A viewer review of the Rally to Restore Sanity

It was beautiful today in Nashville, so I didn’t regret passing up any thought I may have had a few weeks ago about going to DC to attend today’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.

But I watched and listened to it. Thanks to the amazing stream Comedy Central provided, I was even able to monitor it via my iPhone while on a rather long mid-day jog.

As a listener/viewer, the rally seemed more “performance art” than parody. It appeared as if the crowd was there to have fun and watch “a show,” but also there to be “a part” of something and not just observe it — perhaps, extending my “performance art” thesis, to be a participant in Stewart’s Capitol Mall Christo-esque installation (with less fabric).

Despite it being in the context of a national election and having the U.S. Capitol as a backdrop (beautiful framing by the art director), the “focus” of the “art” was not actually politics or government. It was a forceful (and, ironically, insanely amplified) rebuke of the way in which American TV news, from local stations to 24-hour cable networks, “package” the news in a way where the major emphasis is, in my opinion:

1. Anything that can scare the beejeezes out of us.
2. Any issue or event that can be discussed by at least two people who can scream at each other.

I support any effort that condemns those two that have turned TV news into such vast, less-than-wastelands.

We are awash in TV news fear-porn to the degree that we don’t know what is a real threat and what is a sweeps-month threat. As for TV news, from any source, I muted them long-ago.

Fickr photos tagged #rally4sanity

As for the context of today’s event, Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert’s event had little, if anything, to do with this year’s election. To me, the event — and they — seem(s), rather, to fit neatly within a tradition that probably was started by some caveman right after the discovery of fire and can be traced from that point through (among other things) Medieval court jesters to Mark Twain to Will Rodgers.

Especially, Will Rodgers, whose statue in the Capitol faces the U.S. House chambers in order for him, as I used to say in tours I gave while working for three years on Capitol Hill, to “keep an eye on Congress.” Those years of seeing that statue caused be to be surprised by some of the pre-event commentary by journalists who criticized Stewart for interjecting his brand of humor into the “serious” election process. I guess, however, such journalists don’t catch the vibe of a country that has a statue of Will Rodgers in its Capitol, interjecting wit into the seriousness of the legislative process.

For me, Stewart and Colbert, seem direct lines from certain comics, humorists and parodists whose topical wit and style seem to be channeled through the duo: Tommy & Dick Smothers, Tom Lehrer, Dick Cavett, George Carlin and Art Buchwald, (among others).

Today, I was probably one of the very few viewers (in my case, listeners) who thought one of the highlights of the events was an embarrassingly poor performance of a satirical ditty called, “America is the Greatest, Strongest Country in the World.”

Why? Because when I heard it, it made me think of Tom Lehrer (however, Lehrer is the Will Rogers of this comic form, and whoever wrote the song today is, uh, not). For an example of Lehrer’s late 1950s, early 60s, biting, yet “civil” wit, I’ve embedded (if you’re reading this on my blog), the cult classic (at least, I’m a member of such a cult),National Brotherhood Week. I was in my 20s before I ever heard an album of Lehrer songs and didn’t necessarily “get” all of the nuanced targets of his satire performed, by the time I first hear them, two-decades before. However, they were still hilarious, and are hilarious still now that they’re easy to find on YouTube.

As a viewer/listener of the Rally, some highlights of the rally were these:

Best musical moment: Tony Bennett’s acapela rendition of the first verse of O Beautiful.

Best sentence uttered by a speaker in a long, long time: “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”

Best comedy writing: Colbert’s “Fear Award” to NPR.

I’m sure much will be written about whether or not the rally will have an impact on next week’s election. The answer, of course, is “no.” However, I hope it does make more of us skeptical of anything we hear when the person saying it feels the need to scream.

Later: My friend Jeff Jarvis was at the Rally and captured its spirit and meaning from his vantage point, and point-of-view (which I share). As usual, Jeff does a great job of presenting what he believes to be the significance of the event — and the significance of the media’s predictable response to it.