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Jon Stewart: Stop demonizing the other side
Jon Stewart shares his thoughts on many issues during a recent talk with the New York Times.
During a New York Times Talk, Jon Stewart gave his most in-depth thoughts yet on a number of topics that his fans wanted him to comment on. The comedian and now-director Stewart weighed in on the division in the country brought on by the election, Donald Trump, the media, and how to move forward.
The occasion for the talk was the release of the new book The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests. Stewart and Chris Smith, the author of the book, were interviewed by the Times TV critic James Poniewozik.
With his usual self-deprecation, Stewart started off by satirizing the effect his own show could have had on influencing the election, as some suggested his absence during this election cycle was somehow responsible for Clinton’s loss.
"We were the destroyers of men and creators of empires. I think that generally is satire’s role and has always been: the rise and fall of civilization at our whim," Stewart said, adding, "I would have probably allowed Hillary to come a little closer in the Rust Belt, but I still think I would have given Michigan to Trump. I had a little something going on where I was going to give [Al] Gore Florida. There was a bit we had planned that was going to hand Florida to Gore."
He continued that theme by questioning whether exposing or making fun of cultural issues has real significance, because it’s not the same as actually wielding political power.
"I think of one of the lessons of this book and what we’re talking about is to put satire and culture in its proper place — that controlling a culture is not the same as power. And that while we were all passing around really remarkably eviscerating videos of the Tea Party ― that we had all made great fun of ― [they were] sitting off a highway at a Friendly’s taking over a local school board," said Stewart. "And the lesson there is, as much as I love what we did and I liked it, there is a self-satisfaction there that is unwarranted, unearned and not useful."
He saw the obsession of the media with the way-too-long Presidential campaign instead of reporting on actual issues of “governance” as contributing to the sharp division in the country.
"How long is the campaign? A year and a half? I assume [television media is] talking right now about who’s running in 2020. They don’t give a flying fuck about governance, they care about campaigns and that’s where the fun is for them. That’s devastating. And not only is it devastating news-wise, it’s devastating to all of us.
Because if a campaign is too long, the fault lines between different tribes in our societies solidify. A campaign is 18 months long and you’ve got to choose a side for 18 months and then a disagreement becomes an argument and an argument becomes a fight and a fight becomes a feud and a feud becomes a war.
And those lines harden to the point where you can’t get past that ... Because what you become is just teams. And the campaigns are just too long. Have you ever been in a parking lot after, like, a Giants game and it’s between a guy in a Giants jersey and a guy in, like, a Cowboys jersey? They will fight. They will punch each other. What is that fight? Like, “Hey! Your shirt, it’s got a star on it. It’s supposed to have an NY. I’m going to have to punch you in the face.” There’s no reason for that, other than basic human primitive nature, and if we turn our discourse into that, then that’s what it will become."
According to Stewart, one big way to start healing the country and mending the division would be to stop demonizing the other side. He used his work with the first responders for perspective.
"This has to stop. This idea that we’re all ... that our team is perfect and the other team is demons. And this is not like a Kumbaya, let’s all get along.
Let’s fucking fight, but let’s fight with precision and integrity, and not with just demonization.
And I’ll say this, I know a lot of first responders. I spent a lot of time in that community. A shitload of them voted for Trump. The same people that voted for Trump ran into burning buildings and saved whoever the fuck they could no matter what color they were, no matter what religion and they would do it again tomorrow. So, if you want to sit and tell me that those people are giving tacit approval to an exploitative system ― I say, “OK, and would you put your life on the line for people who aren’t like you? Because they did.” I get mad about this stuff."
As far as Donald Trump himself, Stewart pointed to the incongruities between Trump’s campaign persona and his appointments.
In the campaign, Trump portrayed Hillary Clinton as “an unqualified Secretary of State because the way she handled classified material. His selection for Secretary of State will be David Petraeus, who pled guilty to mishandling classified material. He said she was unqualified because she gave a speech to Goldman Sachs. His Secretary of the Treasury is somebody from Goldman Sachs. We’re in post-accountability.”
While he doesn’t think the media was somehow responsible for the election of Donald Trump, he saw its lack of in-depth coverage of the issues and focus on distracting tweets as contributing.
