Jon Stewart: Humorous Voice of Politics or Simply Entertainment?



Story by Gaby Strnad

Junior Willow Post is sprawled across her couch, waiting for the newest episode of her favorite show to load on the computer. Sweat pants and a bowl of mac n’ cheese set the stage for another Netflix binge. But Willow isn’t Netflix-ing. She’s waiting to learn—and laugh—at the news, courtesy of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.

An avid enthusiast for most of her young adult life, Post is no stranger to the process of The Daily Show. “Jon has a very specific way of getting people to be able to laugh about the news, while still helping them to process and understand it,” she said.

Stewart took over The Daily Show in 1999, after a stint with stand-up comedy and hosting two hit shows on MTV. After sixteen years behind his ‘fake news desk,’ Stewart recently announced he would be leaving the show. His decision has sparked some questions along the lines of: who, what, where, and how will I get my news now?

The Daily Show show is known for its use of satire and humor when dealing with typically heavy political issues. This new type of humorous news appears especially attractive to a younger generation, who may be unmotivated to follow current events if they don’t seem engaging. Indeed, making fun of the news appears to have certain merits.

Senior strategic and corporate communications major Caroline Plucker said, “So much of my major depends on keeping up with news and media. But with so many different outlets, sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down with the amount and gravity of the news. Shows like this provide the facts that I could get from another source, but in a way that makes me enjoy keeping up to date. ”

These sentiments inspire confidence that The Daily Show acted as a positive news outlet for young adults. However, to what degree is the trend of “soft news” actually impacting the comprehension and political awareness of America’s youth? 

A research study conducted in 2006 found that Stewart largely educated young American viewers. They reported increased confidence in their ability to navigate the complexities of politics after viewing the show. However, the same viewers tended to adopt more cynical views of government and news media.

“Regardless of how it shapes your opinion about the news or politics, I think The Daily Show at least makes it easier to become aware of what’s going on in our world,” said Post when asked about the show’s potential consequences. “It’s unfortunate that negativity comes from it too, but in all reality, a lot of the news is already portrayed negatively. I don’t think it hurts to laugh at a situation,” she said.

Reactions to this type of political humor may also be an age-related issue. Older generations are accustomed to receiving news in traditional formats. While it may be interesting or refreshing to see the news discussed through comedy, these Americans aren’t mourning the loss of Jon Stewart as greatly as the youth population.

“People seem upset that there might not be a “Daily Show” any more, but it doesn’t impact me. I still listen to my shows in the car and watch the news every night on TV. It hasn’t really changed anything for me,” said Greg Lovett, a local Orange resident and father of two. “I actually didn’t know much about the show before it was all over the news that Jon Stewart was leaving,” he added. 

Regardless of the generation gap, most young adults do seem to agree that Stewart holds significant influence over their means of gathering political information.

Josh Nudelman, a junior Political Science major, shakes his head as he talks about the recent turn of events. “[Jon Stewart] is one of a kind, and I’m at a loss for what will happen once he has officially left the show. Is he critical? I guess not, but he definitely left a mark. Now we just have to work harder to find news elsewhere,” he remarked. 

As the hoopla over Stewart’s retirement winds down in the weeks since his announcement, young adults are quietly coming to terms with the finality of his decision, and preparing to gather news from alternative sources.

Inevitably, whether satirical news like The Daily Show is beneficial or detrimental is largely up to personal opinion. What is undeniable is that Jon Stewart played a critical role opening up dialogue about current events.

“Jon Stewart singlehandedly got me involved in caring about the political process and questioning our media. In the end, that’s what’s most important,” said Post.

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