Rally to restore sanity?
I arrived at Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity just as it started. It was huge, so thronged with people that we weren’t anywhere near speakers, and couldn’t hear a thing on the stage. The Guardian estimated that 250,000 people turned up but there may have been far more.
I’m not yet sure what I think about Stewart and Colbert’s comedic call of the American people toward reason. In many ways it was a historic event. It was stunning to see such a crowd, and the fact that so many people turned up is in itself a statement, for humour reflects a society’s fears (as any student of Aristophanes could tell you), and clearly a swathe of Americans is against political polarization.
It was also intriguing and somewhat sweet to see who participated. The group was mixed, including older people and young. Could it be our Woodstock, as one commentator suggested? It seemed rather more tame. The atmosphere was carnivalesque and festive, the mood benign.
The middle-aged may have been the most under-represented group. Stewart had said he wanted to reach people who don’t usually have time to attend rallies, ”normal” people with kids and families, who are just living their lives (“not so much the Silent Majority as the Busy Majority,” he wrote on Facebook). The day before the rally I chatted to just one such person: a married man with two children, who lived in Washington. He was interested in the rally, but didn’t have time to go.
I watched Stewart’s twelve-minute peroration on Youtube afterwards, and although he criticized the media (which is fair enough) it had no real political or activist element. For that reason I doubt if the rally will give much of a boost to the Democrats. There was no talk of voting or participation. This is a pity, perhaps even a tragedy. The next day Obama was in Cleveland, Ohio, for his own rally, speaking before a thin crowd. I wonder how historians will assess these events in years to come.
Comedy is important — it tells us a lot about ourselves. At a time like this, it seems a way of shirking responsibility, revelling in a temporary retreat from the world. The Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rally was certainly fun, but it occurred on a weekend when there really are things to worry about. Without being too scare-mongery, there simply are things to fear.