Counting the Coverage: The Daily Show and Dicks*

For the past week plus, there have been rumblings in the blogosphere that Jon Stewart has not done enough to mock, slam, satirize, or otherwise shame New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, and the charge is two-fold: Stewart won’t because Weiner is a Democrat, and Stewart won’t because they were, for a time, college roommates, and have remained friends.

The charge that Stewart isn’t as hard on Democrats largely and unsurprisingly comes from conservative commentators (feel free to read “FOX News and fans” here); Stewart and The Daily Show shot to prominence in a post-9/11 world, and a lot of viewers (and/or detractors) didn’t have the experience of Clinton years for context. And it can be a bit hard to compare administrations against one another – it’s rare that political situations are ever similar enough that an apples to apples comparison can be done. (And this would be one of the reasons you literally get apple to apple comparisons on The Daily Show – it’s easier to show Rand Paul being a hypocrite and why than it is to try to show contrasting clips across different administrations.)

But for good or bad (and/or “reasons I moved out of New York state”), the Weiner “scandal” is something that has an almost direct one-to-one correlation: NY Rep. Chris Lee, Republican, who resigned in February after emails and a shirtless photo were sent to a woman in response to a Craigslist dating advertisement.

Now, clearly these situations are not precisely parallel. While Lee and Weiner are both married men, Weiner (so far) has not been caught trying to lie about his identity or do more than send photos that were in bad (or at least juvenile) taste**. Lee, on the other hand, a self-described “classy guy”, lied about being a divorced lobbyist (and his age and other such things). He was looking for more, and the young lady involved wasn’t interested in liars. A quick Google search confirmed her suspicions; one eMail to Gawker later and Cuomo was holding a special election in Western New York.

So, not identical, but really damn close. Clearly the best thing to do, then, is to directly compare the coverage of these two events on The Daily Show. Now, Lee resigned Wednesday the 9th of February, which I believe was a dark week for The Daily Show. There is, of course, a problem here with a news cycle moving quickly, but surely something of such magnitude would be mentioned, right? After all, it’s a Republican resigning over a sex scandal, and given how “easy” Stewart has been on Weiner this past week and change, it’s inevitable that the Chris Lee resignation would be stretched out over several days.

Or, well. One.

Segment.

On February 15th. That was interrupted by John Oliver’s need to discuss the Harry Baals government center in Indiana. You can view it here.

Note the similarities: jokes about the fitness of the representative, R.Kelly-esque R&B music with Stewart grooving in his chair. There’s even John Oliver involvement. But it was an entire “scandal” covered in approximately 2.5 minutes, highlighting the fact that Lee got lucky – he resigned the same day the Egyptian Revolution started. Lucky guy – the media was largely distracted.

Do I really need to compare the time dedicated to Weiner versus Lee, at this point? No, but I will anyhow.

The “event” begins on the night of May 27th, a Friday. While The Daily Show doesn’t film on Friday, rather coincidentally, they were dark that final week of May, as well. This means a lot of material to come back to on Monday – eerily similar to the Chris Lee scandal. The Daily Show even begins coverage on May 31st, a Tuesday. And this is how it breaks down:
May 3st, Tuesday: 6 minutes, 51 seconds
June 1st, Wednesday: 2 minutes, 59 seconds
June 2nd, Thursday: 4 minutes, 10 seconds, as well as an additional 2 minutes, 57 seconds and 2 minutes, 22 seconds.
June 6th, Monday: 4 minutes, 4 seconds
And for the most recent episode, Tuesday the 7th of June, we have:
5 minutes, 55 seconds
2 minutes, 49 seconds
4 minutes, 46 seconds

And that is not including several Moments of Zen.

Now, math has never been my strong suit, and even less so at nearly 6am. Nonetheless, it would seem that math is rather firmly on the side of “Weiner’s received far more coverage than Lee”, even though Weiner is actually a friend.

Any way you try to slice it, Stewart has given more time and attention and mocking disbelief to his friend than he did a Republican representative in nearly the same situation. 34 more minutes of time, just to be exceedingly precise.

*Metaphorical or otherwise.

**Have you met the internet? Let me introduce you to it, where everyone under the age of 35 has done at least one stupid thing involving it, and many, many people have done many stupid things involving body parts typically best only seen through the haze of beer and dim light.

Jon Stewart, Osama bin Laden, and the Joker appearing as the id

Id. Not I.D. or intelligent design or any of the numerous other acronyms that exist for those two letters. Just id. It was a word casually slipped into the dialog of last night’s episode of The Daily Show as Stewart (and, one presumes, staff) unabashedly celebrated the death of Osama bin Laden.

I realized, from the opening closeup of the May 2nd episode, that there were going to be a lot of people disappointed in Stewart and company’s reaction. Why? Well, both Stewart and Colbert have reached that point in the cultural zeitgeist where a big event happens and people – or at least liberal people of a certain age – say “I can’t wait to see what Stewart and Colbert have to say.” (And an accompanying joke has arisen – the biggest news items happen when the two are on break. Thus, Danny DeVito’s celebratory tweet that The Daily Show was not on break.)

