“Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.”
— quote attributed to George Carlin
There continues to be a remarkable amount of babble going on in the world — media gone berserk and people either sensitized to the extreme, like the brave Greenpeace activists attempting to halt Arctic drilling by hanging from a bridge in Portland, Oregon, or deadened, like those who sneer at the callous criminality of Cecil the Lion’s death and think the Putinesque narcissism of the dentist that killed him admirable. While I take note of all this — grist for the mill, given what I do — bathed in the energy of a Blue Moon in Aquarius, I’m oddly detached, almost to the point of disinterest.
Over at Huffington Post, the focus Friday morning is speculation about who will make the cut for the FOX presidential debate, as only the top ten candidates are to be given air time. Clearly, ten is too many for in-depth conversation, and campaign strategists are feverishly working overtime to produce some clever and/or theatrical response to put their candidate on equal footing with the improbable leader of the pack, Donald Trump. I wish them luck. He who goes unscripted, in this case, won’t be soon outdone. The Donald is King of Blurt, channeling the anger of a confused electorate, riding the sodden energy of political cynicism, uncontrollably rash and cavalier to the point of absurdity. In short, a train wreck the Looky-loos can’t look away from.
I’m not excited about any of it, since all the Pub candidates sound alike to me and for good reason. It should seem obvious that when your party ambition is to kill off government, there’s not much policy to work with, which is why the hopefuls, waving their unique cultural flags, suffer so generic a platform that they can’t distinguish themselves from one another. For my money, if you put them in the same room with a microphone in front of them, they’ll begin to whine in a high pitch like the unseen teacher in Charles Shultz’ Peanuts cartoon, identifiable by the drone of her wah-wah-wah. Waiting to see how this spectacle shapes up seems as silly as holding your breath until you know who has the opening act at Ringling Bros. One way or another, when the show starts you’ll know you’re at the circus.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, my favorite historian, was on Jon Stewart this week, and agreed with Jon that she’d never seen anything like it — then blinked nervously, asking if he’d actually found something like it on video to prove her wrong. That will be Stewart’s legacy, his ability to hold someone’s feet to the fire by serving them up on a platter of their own words. With only a week left before he leaves The Daily Show, the progressives are mourning the loss of his keen eye and enormous service to a politically unaware nation.
For fifteen years now — and in a mere two hours a week of comedy offering — Jon Stewart has schooled an entire generation of young people in how government works and why, at this point in history, it doesn’t. Because we no longer have to sit in front of a television to get the message, as media exploded, so did Stewart’s influence. Satire is Jon’s forte, skewering hypocrisy wherever it is found. If you look up the definition of satire, you’ll find words like “scorn, derision, ridicule” and yet, to his credit, I’ve never found him cruel which, given the circumstances, would have been effortless.
A Sagittarian, Stewart has that jovial affability that identifies him as a really nice guy. Truly, if he’d been mean-spirited, he’d not have succeeded so remarkably. And, self-effacing, he’s been more realistic about who he is and what he does than the rest of us, who plainly adore him and find him indispensable. Typically, he retreats when praised. He recently took questions from his audience and when asked about a farm in upstate New York he and his wife bought to dedicate as an animal sanctuary, quipped that he was really just planning a big barbeque.
Because he’s brilliant, and because he’s on his way out the door, Stewart explained his relationship with the sitting president on-air this week — don’t miss it, here. It turns out that Jon had been ‘summoned’ to the White House a couple of times over the years, news of which forced the right into typical faux-outrage that Jon has been proven, as long supposed, to be an Obama minion — as if everyone BUT Jon and his cleverly disguised protégé, Stephen Colbert, weren’t Bush minions for eight long years. And that includes a compliant and cowardly media!
Do watch the clip — I’m going to keep it in my archives for when I need a rational moment in the worst way — and note that Jon describes his visits with the president as starting out with “five to seven minutes of scolding … not to turn young Americans cynical,” to which he protested that he considers himself not cynical but “skeptically idealistic.”
Maybe it’s a Sagittarian thing, but that’s pretty much how I’d describe myself. If it had been me at the White House, instead of that really nice and probably less rash Jon Stewart, I would have had to plead that it isn’t pointing out hypocrisy that leads people to become cynical, but the behavior of elected officials who consider lying to the public the larger portion of their job description, deception a form of job security, and profit the highest goal. It’s the system itself, not hacked from the outside but rotted from within, taking respect and admiration for a history of statesmanship with it, that has turned us cynical and unforgiving.
If Carlin was correct and a cynic is a disappointed idealist, then Stewart and I should be deeply in the doldrums right now. Although Jon confesses to be tired of trying to push the boulder up the mountain (not to mention top each previous night’s work month after month, year after year) I don’t sense cynicism in him. Those born under the sign of the Centaur aren’t wired that way. We came in with a passionate sense of what is fair and an equally compassionate awareness of the plight of the underdog.
