Send in the clowns


For the most part, the ‘Rally for Sanity And/Or Fear’ that took place on the weekend is a stellar piece of theatre. Hosted by revered satirists, Jon Stewart (The Daily Show) and his conservative foil, Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Report), the event was staged as a counterpoint to the Tea Party rallies that have built up over the past year. 

It was not short on entertainment, with musical performances by Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), Ozzy Osbourne and Sheryl Crow, as well as spoofs – including the sight of Colbert emerging from under the stage in a contraption resembling the Fenix capsule that rescued miners in Chile. 

But as with most good entertainment, there are depths not immediately apparent. 

For one, the festivity belied a serious intent. The ‘Rally for Sanity And/Or Fear’ represented a significant opportunity for small ‘l’ liberal Americans to gather on the hallowed grounds of the National Mall in Washington and amplify their voice in a political conversation that they feel has been hijacked by the likes of right-wing commentator Glenn Beck.

Second, even though the standard bearers for ‘rally4sanity’ (its Twitter hashtag) were media heavyweights, it emerged from a digital grassroots campaign. Reddit, a user-generated news links aggregator, had mobilised its community to convince Colbert to hold a satirical rally in response to Beck’s. In a bid to get Colbert to take them seriously, Reddit users organised a donation drive for, of which he is a board director. They raised US$130,000 in the first 24 hours and hit the $500,000 mark in 46 days. (Meanwhile, behind the scenes of Stewart’s show, staff are said to have already been tossing around the idea of a rally). 

Whether or not rally4sanity can be entirely credited to Reddit, the process leading to it provides an interesting study in social activism. It suggests, for instance, that traditional protests involving chants about what we want and when we want it, have given way to imaginative engagement with underlying philosophy wars.

In this sense, the third and perhaps most interesting element from rally4sanity comes into play: the role of comedians in political debate. It is not insignificant that Stewart and Colbert were able to mobilise an estimated 350,000 people – not counting the ones who weren’t able to get to the National Mall because their sheer volume had placed cars and trains in gridlock. At the very least, it indicates a healthy grasp of irony that Americans are generally perceived to be lacking. 

No other group in society, apart from comedians, makes a living from satire and parody. They get paid to make fun of things. When people are being massaged by politicians and media personalities to be fearful and angry, this role takes heightened meaning if only because humour often flips back the covers concealing truth. 

Hark back to the role of jesters. They were employed to ridicule or criticise their master and his guests. Royals relied on them to be truthful, as other members of their court do not tend to be. The point is, though conservative commentators may savage rally4sanity as the work of comedians, comedians have an extremely long record of influence, dating back to mediaeval times. Or to provide a far recent example, consider how Tina Fey’s spot-on impersonation of Sarah Palin skewered the McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign for a while.

In Australia, we don’t have the equivalent of Stewart and Colbert’s shows, which regularly tackle political issues in the way of the jester of old. Wil Anderson often makes political comments and we occasionally see The Chaser boys on television, but they have not had longevity in offering satire-as-analysis, which is a necessary counterweight to the dog-whistles and rabble. Perhaps it’s time that we elevate the role of comedians in Australian political debate and give them the platform.

Fatima MeashamFatima Measham is a state school teacher in Victoria. 

Topic tags: Fatima Measham, gay-friendly schools, bulling, rainbow network, safe schools



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Existing comments

We don't need any foul-mouthed clowns and their satire.

We are immersed in such a soupy fog of naturalism that very few Australians, including very few Catholics, seem to understand that a nation that permits the daily slaughter of over innocent preborn babies in their mothers' wombs under cover of law will never be blessed with long term material prosperity.

We are immersed in such a soupy fog of naturalism that very few Australians, including very few Catholics, seem to understand that a nation that has accepted almost entirely uncritically the chemical assassination of children by means of contraceptive pills and devices, thereby denying the Sovereignty of God over the sanctity and fecundity of marriage as the principal end of marriage, the procreation and education of children, is overthrown in favor of hedonistic self-interest, dooms itself both demographically and economically over the course of time.

A world shaped by the Catholic Faith would be characterized by citizens who are concerned first and foremost with the pursuit of the sanctification and salvation of their immortal souls, not by an engrossment in the pursuit of material pleasures almost to the exclusion of everything else.

Holy Mother Church has long taught us that we must be concerned about the common temporal good, that the civil authorities must indeed foster that common temporal good. Those civil authorities, however must foster that temporal good in light of man's Last End, the possession of the glory of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost for all eternity in Heaven, not as an end in and of itself.

Trent | 05 November 2010  

We don't have political comedians?? What about our national treasure, Rod Quantock? Would that he had a TV show!

maxine barry | 19 May 2011  

We don't have political comedians?? Are you for real? What about Canberra? Parliament is full of comedians, many of them of bad taste and quality, but comedians...

zorba | 29 July 2011  

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