Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rally for the Sake of Rallying

No, I didn’t make it to Washington for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. I didn’t make it to Woodstock either, so I didn’t want to ruin my record.

If I didn’t go to Woodstock when it would have been age appropriate, I certainly was not going to hop on a bus and go to a rally designed to appeal to adolescents, young and old.

Before saying anything, let’s be clear about one thing. The Rally was run by two comedians; it was led by two showmen who appear on Comedy Central. Jon Stewart is a fake newsman and Stephen Colbert is a fake commentator.

So, I get the joke. I may no longer be a teenager but I do recall that when you are a teenager the most important thing is to be in on the joke. It makes you cool. It makes you part of the in-crowd.

What teenagers, young and old, do not know, is that you can present something as a joke, as a general all-around good time, and still communicate information and ideas.The one does not preclude the other.

To the adolescent mind, it may be necessary to present serious ideas under the guise of humor. It’s called manipulation and indoctrination.

You agree to certain ideas because you are part of a crowd that finds them funny. You have not really thought through the meaning of these ideas, so you do not know what you have committed to. Later, you might be chagrined to discover that what appeared to be so fun and so reasonable on Saturday feels like a bad hangover on Sunday morning.

A Pied Piper who wants to lead you off a cliff seduces you with music and fun. He does not show his hand. And you do not know what’s at stake until it is too late.

Run masterfully by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert the Rally was surely a great success. In principle, it had no political message, but the major media outlets that refused to allow their journalists to attend obviously were not in on the joke.

What was the Rally’s message? Tunku Varadarajan summarizes it well: “Stewart's overt message is that those who embrace his Daily Show orthodoxy are part of a tribe that transcends the idiocies of our age, a tribe that is lucid, cool, and discerning—in a word, "sane." Joy Behar is, by this token, sane. Most Republicans, by definition, are not. As for Americans who espouse the Tea Party in any way: Why, they're overwrought, moonstruck psychos; in a word, insane.” Link here.

We’ve come a long way from Woodstock, where losing your mind was considered to be a revolutionary act. But Stewart has certainly tapped into the left’s current mantra.

As a desperate John Kerry expressed it: "It’s absurd. We’ve lost our minds. We’re in a period of know-nothingism in the country, where truth and science and facts don’t weigh in. It’s all short-order, lowest-common-denominator, cheap-seat politics.”

This argument was out in full force on the Mall in Washington yesterday. What is wrong with us, a college student told a television interviewer, when all the world likes Barack Obama and we Americans don’t?

Duh. As always, I am happy to provide evidence of the power of educated thought.

Rationally speaking, one might reply to said student with some facts. Since it took office the Obama administration went to Germany twice and insisted to the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, that Germany needed to flood its economy with fiscal stimulus.

Twice, the German Chancellor demurred and sent the Obami packing.

Today, the unemployment rate in Germany’s vibrant economy is 7.5%. In Obama’s America it is 9.6% and these college students who massed on the Mall yesterday are looking at a decidedly dim economic future.

As the old saying goes: Who’s crazy now?

Be that as it may, no one begrudges anyone a good party.

But the more important point, as Varadarajan said, is the simple fact that the Rally is one of the most starkly divisive political events in recent times.

A rally that divides the nation into the sane and the insane can hardly claim to be trying to unite the nation. There's something wrong with saying that we are not Democrats and Republicans, not liberals and conservatives, but sane and insane.

When your opponents are insane, you do not need to listen to them. You have effectively stigmatized them.

The insane need to be medicated or locked up. After all, the organizers of the Rally, who were mostly playing for ratings, surely did not recall that in the old Soviet Union dissidents were often declared to be insane and were locked up in psychiatric hospitals where they were tortured.

Jon Stewart has taught a generation of American youth that the people who disagree with their liberal pieties are frankly insane. Therefore, you need not listen to anything they are saying.

But Stewart did have a serious message, and we owe it to him to take it seriously. His message: cable news and the twenty-four hour news cycle has driven us mad, has made us crazy, has deprived us of our rationality.

While we are at it, why not add the blogosphere, Facebook, and Twitter. We are awash in information and ideas; we are bombarded by shrieking denunciations and we have therefore lost our ability to reason clearly and to vote Democratic.

The latter is implied, not stated.

Is Stewart saying that we were better off when the mainstream media had an unchallenged monopoly over information and ideas? I hope not.

Is he attacking the free market in ideas? That would place him at odds with the first amendment, to say nothing of the great Western tradition of free speech.