I’m more inclined to agree with Oscar Wilde, who said, “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” Looking around, it’s easy enough to believe that most people are motivated only by selfish desire, but here’s the key to understanding cynicism: if under NO circumstance do you think people are serving other than their own self interest, it is probably because you are describing yourself. My great-grandmother referenced that as “a fox always smells its own scent first.”
Cynicism is about ‘me’, not ‘we’. It’s as uncomplicated as a free market that charges all it will bear simply because it can. It holds court in a consciousness looking to feather its own nest even if it has to kick somebody else’s chicks out to take residence. It thrives in a human whose appetites have grown so singular that they have eroded any higher aspiration than shallow self-indulgence.
Political cynicism is hopeless, it despairs of achieving anything for the common good, and it takes root if we make no attempt to grow beyond it. In truth, we are only able to love others as much as we love our selves. We are only able to give to others what we would give to our selves. We are our own self-fulfilling prophecy until someone comes along with a mallet to the head (or a punch to the heart) and makes us reconsider, if just for a moment, how dysfunctional our nation — a reflection of our personal lives –has become. Jon Stewart made us think again.
Some say that Jon leaving the air seems as if he’s caving in to further political mayhem, an act which itself seems cynical, but I don’t blame him a bit. In fact, I understand his dilemma and his desire to allow the weight of the world to slip off his shoulders. He’s held up his part of the contract with the Universe admirably and brought us far from where he first found us. From a (highly recommended) Salon piece, this quote:
It’s hard to think back to what it was like in a world where the mainstream media really did have the power to memory-hole stories like Bill Cosby’s lawsuit because they made advertisers uncomfortable. The pace of change is accelerating: The media landscape of only 10 years ago feels as foreign now as Walter Cronkite telling all of America “That’s the way it is” felt then.
It feels weird today, in a world of a thousand contending voices on Twitter and Tumblr and YouTube, to talk about how much it meant that there was one dude back then telling the truth. That there was someone in the mainstream media willing to kick a hole in the pusillanimous civil consensus of the respectable pundits, someone willing to call bullshit on the whole rotten circus, to reject the asinine convention that the party in power had to be given token respect simply because they were in power and to openly call them out as evil lunatics.
Clearly there is great need for the new Jon Stewarts of the comedy world to step up, since there is still danger out there, much of it lost in the haze of obfuscation. The very cynicism that has welcomed the highly charged rhetoric of such as Trump — Huckabee with his oven references, Cruz with his accusations of presidential treason — has cheapened the presidential process, but that process long ago succumbed to a level of bi-partisan institutionalized cynicism that leaves us without hope unless it is by rebellion and/or [r]evolution.
The irony is that the answer to cynicism is simple enough — it’s truth. Truth-telling opens up that dark tunnel to let in some light, blows out the walls that keep us in ignorance and provides room to expand our understanding. Despite the President’s fears, Jon Stewart didn’t promote cynicism, he offered us hope to defeat it, and even now, his lack of ego over the television show he created — the one that caught lightning in a bottle by making truth undeniable — continues to speak to a productive, informed future.
If he didn’t believe that, I don’t think he’d go. He wouldn’t be funding an animal sanctuary or planning creative projects, nor would he insist that there are others out there to fill his spot. That is called “faith in the future,” and we need to cultivate it as a psychic amulet to ward off the evil spirit of cynicism and apathy so prevalent in this time of purging.
Stewart leaves a talented legacy. Those whose careers he promoted can offer us hope as well. Stephen Colbert, who will take Letterman’s desk this fall, is a really great guy who teaches Sunday School and is chomping at the bit to get back in the comedy saddle. Often featured Lewis Black has enlarged his following, and it amuses me that he almost always has his cute and evidently unembarrassable elderly parents in the audience. John Oliver has his own well-received show on HBO now, while Larry Wilmore has earned a respectable following on his Nightly Show, following Jon’s time slot. The list is much larger than that, as regular viewers are aware.
These are people who make their living fearlessly speaking truth to power, and there are others waiting for their chance to take us farther down that road. Stewart will step away but where void is created, energy rushes in. Best not to compare what comes next to what was, but to discover and celebrate the next voice for truth. Speaking of such voices, here’s a snip from a commencement speech Stephen Colbert gave to Knox College graduates in 2006:
“Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes’.”
As long as we remain open to “yes,” as long as we remain dedicated to helping one another — to see what is rational, based on what is factual and informed by what is possible — there is the promise of growth and change. For all of us who recognize that as the alchemy of an open mind and spirit, there is our quiet, almost detached benediction for a Blue Moon, and a final moment of Zen.