When the 18th century radical French critic and journalist Jean-Paul Marat was found dead in his bathtub, revolutionary Paris knew that it had lost a friend. His assassination came at a time when many of the revolution’s friends were dropping like flies due to factional infighting and the lethal application of that zealous Parisian work ethic (which, presumably, the revolution must have also killed at some point). For all his vitriol and inflammatory writings, Marat was well loved across the factions, and his death at the hands of the revolution’s enemies was seen as a rallying point for the revolutionaries who quickly saw him deified and elevated to the status of a martyr for the republic.
Pundit Jon Stewart has announced that he will be leaving his post as America’s (arguably) favourite satirist. While the story of The Daily Show’s finale may lack all the drama, subversion, and bathtubs of Marat’s death scene, there are still some parallels worth noting. For many , Jon Stewart’s retirement from The Daily Show represents the end of an era. When Stewart first got his start on the show in 1999, things were simpler: global warming didn’t exist (thanks a lot, Al Gore), The Matrix was still relevant, and a nickel could get you, well, more or less the same as what a nickel gets you today. Yes, it was a magnificent time to be alive.
The geopolitical landscape of today has a much different, much more complex face than it did in 1999, and Jon Stewart has been with us the whole time making fun of it. Much has happened for our southern neighbours during his tenure: we’ve all lost count of which Gulf War it is, witnessed the rise and fall and rise of Miley Cyrus, and watched on with bated, confused breath as Fidel Castro managed to outlive one presidential term after another. In all this, Stewart, like countless others of his kind, has shown the importance of the pundit in the social sphere, coaching us through a terrifying phase of history with wit and toilet humour.
Like Marat, his departure signals the loss of a key player in the fight against an absolutist, despotic, and ignominious empire (I’m referring, of course, to Fox News). There is perhaps nothing more jarring to realize in the wake of his departure than this: without pundits like him, where would we be? There’s likely a good amount of us who only take in the news via those who crack jokes about it. Without the likes of Rick Mercer, John Oliver, and others of this vocation, significant amounts of the population would have no sense of what’s going on in the world. More troubling still, though, is to think that without Jon Stewarts in the media, we’d have nothing but the news as it is at face value: politically charged, depressingly cynical, and with no one there to make us laugh about it.