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Tribute to Jon Stewart

Those of you who are reading this in Europe may or may not know about this icon of American television. Not only has he taken news criticism to a new high, so that it reaches even millennials, he has also nurtured a host of savvy young professionals and given them their start, such adepts at satire as Stephen Colbert and John Oliver. Beyond his genial unpacking of Fox News (see especially his analysis of Glenn Beck) — it’s known as  Faux News to some — he has nurtured us. When, in the wake of NBC’s news host Brian Williams’ drift into the comedic (see the bits on Jimmy Fallon where they “slow jam the news” (also done with Barack Obama!) and Williams’ loss of credibility, Jon Stewart announced his own retirement from the show, that turned the discourse from a rant against Williams into a sober reflection on where news and infotainment intersect. In that process I began my own reflection.

We had been cut off from The Daily Show about a year earlier, when Comedy Central limited their visibility outside the US (you’d need to go via a proxy to get it) and only isolated clips were available; I had begun to mourn and realized in the process: “I can do this!” Even as he has spun off his co-workers into shows of their own, I too had learned from his wit and skills at analysis, and was able, if only rudimentarily, to do what he was doing, to follow his lead and develop that aspect of myself. And I found that it had affected my writing style.


What I have been calling “tidbits” were modeled on his “Moment of Zen“. Those of you who know the show will remember how this was/is the icing on the cake. After 20” of intense analysis, a brief clip of something from the net, which illustrates and throws light upon (that’s the same thing?) the absurdity of it all.

I had begun collecting little clips that did that. For example, for Orhan Pamuk’s book White Castle, in which he described the gradual merging of a Venetian slave and his Ottoman master, which I had considered using to parse the intercultural sphere and had found somewhat tedious, though others seem to enjoy him, I felt a need to reward the reader with a comic relief and found a series of three skits by the Kloons “Switching Bodies – go there, you’ll love it! – which I proposed to offer as a tidbit or reward. At the time I was not sure why I knew it would work; now I realize where I got it. The structure is identical to Jon Stewart’s “Moment of Zen“, so I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge that.


Of course, I’ve used the technique before, a playful counterpoint to open a discussion, so that we could fill in the space between stuck reality and genial (if somewhat questionable) solutions presented by our literati. In the search for illustrative material that would open the students’ eyes to what we were really talking about, I have used materials they would recognize from pop culture: as when I used Forrest Gump to illustrate Howard Gardner’s ” “7 forms of intelligence” (Gump has “social intelligence,” knows both his place and his options as well as being honestly aware of other people, as when he gives his deceased “partner”‘s mother a check for the proceeds from what had originally been her son’s idea). Once you’ve “seen” that, you know what you are looking for. There are many ways to implement this, but I am really grateful to Jon to showing us how we can use it as punctuation (see also Al-BírúnÍ under “pedagogy” under “admissions”).

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