What I saw going around Monday night amongst the liberal crowd I associate with was a general eagerness to the gravitas and perspective Stewart was going to lend to the discussion. People were, I think, envisioning something like the September 20, 2001 return to broadcast: sober gravitas reflecting on tragedy and inspiring hope.

What people got, instead, was id. Pure, unadulterated id. So, it might help to know what id is.

Now, apparently my Freud ran off with Aristotle and Buddha only knows what those two are getting up to, so I’m doing this from memory. (In other words, pure psychologists, please don’t crucify me.) Id, given to us by Freud rather late in his academic career, is part of the trio he envisioned that runs our daily lives: id, ego, super-ego. It might help to think of them as tiers – the highest functioning level is the super-ego, and it’s what acts in direct opposition to the id. It’s focus is morality, rules, order – it’s kind of the Superman of your soul.

Then we have the ego. Ego is the mediator between the id, the super-ego, and external reality. This is reason and common sense that attempts to control the id and play nice with the world, while still ignoring the super-ego enough to have fun. The ego is totally Batman.

The id is the bottom layer of these tiers. It’s not the unconscious, but it is the uncontrolled. The id is pure passion and response, constantly seeking pleasure and relief of impulse; there is no thought of consequences, just desire and action. It’s sort of like a toddler hopped up on sugar and caffeine, rapidly shifting from one thing to the next without thought or sense; there’s no negation or “this might be a bad idea”, simply the satisfaction of whatever chaotic desire or impulse pops to mind. In other words, the id is the Joker.

Batman works to keep Superman in check enough to have fun, while simultaneously making sure that the Joker doesn’t get so out of control that you wake up with half the city covered in toilet paper and the other half on fire.

Monday night on The Daily Show, Batman and Superman went out for a drink and let the Joker run free.

Why? Well, I’m not them, so I can only speculate. Alliteratively, it’s cathexis seeking catharsis. Value judgements and morality come into play with Batman and Superman; the Joker just wants to have that release of pent up energy and stress and fear and anguish at seeing all the death and destruction inspired by one person. Stewart, in particular, has always been very honest about how he was affected by seeing the Twin Towers destroyed, and his reaction seemed rooted in that experience of a New Yorker who was there that day, who bore witness to the destruction.

In a day or two, Batman and Superman will shake off their hangovers, grab the Joker, and shove him back into Arkham Asylum. (There was already a significant pulling back on the id for both Stewart and Colbert in their May 3rd broadcasts.) But if you find yourself disgusted at the Mardi Gras coloured vomit over everything, you might be interested in knowing that Freud thought that the Joker (the id) controlled something that is essential to anyone who writes, acts, performs, or otherwise engages in the arts: the drive to create.

Analyzing Groupon’s Failure

I feel like people are probably expecting a comment on Groupon’s amazingly over the top, tasteless, offensive advertisement shown during the Super Bowl last night. (Why do I feel like people expect this? Well, I’m Buddhist and I am known for being cranky. It’s not really a large leap there…)

So, yes, I found that Groupon advertisement to be a masterclass in what not to do. For those who missed the advert, here it is:

The copy reads

Mountainous Tibet – one of the most beautiful places in the world. This is Timothy Hutton. The people of Tibet are in trouble, their very culture in jeopardy. But they still whip up an amazing fish curry. And since 200 of us bought on Groupon.com we’re getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15 at Himalayan restaurant in Chicago.

Let’s get the basics out of the way, first. Tibet is in the Himalayas, yes – and because of this, Tibetan cuisine, along with most Himalayan cuisine, doesn’t involve fish. Neither does it involve curry (although Tibetans living in exile in India have added it to their diet).

Facts aside, there are still massive issues here. Putting aside the big one for a minute, the slightly smaller one is the incredibly tone-deaf advertisement creating a situation that suggests all is okay because the displaced, threatened culture can still cook for the White Man. I am not a race scholar by any means, but you don’t need to be one to see the ugly legacy of colonialism echoing in the advertisement.

And then, of course, there is the big issue. The Big Issue. The fact that Groupon is using the genocide of a people to sell it’s services. The occupation of Tibet is considered by many to be one of the grossest examples of human rights violations in the last fifty years. We know that China has imprisoned, beaten, raped, tortured, and killed men and women, monks and nuns, who refuse to renounce their Buddhist beliefs or their allegiance to the Dalai Lama. We know that China has “disappeared” the entire family of the Panchen Lama – at least, the one recognized by the Dalai Lama and other ranking Buddhist monks. China has made it clear that when the current Dalai Lama dies, they will try to instill a puppetmaster in his place – and that they intend to destroy the religion. They have already destroyed countless monasteries, artifacts, and aspects of culture and way of life.

