I think it’s fair to say that The Daily Show has fairly well entered the cultural zeitgeist. For some reason, ever since John Stewart took over the reigns in 1999, it’s continued to rise in both its quality and notoriety. Especially leading up the the 2004 presidential election, The Daily Show was often cited as the only source of television that didn’t pander to sensationalism or corporate sponsors.
The Daily Show and Philosophy is a collection of essays, edited by Jason Holt, that seek basically to explain The Daily’s Show place in the zeitgeist, its importance as a check of the media, and the various and sundry reason why its format works and the other news shows’ don’t. It’s fitted into a very loose wrapper that ostensibly looks at the show in relation to philosophy, although I’m skeptical that this is a reliable framework. At its most relevant, the essays might compare Jon Stewart to Socrates, or discuss cynicism in the ancient Greek tradition, but mostly it’s run-of-the-mill essays about politics or metafiction or what-have-you.
Honestly, it’s a mixed bag; I was immediately depressed when the first section of essays read like mediocre essays from Philosophy 101. The pedantic, forced nature of some of these pieces is painful to read. Add to this the fact that The Daily Show‘s importance is not news anymore: it’s already been commented on (for better or worse) by every jealous mainstream journalist and every pseudonymous blogger from here to Timbuktu, and reading it in Intro-Body-Conclusion doesn’t do much to make it any more interesting or relevant. Also, it seems like most of the essays in a particular section all invoke the same instances: the 2004 Crossfire episode, for instance, is mentioned more times than it ever was when it happened, for god’s sake.
I sound harsh here: really, I agree with most of the works here, however redundant they may be. You can hardly blame these writers for trying their best to legitimatize a comedy show as one of the most important cultural/political features of the recent decade. But who are they convincing? Part of the nature of The Daily Show is that its audience is people who are already more culturally intelligent than their counterparts, and already know that it’s a smart show.
It’s not all bad, though: there were some ideas broached that were genuinely new and interesting to me—or at least seemed new and interesting in the way they were broached. One, for instance, was The Daily Show as The Fifth Estate; that is, an institution that checks the Media, which is supposed to check the Government (but doesn’t).
Another essay actually went on for pages and pages about the semantic differences being “lies” and “bullshit” and the political ramifications therein—I bullshit you not. Does that have any place in a book ostensibly about the philosophical nature of The Daily Show? Perhaps not. But then, I’m not sure this book ever had any business being written in the first place. Honestly, it’s a blog post. Or at least it should have been— or was. There’s probably no idea here that I haven’t read (or couldn’t find) on the internet in the last 5 or 6 years.