Tube Tied: In Which I Gingerly Criticize Jon Stewart
Like many a thinking lady I watch the Daily Show mostly for Jon. When it is on hiatus, and it always disappointingly seems to be on hiatus when America goes a little mad in the late summer (2005: Katrina, 2008: Sarah Palin, 2009: Health Care Nonsense), my evenings seem even less magical than they usually are. I am the kind of woman, you see, who would go for Jon - funny, informed, irreverent - over a Brad Pitt in a second. I know I am not alone in this.
But as happens in any relationship, sometimes Jon does things that well... piss me off. See, every once in awhile, his show displays all the symptoms of having been written by Liberal Dudes Who Don't Quite Get It - It usually being women, or women's rights, or women's issues. The show likes to trot out Samantha Bee and Kristen Schaal every once in awhile, but in general it seems rather complacent about its overall dudely tone. And it's easier to take some times than others.
Take, for example, Monday night's episode. A propos of absolutely nothing, it opened with a joke about fat people, or probably more descriptively, Jon in a fat suit. The joke, one supposes, was that he was fat. From you know, eating bad food. Which is apparently why fat people are fat. Or at least why Fat Jon Stewart Is Disgusting. In case we hadn't picked up on this highly subtle message (this is, after all, one of Eddie Murphy-post-funny's go-to gags, the fat suit), the show sent John Oliver out to castigate Jon for... eating junk and being fat. Okay, great. I'm really glad you had this little moment to make a fat joke, Jon, except that it was kind of beneath you, and were I in your circle of acquaintance, it would have gotten you a smack upside the head. Not all comedy is successful, I realize, but when the animus is just plain old "fat people are gross ha ha" I think it's fair game to say you're being mean-spirited, and not really that funny to people who like smart comedy, you know, like the viewers of your show.
I tried to forgive and forget. But then I tuned in Tuesday night and was treated to a charming segment on ACORN. (If you haven't heard about what ACORN, a sort of large community service provider, was caught doing, you can catch up here.) Now look. Stewart was perfectly right to criticize ACORN for offering tips on how to cheat on taxes, and to do it in front of a liberal audience that was probably a little uncomfortable about what they saw. But it seems to me the whole thing was a rich enough mine for comic material there without making fun of sex workers. Which is what Jon proceeded to do, subtitling the segment as "The Audacity of Ho's [sic]." He made implied equivalencies between pimps and prostitutes and he suggested titles for their work like "genital contractor" (nice reduction to anatomy, there) and "used vagina salesman" (used vaginas are gross, man!). His only joke that really didn't depend on the stigma attached to sex work was to make fun of ACORN for advising would-be-traffickers on how to claim imported El Salvadorean thirteen-year-olds as dependents. In essence, the man behaved like a giggling high schooler confronted with prostitution as a practice for the first time. And it, too, was disappointing.
I know some will say that I need to lighten up, or Trust in Jon (if I manage to get one post on Bitch where someone doesn't tell me to wait and trust the show, I'll eat my summer flipflops). But if that's your impulse, I want to remind you how often feminists get told they need a sense of humour, or to stop being so superficial (he's really a Good Guy), so prone to finding politics in everything, why can't they just enjoy life, etc etc. We can put up and shut up when our idols and, um, imaginary future husbands and wives behave poorly. Or we can remind them, as I would like to remind Jon Stewart, that we know they have a commitment to being decent human beings. We know they have a commitment to equality. And all we're asking of them - and so, of the Daily Show - is that they do a better job of living up to that.
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