployed, I can actually get unemployment insurance until all those Republican politicians who howl about “class warfare” cancel it. Those temporary unemployment benefits go a looong way toward paying for medical care in Yemen. That’s why I’m voting Republican … and also because if I get a tax cut, but someone making five times my income doesn’t receive a proportionately larger one, the Invisible Hand spells out “Class warfare!” in sign language, then kills a kitten.

42

Lemuel Pitkin 10.28.10 at 9:21 pm

33-

That’s a wonderful passage. But it’s Hitler’s shrieks the old Prussian objects to. Shouting probably would have been OK.

43

geo 10.29.10 at 5:06 pm

Scott @38: Fascinating post by Rob Horning. As somone who’s usually too lazy and/or fastidious to go to demonstrations, I must grudgingly admit that they do have some of the good effects he mentions. But still, they’re not part of my ideal of democratic practice. They’re too often spasms rather than festivals, desperate expedients rather than the organic culmination of the continual local activity of the attendees. A decent democracy ought to make provision for everyday (or every-week) civic activity: meetings, hearings, and discussion groups in neighborhoods, towns, workplaces, etc. (Or online, for that matter.) This is where the work of popular self-governance gets done, if it gets done at all. If any informing and persuading is to be accomplished, that’s where it will happen. And if enough of it happens, and a consensus is formed or being formed, there ought to be a way of demonstrating that to the rest of the polity without simply bringing a lot of bodies to one place to shout slogans.

Ah, slogans … That’s the other objection to contemporary demonstrations. Live speeches are worth listening to about as often as televised speeches. I find it hard to maintain my self-respect while listening to anyone yelling at the top of her voice and pausing occasionally for the audience to shout back on cue. Also, it provokes too many cruel comparisons with nineteenth-century political oratory — if you care about the decline of literacy, it’s practically an act of masochism to listen to a public speaker nowadays.

44

Colin Paddock 10.29.10 at 5:18 pm

Daragh McDowell 21: “Given the low esteem in which almost all the institutions of governance in the US are now held, public faith and trust in the comedic establishment is vital if the nation is to hold together.” This made me laugh and cry at the same time.

45

ejh 10.29.10 at 5:31 pm

Also, it provokes too many cruel comparisons with nineteenth-century political oratory

None of which we can actually hear, and all of which comes from written reports which are likeable to have improved on the original in delivery if nothing else.

46

Consumatopia 11.01.10 at 2:32 pm

To put what I said earlier differently, someone making the median American income probably realizes that while some people are fantastically richer than they, others are frighteningly poorer than they are, and thus they might be wary of shaking things up.

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