"What's the biggest story today? Donald Trump tweeted that he won the popular vote and flag burners should lose their citizenship. [It's] just some f—ing thing he tweeted, and it's dominating the 24 hours," Stewart said. "But does anyone here understand what NAFTA is and what it did and what it meant to jobs because everyone seems to feel like that was the lever by which the election was won or lost. But if you watch the 24-hour news networks, you have no idea what that means. Or what is it? How many jobs were lost? Were jobs gained? Watch the post-election analysis. Everyone's talking about NAFTA and working-class whites. That seems to be the most important issue now in the entire election. If you were to look back on the election coverage, I would love to know how much of it was geared towards letting people understand, even, forget about NAFTA, what are trade agreements? What do they even mean? What does it mean when Donald Trump says, 'This is a disaster.' Is it a disaster? What is it? Or is automation really at issue with a lot of these job losses? What's the balance?"
He also saw mainstream media being complicit in the spread of fake news, calling it out for becoming "an information-laundering system".
"Rumor becomes fact becomes canon really quickly in this system at a speed that you can't imagine," said Stewart. "What happens is someone creates a conspiracy theory on the web and then news organizations cite a website that is in no way credible for that piece of information and they put it on their news site and later on, five days later, when somebody is doing a story about that and they do a search, that comes up but what doesn't come up is the annotation of where that came from and where the source was so that piece of information has been laundered. It's free-floating. And that gets placed into a story about that subject without the qualifying radioactive isotope that tells you it's from a bullshit source and then it goes on. And from now on, whenever anyone does a story about that, credible places not credible places, that piece of information is now accepted as fact and passed around and used as an example of something real that has happened. If the news organizations really want to tackle fake news, they need to look at where they are aggregating their information. Stories that were sent from a Macedonian teenager to grandmothers' email accounts didn't sway this election. News organizations that lost their credibility and authority because they were not careful enough about introducing toxic and poisoned information and laundering it into a system devalued the authority of real supposed news sources to the point where people are frustrated enough to elect a man who stands for what he stands for."
Addressing those who might be fearful of the Trump Presidency, Stewart encouraged them to get involved in the issues they care about, particularly those most vulnerable to the new policies.
"There will be real ramifications to this election," he said. "Who are the vulnerable people? Where are the vulnerable societies? And not in tweets, in practice, in reality. If he tries to deport DREAMers, then that’s where everyone has to go, to protect them. If he tries to make a Muslim registry, then everyone has to go there and help them. You have to find the people that are going to be most in jeopardy, I think, and put your attentions on them because now it’s about reality."
Stewart also argued that a President Trump “can’t ruin everything”.
"We’re still the same country. Obama didn’t change and fix everything, and Trump can’t ruin everything. If we’re that vulnerable to one guy… That guy? That’s how we’re going out? This incredible experiment in liberty and democracy that we fought and died for is going to go out with that guy? That can’t be how this story ends."
Cover photo: Jon Stewart attends the Montclair Film Festival 2016 on May 7, 2016 in Montclair City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Montclair Film Festival)
Scientists use new methods to discover what's inside drug containers used by ancient Mayan people.
- Archaeologists used new methods to identify contents of Mayan drug containers.
- They were able to discover a non-tobacco plant that was mixed in by the smoking Mayans.
- The approach promises to open up new frontiers in the knowledge of substances ancient people consumed.
PARME staff archaeologists excavating a burial site at the Tamanache site, Mérida, Yucatan.
While not the first such minister, the loneliness epidemic in Japan will make this one the hardest working.
- The Japanese government has appointed a Minister of Loneliness to implement policies designed to fight isolation and lower suicide rates.
- They are the second country, after the U.K., to dedicate a cabinet member to the task.
- While Japan is famous for how its loneliness epidemic manifests, it isn't alone in having one.
