How the Daily Show Taught People to Care

By Official White House Photo by Pete Souza (whitehouse.gov) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Official White House Photo by Pete Souza (whitehouse.gov) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…  Okay, so it was more like 1999 and here in the U.S. when Jon Stewart took over the Daily Show. 

As usual, the elderly voted in droves, and while I had been taught the importance of voting (a civic duty! the right and requirement of every citizen!), most of my peers didn’t seem to care.  Did they even know who was running for office?  Or what a political party was?  Would they understand the controversy over paper ballots versus electronic voting machines?  Or why a “hanging chad” would and could be important?

Some of them may.  But even if they bothered to care, they were often ill-informed, fearing the news because it was too much talking head and not enough slap-stick humor.  Because, really, who can take their politics seriously or with a straight face?

The Daily Show, before Jon Stewart took over, was funny, off beat, and quirky.  It had some “news,” and they interviewed interesting people and had other funny bits.  But that was it.  Then Jon Stewart came aboard, and the generation once considered apathetic and apolitical went out into the world, making a difference. 

The Daily Show had an uphill battle at first.  Who wanted to think that Comedy Central, the channel known for such gems as South Park, Viva Variety, and Strangers with Candy, was suddenly making a difference in the world?

Yet it was.  And it did.

Numbers began to pop up, showing that more and more people were getting their news the Daily Show.  They covered major elections, beginning in 2000, and have (since Jon Stewart appeared) won 16 Emmys and two Peabody Awards.  They’ve been nominated (and sometimes even won) Astras, BAFTAs, GLAAD Media Awards, Teen Choice Awards, Television Critics Association Awards, and Writers Build of American Awards.  Their “busiest” night, when President Barack Obama appeared for an interview on October 27, 2010, led to over 3.6 million viewers tuning in.

What had been a society of disassociated and alienated youth became a society that wanted to learn about and discuss hypocrisy, truth, justice, and the American way.  The people who once couldn’t be convinced to leave vote were now so interested in political satire and knowledge that in 2005 the Colbert Report began, a spinoff with a different twist.  While Stewart went for the liberals, Colbert attracted the conservatives, even though both shows lampooned and harangued either side for laughs.

So when I saw the question of what TV show or movie had impacted society and why, I couldn’t help but think of one show that really made a difference, changing the entire face of “news” and showing us that the line between humor and reality could be blurred, allowing everyone to take part and be involved in the world.

This scholarship is sponsored by USDish.com.

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