Archive for February, 2015

“Lucky Life Can be a Comedy…Sometimes”

February 17, 2015 Leave a comment

For those who stay informed about politics, general current events, comedy, and how they cross-pollinate the news of The Daily Show host Jon Stewart retiring is probably still fresh in their minds. Also, if one is paying attention these days the grapevine is still “shaking” with news of Brian Williams and his departure from NBC Nightly News because of apparent continued hyperbole in the telling and retelling of his war reporting during the Second Iraq War in 2003 (RollingStone has a good piece on this). Finally, as if the rule of threes is playing out in a weird way, there was the tragic and untimely passing of 60 Minutes reporter Bob Simon. A person who covered wars going back to Vietnam and as recent as Iraq 2. Tragic irony that he died in a car crash.

These three media events display the blessings of media in the United States and the tragedies. Jon Stewart carved out a niche for himself and others with his commentary and criticism of society and culture, and news media itself. Defining himself as a satirist he blurred those edges of comedy and journalism to present a critical analysis of what the general public has watched. Jon Stewart and The Daily Show were not just a vehicle for news gathering and reporting. They provided social commentary and analysis…at least from one perspective. Lost though in the comedic art skill set Stewart displayed was the fact he was a damn good interviewer. He spoke with guests in a very direct, funny, and respective manner. Hopefully he continues to at least talk with the people who balance society. This is why Stewart and his incarnation of The Daily Show will be missed. The “real” news was left to people like Brian Williams.

By-in-large Brian Williams was the most trusted news anchor on television. He seemed humble, and despite recent events I believe he is still a humble newsman. But with fame comes a hefty price. With all his fame and what seemed to be power and influence, those tangibles quickly became intangible and bought him nothing except heightened scrutiny, intolerance, and what appears to be no second chance. We take such delight and pleasure in building up our idols, if only to take equal joy in watching them be torn down, or just fall. Brian Williams was an investment; a transaction; a commodity that provided great benefits for NBC. But seeing that the brand may be damaged NBC has chosen not to support one of its premiere brands. Instead, the corporation has decided to effectively terminate Mr. Williams. What comes of this is still anybody’s guess, but one thing is for sure, people will watch their news anchors with all the more scrutiny and skepticism.

All that said, Bob Simon was a newsman beyond reproach. As comedians are presented as legitimate purveyors of the news, and anchors defend themselves again accusations of false reporting, a staple for decades was Bob Simon. 60 Minutes is an institution, and Bob Simon was as well. I remember my father watching 60 Minutes every Sunday on CBS, so the show and Simon were somewhat familiar to me. In any regard as far as real newspeople are concerned, Bob Simon was as real as you could get.

In the United States people are fortunate to have a wide range of options as to how they access news. Jon Stewart used satire to analyze news placing a critical spotlight on the mainstream media; he taught us to think (while laughing…hoping that would change our behavior). Brian Williams represented how people, these days, need to take in news; in immediate 2 to 3 minute clips that seem fairly accurate and trustworthy. But now we know we should watch nightly news broadcasts with the same skepticism and critical eye that Jon Stewart has used to create his segments for The Daily Show. Finally, we are extremely fortunate to have reporters like Bob Simon who take journalism out of the theater of comedy and nightly news bits and into the theater of captivating story telling and poignant critical analysis.

How lucky that life in the United States can sometimes be a comedy, while also being deadly serious.


“When To Draw The Line?”

February 1, 2015 Leave a comment

The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” is quite poignant right now. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo assassinations the world is engaged in a conversation of how to deal with terrorism some say originate from an extremist interpretation of Islam, and some say is a bastardization of a religion practiced in peace by 1.5 billion people; thugs making an excuse. Editors from Charlie Hebdo say they will continue to satirize the prophet Muhammad, and other religious prophets as they see fit; if the times call for it, they will do it. The rest of the journalistic world is not so sure about that course of action. Is that because of respect for a figure 1.5 billion people hold sacred, or the fear of the retaliation by a small number of people who have a warped mentality strong enough to carry out murder in the name of defending Islam? There are debates taking place about when to draw the line; when to push the envelope further; how to “take back” a religious faith; the meaning of humanity.

In squaring this circle and coming to grips with the reality that people do heinous things in the name of something else, personally I feel awarding these terrorists the mantle of Islam, and religion in general, is ill-advised. ISIS/ISIL are like Boca Haram who are like the Klu Klux Klan, thugs who hate and want power. These people want neither religion or faith or peace or to govern. They want to rule and destroy. They are gangs of thugs and need to be treated as such, which means denying them agency; denying them identity; denying them power. Does Islam play a role in the conversation? Maybe, but to condemn Islam would be to attach the peaceful majority who practice it to a corrupt few who claim the same. I do not believe the Klu Klux Klan represent the broader Christian view. The people who drape white cloths over their bodies in order to terrorize people “different” than them by lynching innocent people and burning the very symbol of their supposed faith do not represent the Christian faith I was raised with. I believe the same goes for Islam.

These may be difficult times, and as such difficult conversations need to be had, but I think we can separate the thugs from the faithful; the murderers from the healers; the minority from the majority. The Charlie Hebdo satirists, I think, have shown us where and when to draw to the line. Now maybe journalists of their ilk can give the 1.5 billion Muslims that practice Islam some space to have their difficult conversations. One that will lead to resounding actions to separate the violent extremists who use terrorism to preach their words from the peaceful observers who pray for prosperity and respect toward their fellow persons who share the same Earth as one.

Categories: Islam, Religion, War