The Ministry of Loneliness<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/I5FIohjZT8o" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p><a href="https://www.jimin.jp/english/profile/members/114749.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tetsushi Sakamoto</a>, already in the government as the minister in charge of raising Japan's low birthrate and revitalizing regional economies, was appointed this <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">month</a> to the additional role. He has already announced plans for an emergency national forum to discuss the issue and share the testimony of lonely <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/12/national/loneliness-isolation-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">individuals</a>.</p><p>Given the complexity of the problem, the minister will primarily oversee the coordination of efforts between different <a href="https://www.insider.com/japan-minister-of-loneliness-suicides-rise-pandemic-2021-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ministries</a> that hope to address the issue alongside a task <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">force</a>. He steps into his role not a moment too soon. The loneliness epidemic in Japan is uniquely well known around the world.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hikikomori" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Hikikomori</em></a><em>,</em> often translated as "acute social withdrawal," is the phenomenon of people completely withdrawing from society for months or years at a time and living as modern-day hermits. While cases exist in many <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00247/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>, the problem is better known and more prevalent in Japan. Estimates vary, but some suggest that one million Japanese live like this and that 1.5 million more are at <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/article/japan-hikikomori-isolation-society" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">risk</a> of developing the condition. Individuals practicing this hermitage often express contentment with their isolation at first before encountering severe symptoms of loneliness and <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200110155241.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">distress</a>.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodokushi" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Kodokushi</em></a>, the phenomenon of the elderly dying alone and remaining undiscovered for some time due to their isolation, is also a widespread issue in Japan that has attracted national attention for decades.</p><p>These are just the most shocking elements of the loneliness crisis. As we've discussed before, loneliness can cause health issues akin to <a href="https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/americas-loneliness-epidemic-is-more-lethal-than-smoking-heres-what-you-can-do-to-combat-isolation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">smoking</a>. A lack of interaction within a community can cause social <a href="https://bigthink.com/in-their-own-words/how-religious-neighbors-are-better-neighbors" target="_self">problems</a>. It is even associated with changes in the <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/loneliness-brain" target="_self">brain</a>. While there is nothing wrong with wanting a little time to yourself, the inability to get the socialization that many people need is a real problem with real <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/brain-loneliness-hunger" target="_self">consequences</a>.</p>
The virus that broke the camel's back<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Hp-L844-5k8" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> A global loneliness pandemic existed before COVID-19, and the two working in tandem has been catastrophic. </p><p>Japanese society has always placed a value on solitude, often associating it with self-reliance, which makes dealing with the problem of excessive solitude more difficult. Before the pandemic, 16.1 percent of Japanese seniors reported having nobody to turn to in a time of need, the highest rate of any nation <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">considered</a>. Seventeen percent of Japanese men surveyed in 2005 said that they "rarely or never spend time with friends, colleagues, or others in social groups." This was three times the average rate of other <a href="http://www.oecd.org/sdd/37964677.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>. </p><p>American individualism also creates a fertile environment for isolation to grow. About a month before the pandemic started, nearly<a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/01/23/798676465/most-americans-are-lonely-and-our-workplace-culture-may-not-be-helping" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> 3 in 5</a> Americans reported being lonely in a <a href="https://www.cigna.com/about-us/newsroom/studies-and-reports/combatting-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> issued by Cigna. This is a slight increase over previous studies, which had been pointing in the same direction for years. </p><p>In the United Kingdom, the problem prompted the creation of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. The commission's <a href="https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-uk/documents/reports-and-publications/reports-and-briefings/active-communities/rb_dec17_jocox_commission_finalreport.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">final report </a>paints a stark picture of the U.K.'s situation in 2017, with millions of people from all parts of British society reporting feeling regular loneliness at a tremendous cost to personal health, society, and the economy.</p><p>The report called for a lead minister to address the problem at the national level, incorporating government action with the insights provided by volunteer organizations, businesses, the NHS, and other organizations on the crisis's front lines. Her Majesty's Government acted on the report and appointed the first Minister for Loneliness in <a href="https://time.com/5248016/tracey-crouch-uk-loneliness-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2018</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracey_Crouch" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tracey Crouch</a>, and dedicated millions of pounds to battling the problem. </p><p>The distancing procedures necessitated by the COVID-19 epidemic saved many lives but exacerbated an existing problem of loneliness in many parts of the world. While the issue had received attention before, Japan's steps to address the situation suggest that people are now willing to treat it with the seriousness it deserves.</p><p>--</p><p><em>If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, help is available. The suicide prevention hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.</em></p>
MIT professor Azra Akšamija creates works of cultural resilience in the face of social conflict.