So naturally, Groupon thinks this is a great thing to use to sell it’s services. Because making fun of Darfur would have been dated, and Egypt happened too quickly for them to jump on that train, I suppose. And Groupon did think it was a great thing; from their Twitter feed:

Like standing too close to a rainbow, viewers’ hearts are warmed by #Groupon’s Super Bowl ad. #brandbowl http://bit.ly/e7X48C

It was only well after the Tibet advertisement aired that Groupon realized it badly miscalculated; almost an hour after airing, the topic was still trending on Twitter, and the feedback was not positive. Then Groupon posted an additional tweet, which has not yet been supplanted by anything else:

Support Tibet’s largest charity here: http://savethemoney.groupon.com/

Now, in it’s supposed-defense, prior to airing of any of the advertisements yesterday, Groupon’s Andrew Mason (founder) posted this at it’s site:

The gist of the concept is this: When groups of people act together to do something, it’s usually to help a cause. With Groupon, people act together to help themselves by getting great deals. So what if we did a parody of a celebrity-narrated, PSA-style commercial that you think is about some noble cause (such as ‘Save the Whales’), but then it’s revealed to actually be a passionate call to action to help yourself (as in ‘Save the Money’)?

The actual “Save the Money” link says:

Money is one of our most important natural resources. Sadly, thousands of dollars are wasted every year. Until now.

Finally, celebrities are lining up to spread the word about this important fight. Watch the informative videos below to find out how you can help save the money.

If you save so much money that you feel like saving something else, donate to the four mission-driven organizations below. Groupon is matching donations to make sure they can save the money too.

There are two issues here. The first is practical: the only people who know about “Save the Money” are the people who are already reading Groupon’s blogs and participating in it’s forum(s). The advertisements themselves don’t include any information. And in fact, had Groupon even decided to air a black title card with information on “Save the Money” with a link to the Tibet Fund, then we might not be having any of this conversation. But instead, the company courted disaster by creating a small group of “in-the-know” people who the advertisement wasn’t created for. The people with no, or only passing, familiarity, with Groupon had no context for the charity aspect of these commercials.

The second is a bit more academic. Andrew Mason has said that this was supposed to be a poke at Groupon’s origins, a fun parody and a satiric take on the celebrity PSA. The issue is in how satire – and even parody – work. Both work when a situation is turned on it’s head, allowing the viewer to see the foolish nature of the person, or position, being targeted (whether it is their own views or, say, Glenn Beck’s). This is why The Daily Show excels at just what they do – they’ve mastered the art of changing perception, and highlighting just how foolish their target (often Fox and personalities) are being.

The problem with Groupon’s target here is that few people think that outrage over the situation in Tibet is wrong or foolish. The concept is a bit more viable in the other two Groupon advertisements aired last night (save the whales by whale-watching and save the rainforest by getting a Brazilian wax) only because those two situations don’t involve the actual torture, imprisonment, and death of a cultural group. So instead, the focus of “who is foolish” flips back on Groupon – people don’t feel that opposing the Chinese occupation of Tibet is foolish, or that their support (financial or otherwise) is foolish. Therefore, Groupon becomes foolish (and tone-deaf, insensitive, and more) for their advertisement. (Note: it taints Timothy Hutton pretty badly, too.)

The takeaway here is pretty simple. It’s really hard to make genocide funny. It’s pretty much going to be impossible to use genocide – be it Nazis, Tibet, or Darfur – to positively reflect your brand or to sell anything. The exception here is if you manage to come up with the musical heir to The Producers. But unless you have the modern equivalent of Springtime for Hitler under your belt, you’d best leave genocide to the documentaries and dramas, and consider something else for your first national advertising campaign.

Note:
The Chicago Tribune has a continuous Twitter-feed of responses (still continuing) to the Tibet advertisement. Some people might argue that any publicity is good publicity, but I’m not sure I agree in this case – associating your product with an apparent callous regard for human life really doesn’t seem like a winning strategy to attract new users, or maintain the old.

Forbes gets the best headline out of the event, noting that Goupon’s 2-for-1 Super Bowl Special Offends Both China and Tibet Activists. Groupon had been trying to make inroads into China. Chinese reaction this morning suggests Groupon just did a worse-than-Google, as far as they’re concerned. So, shooting oneself in both feet? Check!

encapsulation

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Arizona Shootings Reaction
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Perhaps the most poignant and appropriate commentary yet on the Saturday shootings in Arizona. I’m not sure what it says about us, as a culture (or Jon Stewart’s claim to be “just a comedian”) that the voice of sanity in the face of the massacre is coming from Comedy Central. Then again, perhaps that’s most apropos.

Obama in Bullet Time

I’ve been very busy the last week or so with something that we’ll just keep under wraps for the time being, which means I’ve been somewhat behind the ball on everything else. But Laurie wanted to make sure that I saw this, and now I’m sharing it with you. I’m especially fond of the snarky shot Obama got about how he actually reads the bills people put in front of him.

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