Is he saying that the American people have been duped by noise-mongers into voting against their best interest? If he is, he is also saying that American citizens do not have the right to cast their votes as they see fit, that they have no right to determine what is and is not in their best interest. If their judgment does not coincide with Jon Stewart’s, then they are frankly insane.

That is the message. Take it or leave it. The least we can say is that it is not a joke. A zealous youth could easily hear it and decide that Fox News and MSNBC needed to be shut down. That might sound fair and balanced, but the relative influence of the two media outlets is so thoroughly disproportionate that many so-called liberals would happily throw MSNBC under the bus if they could also silence Fox News.

Back in the world of side-splitting humor, what could be funnier than to open a Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear with Ozzy Osbourne. That’s so funny that even I get it.

Unfortunately, the man sharing the stage with Ozzy was Yusuf Islam, aka Cat Stevens. As many have pointed out, that was not nearly as funny. Link here.

You may recall that in February, 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini called for the assassination of author Salman Rushdie for having blasphemed Islam in his book: The Satanic Verses.

At the time Yusuf Islam was asked his opinion. He replied that, according to Islamic law, he had to support the fatwa against Rushdie. He qualified his wish for Rushdie’s death with the statement that he himself would oppose vigilante justice.

The Wikipedia article on the dispute quotes Yusuf’s words, from the Christian Science Monitor: ”In Islam there is a line between let's say freedom and the line which is then transgressed into immorality and irresponsibility and I think as far as this writer is concerned, unfortunately, he has been irresponsible with his freedom of speech. Salman Rushdie or indeed any writer who abuses the prophet, or indeed any prophet, under Islamic law, the sentence for that is actually death. It's got to be seen as a deterrent, so that other people should not commit the same mistake again."

The same article quotes Yusuf’s interview by Geoffrey Robertson on the BBC, as reported by the New York Times:

“Robertson: You don't think that this man deserves to die?
Y. Islam: Who, Salman Rushdie?
Robertson: Yes.
Y. Islam: Yes, yes.
Robertson: And do you have a duty to be his executioner?
Y. Islam: Uh, no, not necessarily, unless we were in an Islamic state and I was ordered by a judge or by the authority to carry out such an act - perhaps, yes.
[Some minutes later, Robertson on the subject of a protest where an effigy of the author is to be burned]
Robertson: Would you be part of that protest, Yusuf Islam, would you go to a demonstration where you knew that an effigy was going to be burned?
Y. Islam: I would have hoped that it'd be the real thingThe New York Times also reports this statement from the program: [If Rushdie turned up at my doorstep looking for help] I might ring somebody who might do more damage to him than he would like. I'd try to phone the Ayatollah Khomeini and tell him exactly where this man is.”

As it happens, Yusuf claims never to have called for the death of Salman Rushdie. Besides, he added, he was really joking. It was just an instance of dry Islamic humor.

Are you in on the joke? Do you find it all amusing? Salman Rushdie did not. Nor did those who were associated with the book and who were murdered as a result of the fatwa.

How did Jon Stewart come to choose Yusuf Islam, a man who is so flagrantly opposed to the great tradition of free speech to headline his Rally?

Did he know, as Roger Simon reports, that Yusuf’s wife is veiled and that he himself refuses to speak with women who are not his wife. If they do not wear a veil he does not even acknowledge their existence. So much for free speech.

I suspect that Stewart simply did not know or did not think it through. And yet, for being insentient and for not having thought things through Jon Stewart gave a stage and a platform to a man who believes that novelists should be murdered for exercising their rights to free speech and that unveiled women should be treated as nonentities.

Are you in on the joke?


Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: It's Called....

Most Republicans, by definition, are not [sane]. As for Americans who espouse the Tea Party in any way: Why, they're overwrought, moonstruck psychos; in a word, insane.”
As the old saying goes: Who’s crazy now?
-- Stuart Schneiderman



[I know you are, but what am I? -- childish schoolyard taunt]

Dennis said...

Actually I believe that this is a rally which Steward will, in the long run, not be happy with the results. This, given the pictures, many of the signs and much of the dialogue, both on the stage and off, is a win for those who did not attend and those on the Right. Is it any wonder they wanted to control the press and the pictures?
Already there are a number of blogs on the Right that are having great fun at the expense of the attendees. It seemed more like a young people's Halloween party with all manner of freakish and childish inferences. The Jester's Picnic.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I agree that they will not be happy with the results. If the rally does not rally the faithful to support Obama and his party, it will begin to look more and more like just another party, though one with at least one very unsavory character included.