Sean Hannity just apologized for running footage on his program yesterday that inflated the size of a crowd at some awful protest. And he gave props to Jon Stewart and "The Daily Show" for calling him out on it. But...
Click to view...that last line sort of creeped me out: "Mr. Stewart, you were right, we apologize—but by the way, I want to thank you, and all your writers, for watching." It creeped me out because Hannity wasn't just talking to Stewart and the "TDS" writing team, here: He was also sending a winking, smartass shout-out to everyone who tuned in tonight solely for the satisfaction of seeing him eat crow. Team Jon Stewart.
I am a member of Team Jon Stewart, and you probably are too. Jon Stewart always seems to be on "my side" in whichever cultural/intellectual/economic battle he's mocking on that night's program. That is: nobody's side. As plenty of Times Arts Section pieces have reminded us: He is the sticker-upper-for-the-little-guy, the speaker of truth to power. His sharpened blade of sarcasm cuts clean through the half-truths of politicians to reveal that the emperor has no clothes, while his under-staffed but plucky researchers reveal mainstream media for the impotent court jester it is via embarrassing video montages.
Sometimes Jon Stewart does something like take on a conservative talk-show host (or an inept financial channel personality, or a terrible debate show) and team Jon Stewart goes crazy. Boo yah: We scored a point! When Stewart showed Hannity's show to be the steaming crapfest it is, a lot of people on Team Jon Stewart jumped up and down and waved big pom poms, in blog post form. The only thing keeping everyone from high-fiving Jon Stewart harder in the blogosphere was that one hand was fully engaged in patting themselves on the back.
But then you think about Hannity's smugness: "I want to thank you, and all your writers, for watching our show." Hannity probably will get a ratings boost from all this! And you think about how Comedy Central is owned by Viacom, which is a massive corporation that not only depends on and reproduces the economic inequity of American capitalism but is also directly responsible for giving Carlos Mencia his own comedy program. (CREATIVE UNDERCLASS RAGE ALERT) And since Jon Stewart probably got a ratings boost, too, Viacom will now have more money to control the world and create more shows starring Carlos Mencia.
And you begin to suspect, if you are paranoid and have a half-assed Sociology degree like me, that Jon Stewart's trick isn't actually being on "our side," but keeping up appearances. It's like the liberal What's the Matter with Kansas: After recording his show, where he earns big claps for calling bankers "assholes," he gets in his Prius and drives around the corner, where Sean Hannity is waiting—beaming and freshly scrubbed—to take him in his stretch Hummer to his mansion, where together they drink Old Fashioned's while watching an enormous bank of television screens which display live readouts of their ratings and their bank accounts, and everything is way up.
(Oh, also, Jon Stewart likes Freakonomics.)