August 31, 2004

Serious laffs…

Renee Graham asks a good question: Will success spoil The Daily Show With Jon Stewart? The culture comodifies the counter culture as the counter culture gains popularity. So the counter culture simply becomes part of the culture.

Now, wouldn’t that be interesting in the case of Jon Stewart? Wouldn’t it be interesting if on-point critique of the news media became just another thing that we all do?

Comodification, however, too often eschews the substance of a counter-cultural artifact for the schtick of its form. The Daily Show works because the writers and Stewart understand that humor based upon civic events and personalities must be founded on irony, oxymoron and non sequitur. Humor is serious business. The danger of comodification in this case is that The Daily Show could devolve into slap-stick nonsense. We’d lose one of the best sources of media critique on television.

August 31, 2004

What a hoot!…

Comedy happens:

“We invited Mr. Moore to write a column for us, and he asked if he could unobtrusively observe the convention,” said [Owen] Ullman [deputy managing editor of USA Today’s editorial page], recognizing with hindsight the absurdity of that proposition. “We did not anticipate that many would consider him the story and that it would create such commotion.”

August 30, 2004

The chattering classes…

Today on Radio Rhetorica, Paul Katona and I will discuss what kinds(s) of intelligence it takes to be a good president. And I’m sure we’ll have something to say about the Republican National Convention. You may listen live on the web; just click the “one air” button on the left. You may send e-mail to the show: radio-at-rhetorica.net. The Growl has a call-in line, but I can’t remember the number right now. So tune in and get the number. Next week, I promise, I’ll list it here.

I still plan to write about what kinds(s) of intelligence it takes to be a good president later today or tomorrow. Rhetorica readers have been knocking this around the past few days. See the comments section of Friday’s entry.

My students in Introduction to Journalism have begun posting to j.Blog 270 (the name will change soon). Check it out!

August 27, 2004

: Well, duh!…

Howell Raines has answered his own question:

These are signs of the fierce conviction of some voters — and the secret fear of a quieter and perhaps larger group — that George W. Bush is not smart enough to continue as president. Indeed, if an unscientific survey of bumper stickers, graffiti and letters to the editor in this conservative mountain region is an indicator, doubts are spreading. Yet the subject is seldom taken head-on by the mainstream newspapers and network news. The discourse about presidential intelligence appears mainly on the Internet, in the partisan press, among television comics and at the level of backyard jokes and arguments.

How can we possibly know? And this seems to me to speak to the good sense of the mainstream press that it leaves such speculation to bumper-sticker discourse (the press is always ready, however, to quote someone making a specific charge). Unscientific. This is a euphemism for “typically insipid trend reporting,” something John Allen Paulos correctly admonishes in his book A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper. To be sure, not all trend reporting falls into this category, and we can see that Raines is using an unanswerable question (How smart should a president be?) as writerly way to draw readers into a personal essay that explores something we cannot know: how Bush’s mind works. So this trend is a rhetorical maneuver.

Prior to television, did journalists or citizens ask such a questions?

I ask that question because the desire to know Bush’s mind (or Kerry’s) seems to me to spring from the false sense of emotional proximity television encourages.

I think a far more interesting question–and one we may be able to answer with some accuracy–is this: What kind(s) of intelligence is required to be a good president? We may then be able to apply what we learn exploring this question to what we are able to glean from our heavily mediated encounters with the candidates. But I’m not optimistic.

August 26, 2004

A moral accounting…

My results from the Ethical Philosophy Selector.

1. Stoics (100%)
2. Jean-Paul Sartre (99%)
3. John Stuart Mill (89%)
4. Kant (88%)
5. Ayn Rand (81%)
6. Aquinas (80%)
7. Spinoza (76%)
8. Nel Noddings (66%)
9. Aristotle (65%)
10. David Hume (59%)
11. Prescriptivism (58%)
12. Thomas Hobbes (55%)
13. Jeremy Bentham (52%)
14. Epicureans (51%)
15. Cynics (45%)
16. Nietzsche (44%)
17. Plato (42%)
18. St. Augustine (38%)
19. Ockham (23%)

Calling all students in MED581: You should give this a try.

Thanks to Jay Manifold for the link.

August 26, 2004

Can you hear the banjos?…

All politics involves some measure of the theatric in order to effect the ritual of political participation. There’s no better way to see this than attend a campaign rally. Some campaign theater avoids ritual and stoops to the level of a stunt. And it really gets amusing when we see dueling stunts, i.e. stunts and counter stunts, in which political opponents cooperate in one big stunt. But it gets sad when, knowing the stunt is a stunt, the press still covers it as if it were news–complete with politically useless he-said, she-said reporting.

August 26, 2004

The deniable ‘I’…

To which group does Jack Shafer think he belongs?

August 26, 2004

More official voices…

The Wall Street Journal introduces the (few) official bloggers of the Republican National Convention. I stand by what I said earlier.

August 25, 2004

Now for your moment of Zen…

Howard Kurtz has this to say about John Kerry’s appearance on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart last night:

Here’s why Kerry’s Comedy Central moment is important. It’s not about “connecting” with “young people” — that’s the kind of thing an old person would write. It’s about demonstrating that your humor gene is not missing, that you deserve regular-guy status, that you get the joke.

Kurtz creates a dichotomy where a more complicated reality exists. That The Daily Show and other late-night comedy shows are now apparently prime venues for political messages speaks to more than concerns with audience and ethos. It seems to me that The Daily Show is also about logos sold with humor–something Aristotle would have recognized as effective rhetoric.

(Further, Kurtz ought to be embarrassed for peddling the master narrative as cogent critique.)

Jon Stewart isn’t merely a comedian using politicians as straight men. He is a commentator who creates enthymemes out of the humor to be found incongruity, irony, oxymoron, non sequitur, and the absurd. Stewart is quite skilled at exposing the politically relevant through humor–something I think Kerry and others try to tap into. One might think Stewart could be an effective interviewer for a straight news show. But I doubt it. Playing it straight would rob him of his unique voice and an effective critical route to politically useful information. [Yes, it was difficult for me to write that last sentence considering my many rants against the mixing of politics and entertainment.]

August 25, 2004

Two guys named Andy…

My first classes at SMSU met yesterday. You may check out the syllabi by linking to my faculty site or the individual classes from the left sidebar.

I hope to have j.Blog 270 running by next week under a new name the students will choose.

As I have said a few times this summer, I’m wrestling with what it means to be a rhetoric scholar teaching journalism. Two of me enter the classroom:

1) The journalist me–the one with the professional experience. This me is thoroughly immersed in, and accepting of, the standard practices of the profession. It is my job to make sure my students leave SMSU competent to report and write within the norms of journalism, i.e. what they are able to do should be recognizable to any editor as proper reporting and writing.

2) The rhetorician me–the one that criticizes professional practice and wonders what else could be possible if journalists would resist or rethink many of their practices (especially those involving assumptions about language, objectivity and the structural biases).

I introduced my classes to both guys yesterday. I told them this meant that I would help them reach professional competence, but that I would also send them into the world prepared to be professional troublemakers–the ones who question and wonder and criticize. In terms of their own careers, I’m not sure I’m doing them any favors. In terms of the long-term health of the profession, I believe I’m doing the culture a favor. We’ll see.

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