The Rally Takes a Capra Turn

After its morality plays and its songs, its crow participation and its scripted skits, The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, having vanquished Fear, in the form of Steven Colbert’s character, turned serious.

In was a moment where John Stewart, the comic turned fake newsman turned generational leader. A guy so powerful he could command the sitting President’s presence to his own talk show, just days before, he could take to the microphone before hundreds of thousands and millions at home and speak the truth as he knew it.

It was almost a Capra-esque moment – one where everyman can galvanize a society with the right stirring speech. Think Gary Cooper in “Meet John Doe”;  Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” even has the same locale.

Stewart had been shrewdly on the offensive against hotheads of any political stripe, and especially the 24 hour cable stations who try to get ratings by fanning the flame nonstop. The news media, bewilderingly, kept saying it was going to be a political rally even though Stewaart always denied that it would.

At times it was kind of a mass lesson in etiquette, in which some people were enlisted to apologize for their public behavior , from Steve Slater, who quit his job as a Jet Blue attendant by cussing out customers and sliding down the slide, to Terese Guidice, the “Real Housewife of New Jersey” who turned over a table in anger.

Those who acted decently, like Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga who didn’t fight when an ump’s call cost him a no-hitter, or the woman who asked her question politely at an Obama town hall on CNBC.

But in the end, Stewart went serious.

“This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith, or people of activism, or look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and we have nothing to fear. They are and we do,” he began.

But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies. But unfortunately one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24 hour political pundit  perpetual panic Conflictinator did not cause our problem, but its existence makes solving them that much harder.

The press can hold its magnifying glass to our problems, he said, but more often uses it to torture ants. Mostly, everything is amped-up and “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”

There are terrorists, and racists and Stalinists and theocrats. But those are titles that must be earned, you must have the resume. Not being able to distinguish between real racists and teapartiers, or real racists and Juan Williams or Rick Sanchez is an insult not only to those people but to those racists themselves, who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate. Just as an inability to tell terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe not more.

The point had been made earlier, with humor, regarding robots. Hate all robots? What about R2D2? It came immediately after: Hate all Muslims? What about Kareem Abdul Jabbar?

“The press is our immune system,” Stewart said. “If it reacts to everything we all get sicker.”

“We know instinctively as people we have to work together,” he said. And largely we do.

The Rally(ies) may have been scheduled as a way to react to Glenn Beck’s oddball gathering in August; to announce it with fanfare and constantly plug it, has served as a running conceptual joke – my rallies bigger than your rally, or that rallies can solve anything at all.

But once it was announced, it was up to both Stewart and Colbert to come up with something worthy of those who made travel plan. Because as cool as things got on stage – and the “Peace Train”/”Crazy Train”/”Love Train” locomotive conflation was pretty darn cool – it was always about the audience, and the throngs of smart, young, diverse people who merely wanted to show their support for the shows, and their opposition to the often hate-filled gatherings of political rhetoric that have assembled there before. It was clearly just as important for the crowd to be there for themselves as for whatever ended up happening on stage.

“Sanity will always be in the eye of the beholder,” Stewart said in closing. “To see you here today and the see the kind of people you are has restored mine. Thank you.”

Stewart’s careful words, his slicked back hair, his man of the people demeanor and his belief overall in the goodness of the country, have a direct line to John Doe and Mr. Smith before him.

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear
Jon Stewart – Moment of Sincerity
www.comedycentral.com
Rally to Restore Sainty and/or Fear The Daily Show The Colbert Report

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