‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?‘ is the terrifying logical fallacy of bureaucratic oversight, not least because it is spelt out in Latin – the linguistic equivalent of a mother half-yelling her son’s full name after discovering that he’s crashed the car. Rather, it is reminiscent of an old parable favored by scientists.
Once as a physicist was giving a lecture on the origins of the universe rooted in the big bang, a little old lady in the back of the room raised her hand. She politely decried his talk thus far as utter balderdash, since all her life she had kept a hold of the fact that the world rested on the back of a gigantic turtle.
Humoring her, the physicist asked what the turtle in question was standing on. With a triumphant expression, she declared that it was turtles all the way down.
And so it goes with guardians. If corruptibility is a reality, then as sure as a turtle has to be standing on something, a guard must be guarded against as well. Yet then again, the world does not perch atop a giant pile of turtles, (Although that might have solved a theological crisis, any extant deity busy with feeding an infinite tower of turtles really cannot pay attention to any other conundrum) and putting a guard on your guards is obviously disingenuous.
However, the principle still stands. Luckily for us, we have devised a way around hiring a guard for a guard for a guard for a guard… And the answer, in a neatly Zen maneuver, rests with the question. The Latin root of all this trouble was phrased in a book by a Roman poet Juvenal entitled with the solution itself – Satires.
The function of satire has always been to hold up a mirror to reality, but rather than just showing a lifeless reflection, it acts as a funhouse mirror – exaggerating harsh truths to make them just a little more evident and/or palatable. It is that weirdly shaped mirror that bloats you into a 300 pound version of yourself which makes you chuckle and simultaneously remember to cut a few carbs lest that same image port itself to your bathroom mirror.
For today’s society the guardians against injustice and oppression count among their members cable news. Albeit a loud and often easily distracted member susceptible to astonishing flights of fancy. To be fair, every superhero teamup does need a good airhead to balance out all the seriousness.
The above was a mild example of the strongest weapon in a satirical arsenal – sarcasm. A nugget of truth, covered in napalm of language – it doesn’t always make sense but more often than not, is slightly amusing when done right.
Television news is a very powerful tool in the service of the people. In addition to expanding the reach and speed of delivery of information, it also assists its colleague in print journalism by incorporating the work elucidated by newspapers and magazines into the TV news cycle.
Unfortunately, with the advent of 24 hour news and the dreaded specter of ratings and viewership data, TV news has succumbed to their form of tabloid journalism with the same symptoms of sensationalism coupled with nonsense.
This is where Craig Kilborn comes into the picture, albeit briefly. Comedy Central, in the years leading up to the great Milleniapocalypse of 2000 apparently decided that them making a news show would fit right in with all the other doomsday signs cropping up all over the place.
Hyphenation was rather important here. Was it to be a fake-news show or a fake news-show? Under Kilborn’s tenure it was still finding its legs and playing hop-scotch between the two (The conceptualizers who stayed on to produce the show firmly believed in the latter idea) when he departed to host a more conventional talk show. This is how it came to pass that Jon Stewart took up the reins of the Daily Show for what would become, the beginning of a legendary run of television.
As host, executive producer and writer, he was a major contribution to turning the Daily Show into perhaps the most effective mirror against the events transpiring around the world.
Slowly and steadily, he built a trust and rapport with the public through the events of the 2000 election (Which began the quadriennial Indecision series) as well as showing incredible heart during moments of absolute tragedy – such as his affecting and uplifting speech after 9/11.
Every day for all the long years he stepped into the studio clad in his uniform of a suit and tie, he answered the question ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?‘ with incredible joie de vivre.
Alongside him, a corps of similar ‘correspondents’ had their tenures at the Show, who carry on the role of the satirical critic that Stewart defined in various capacities today. Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Larry Wilmore, and of course, the successor to the plush rolling chair-throne and numerous ball-point pens of The Daily Show – Trevor Noah, to name a few.
Stewart, over the years, has left an indelible legacy that impels people to ascribe this position of watching out for the general public to him. With satire, he criticized freely, and often to general benefit. Notable high points were his criticism of Crossfire, Jim Cramer, and quite often, Fox News.
He was often confronted with the counter argument that he held news channels to a high standard of integrity whilst himself ‘softballing’ the guests he interviewed. In such cases, he was quick to point out that his show was a satirical construct as opposed to the actual journalism that news channels are supposed to provide. Or as he eloquently put it, “You’re on CNN. The show that leads into me has puppets making crank calls. What is wrong with you?”
Another criticism levied toward him was that he provided an easy outlet. In conjunction with Stephen Colbert, Stewart hosted an event called the Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear. In the days leading up to it, we see the clearest picture of what Stewart thinks of his own satire. He gives voice to the complaints of the temperates. The voice of the people who see the absurdities of the world around them, but aren’t quite frankly, crazy enough to run out into the street to do something about it. (Unless things are really really bad. In which case they have a big party and call it a revolution.)
The traditional method of the temperate voice has been through the tool of print media. With well-laid out points and a thought-out motive, a call to action only emerges from a fully formed idea. TV news reports breaking news. And flashy, catchy news is obviously made by someone who does something catchy and flashy. There lies the great divide that Stewart sought perhaps, to bridge.
In the long run however, with the varied discussions of the efficacy or detraction that Stewart provided, one thing is constantly remembered but forgotten to be said. He was funny. Consistently, and gut-bustingly, throughout the years wielding a keen finger on the pulse of the audience he wrought laughs out of the most banal of situations.
He made sense of a world that quite often did not by casting it in a surreal sketch comedy. Shakespeare compared the world to a stage, Stewart made it a player.