How Jon Stewart has enabled the politics of spectacle

So, how do you make a comedy show out of that? For one thing, you don’t want to dig too much into actual politics or policy. You don’t want to deal with ideas and arguments. You’ve got to make it entertaining for an audience that is, for the most part, largely uninterested in politics and ignorant of policy. To do that, you’ve got to appeal to your audience’s vanity, flatter them. Make them feel like they really get the reasons why whatever the show happens to be mocking is indeed ridiculous—outrageously ridiculous, bizarre even, and therefore hilarious.

The purpose of the show is to entertain, sure, but the purpose of the entertainment is to discredit political opponents of the Left. More or less the same is true of liberal “explanatory journalism” outfits like Vox and Politifact, which exist largely to provide Left-leaning readers with liberal talking points on the issues of the day. As Kevin Williamson pointed out last year, Jon Stewart and Ezra Klein are cut from the same cloth: “For the Left, the maker of comedy and the maker of graphs perform the same function. It does not matter who does the ‘destroying,’ so long as it gets done.”

The point of this mockery—“destroying,” in the parlance of Stewart fans—is to discredit opponents without engaging their arguments. Delegitimize them. You don’t need ideas or arguments of your own to do that, you just need to be smug and cool and snarky. Simply declare “the debate is over,” and dismiss those who disagree as obstructionists acting in bad faith.