Monday, August 14, 2006

Even Better than the Real News...

I've been thinking for a while now that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is a better source for information about the world than the real news. For those of you unfamiliar with The Daily Show...well first of all buy yourself a damned television...the show it is a spoof based on real news programs. It's probably the funniest thing on television right now and is my favorite thing to watch after the Greatest Television Program of All Time. Some of the wonderful things about the Daily Show include: a fantastic sense of irony, interviews with people who are actually interesting and influential, George Bush being mocked (not hard, but still hilarious), and a very well executed marriage between subtle political humor and crass low-brow jokes. When it comes to the Daily Show, however, the greatest irony of all is that this fake news show happens to be a far more accurate window to the world in which we live than the real news. This is true for two principle reasons.

First of all the Daily Show is entertainment and we all know it. What many of us don't know is that every regular news show on television (particularly US television, but it happens here in Canada too) is also principally about entertainment. Neil Postman pointed out a long time ago that television is a communication medium that has more to do with entertainment than anything else (cf. Amusing Ourselves to Death). That's how the news works in North America. Note the catchy music, cool graphics, and the way anchors bounce from profoundly distressing events to the local dog that can water-ski. But because the news promotes itself as "real" and "serious" it makes many viewers think of it as actually real and actually serious, when it is in fact neither. The Daily Show, on the other hand, is so blissfully and self-consciously absurd that nobody who is even semi-intelligent can fail to realize that entertainment based on reality is what is being offered.

Secondly the Daily Show does a great job of deconstructing itself, the mainstream news media and the world at large. When you watch Jon Stewart commenting on the news of the day you get essentially the same actual information as you would on the regular news (I suspect that any given news program only contains about ten minutes of actual information about what is happening in the world). The other thing that you get, which is absent in most real news, is ironic (though usually accurate) commentary on that actual information. By doing this Stewart and his crew continually point out the inconsistency and insincerity of politicians, pundits, reporters and public figures (and private figures sometimes too) as well as the spectacular (and perhaps frightening) idiocy that is pervasive in the world in which we live.

It's important to note that though I say that the Daily Show is a more accurate window into the world than the real news, I certainly do not mean to say that it is truly accurate. All that I'm trying to say here is that it's time for us to stop thinking of the regular evening news as "real" and start thinking about it as pre-packaged, entertainment based, news-like programming. Perhaps Stephen Colbert's word "truthiness" would best describe what I'm talking about.