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Jon Stewart will return to TV later this month on AppleTV+. The Problem is Jon Stewart’s first broadcast project since he left The Daily Show on Comedy Central in 2015. See, the political and media industries viewed Stewart as a maverick when he departed TV. Stewart understood his audience at that time — there was a deep connection there. His live audience laughed, booed, and cheered on cue. That was then. Soon, Stewart will learn the current political landscape is far less convenient than the one he left just six years ago.
Stewart told the Hollywood Reporter this week that he was “surprised” to see the level of pushback he received after admitting to Stephen Colbert in June that he believes coronavirus originated from a Wuhan lab. Stewart wondered how something that rational could become so politicized.
“Listen, how it got to be that if it was a scientific accident, it’s conservative, and if it came from a wet market, it’s liberal, I don’t know — I’m just not sure how that got politicized,” Stewart told the Hollywood Reporter. “I guess I was a little surprised at the pushback.”
And that’s only the start. So look at that as a mild warning of what’s to come.
In a way, Stewart’s career is a version of Rip Van Winkle, who fell asleep in 2015 and awakened in the summer of 2021. He missed the inauguration of a reality television star, the Russian collusion hoax, social media’s takeover of society, a phone call with Ukraine, an impeachment, George Floyd’s death, the rise of BLM, the evolution of “mostly peaceful” protests, a once in a century-type virus, a masked society, top-down allegations of voter fraud, a storming of the U.S. Capitol, another impeachment, and a historical botch of a military withdrawal. That has all happened in America in the last six years. It’s a different country, one that bears little resemblance to its former self.
Stewart’s issue with critics labeling pundits as liberal or conservative based on their COVID stances should be the least of his worries. He will find out by October that the country no longer allows robust conversation or humor. Instead, it demands we pick a side, put on the jersey, marry ourselves to it, and hate on opposing individuals. Anyone in the middle on a hot button issue is left behind.
Online algorithms don’t reward curiosity — so it’s not allowed. It’s us vs. them. So figure out in which group you belong. There is no escaping. Pick a topic, and the public will categorize you momentarily.
According to the press, anyone who dares to ask about Texas’ new abortion law is either a murderer or a creep attempting to control women’s bodies.
In 2021, liberals deem anyone who notes Donald Trump’s successful economy or execution of Operation Warp Speed a sycophant and MAGA hat-wearing racist. By contrast, conservatives consider those who acknowledge Trump’s self-destructive rhetoric as a victim of Trump Derangement Syndrome, whatever that is.
In addition, society will call Stewart a science-denier the moment he covers COVID — because both the Left and Right say the other side is defying science! That is not allowed, either.
Now you see why members of pop culture, media, and sports are fraudulent. We demand tribalism in the worst way — and celebrities, media pundits, and athletes respond to the demand. We don’t allow room for common sense or even questions.
Furthermore, even decades’ worth of liberalism won’t save Jon Stewart. Though Stewart is likely the same guy he was in 2015, his audience is not. They won’t recognize the viewers who were liberal but could also laugh at Democrats and defer to reality. That doesn’t exist anymore. So unless Stewart received the hint, he’s about a month away from the following:
“Finally tonight, Jon Stewart is a danger to society. Up next is my friend D-Lemon with CNN Tonight.“
None of this is a defense of Republicans, by the way. They’ve done nothing to sway Stewart away from his past criticisms, whether he was correct or not. Stewart won’t agree with Sean Hannity anymore than he did in 2010. However, Stewart will echo the New York Times’ sentiments far less frequently than he did.
Even if Stewart’s new program is less humorous than his last — he calls The Problem “The Daily Show but less entertaining” — he is still a satirist by trade. And like the rest of the country, political satire is an unrecognizable descendent of its 2015 form. In other words, satire has collapsed. Bill Maher explained how last month:
“I’ve been asked over the years many times, ‘Why isn’t there a conservative comedy?’ And I would always give the answer, which I think was the true answer, ‘There’s not good fodder for it,'” Maher said. “You know, the liberals aren’t crazy. This was my answer for many years.
“Now, I don’t think it’s the same situation,” he continued. “I keep saying to the liberals, ‘If what you’re saying sounds like an Onion headline, stop.’ And that’s why – this is why there’s an opening for conservative comedy. Because when you tear down statues of Abraham Lincoln in the Land of Lincoln, ‘Land of Lincoln cancels Lincoln,’ it’s an Onion headline.”
Maher is correct, yet there’s more to it than the Left’s newfound dissent toward history. Additionally, Americans don’t laugh as much anymore — they instead wake up desperate for outrage. America is toxic. Social media has convinced us to hate our opponents — and many have listened. Though talks about Civil War II are obviously an exaggeration — and, honestly, reckless — the country’s division indicates we live in a damaged society.
Of course, the country’s vulnerability is advantageous for some talk show hosts. It doesn’t take a brilliant mind to instill fear and loathing in viewers already on edge. And many of the same hosts don’t mind performatively radicalizing their viewpoints. Perhaps Jon Stewart won’t either. Although, based on his off-script rant about the origins of coronavirus, that’s not his plan. His comments and subsequent reaction to his pushback reveal his naïveté.
Stewart has sat back with the mindset it can’t be that bad. But, speaking of the industry he is set to re-enter, it is that bad.
Jon Stewart thinks he can usher his audience back to 2015. Unfortunately, he cannot. His audience doesn’t want to return. And as a result, The Problem with Jon Stewart may be exactly what the country needs but will instead become a program it scoffs.