Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear

Or, Irony in Defense of Liberty Is No Vice

Uh, really? You sure about that? You'd think the committed ironists of Roxie's World would be on board with the above proposition, which was impressively affirmed on the National Mall yesterday at the joint rally staged by Comedy Central fake news geniuses Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

For darn near five years, after all, this blog has offered up a steady diet of parody, irony, and satire as ways of criticizing and coping with the social and political madnesses of our civilization [sic]. We believe with all our hearts that hypocrites in high places deserve the calling to account Stewart delivers night after night on his show. We believe that comedy is a supremely effective means of truth-telling and that humor is essential to the health of the body politic in a democracy. (For more on this subject, see this illuminating 2008 conversation between Moose and the patron saint of irony in Roxie's World, Mark Twain.) We are also hip enough to get that media critique and signs mocking the tradition of carrying signs ("Americans for . . . oh look! A puppy!") are politically potent gestures. And we are not worried that the 200,000+ citizens gathered on the Mall the Saturday before election day should have been out knocking on doors or calling up registered voters to urge them to get their sorry a$$es to the polls come Tuesday. Such calls are mostly automated these days, and nobody answers their doors to anyone who shows up on the doorstep with a Bible or a clipboard in hand anyway.

So, why did the moms walk away from the Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear with a feeling roughly similar to the message on this sign?

It's hard to say, really. The moms don't usually do indifference. It could be their reactions to the rally were impaired by the struggle required to get there. They didn't reach the Mall until nearly 2 PM, in part because Moose insisted that her personal restoration of sanity required her to attend her Saturday morning yoga class before heading downtown and in part because Washington's Metro system was overwhelmed by the crowds trying to get to the rally. (The crowds were sizable, yes, but the real problem was that Metro didn't have enough trains running and stuck to a schedule of weekend maintenance that meant north- and south-bound trains were sharing a single track in some of the busiest parts of the system.) Once they got there, the audio was so bad it was hard to know what you were hearing (Hey, um, is that Tony Bennett? Wow, yeah, OK, Tony Bennett!), and the crowd was packed in so tight it was hard to see anything but the jacket of the person in front of you.

As veteran march and rally attenders, the moms were prepared for that special sardines-in-a-can feeling you get at big public events in relatively small spaces, but in this case they couldn't shake the feeling that the crowd was all there was to the event. From where they stood, it felt like the political equivalent of Seinfeld, a show famously described as being "about nothing." The signs participants carried were, as coverage has noted, all over the map and frequently off the wall. The most consistent political message the moms noted was support for legalizing marijuana. We are down with that idea, kids, but its prominence at the Rally for Sanity left the impression that the politics of the event, such as they were, were a hollow libertarianism that strikes us as inadequate to the urgencies of the present. It's impressive that Stewart and Colbert were able to draw such an enormous crowd to the nation's most sacred political/civic space, but to us it was sad that participants were asked to do so little once they got there. "Don't litter," Stewart repeatedly implored the crowd. Cute, Jon. Would it have killed you to tuck in a mild suggestion that folks get their sorry a$$es to the polls come Tuesday? Apparently, it would have. In remarks after the rally, Stewart rejected the idea that he should have done that, saying, "I think people should do what moves them. It's not my place to make that choice for them." Indeed, his closing words to the attendees suggest that, even in Stewart's mind, the crowd really was the point: "If you want to know why I’m here and [what] I want from you, I can only assure you this: you have already given it to me. Your presence was what I wanted" (emphasis added).

Media prof Jeff Jarvis seems to have had a better experience on the ground than the moms did, and his commentary (H/T Dog-Eared Book) offers a more optimistic takeaway than we can offer here. Jarvis is right to call out coverage of the event that dismisses it as mere entertainment. It wasn't that, but as a political action it was pretty underwhelming, even if we appreciate it as a mass act of media criticism, which we do. We saw lots of signs lambasting Fox News and other purveyors of disinformation and a few, like the one below, criticizing new media tools we habitually use:

We paid tribute recently to candlelight vigils, video campaigns, and other political gestures that may not change the world but perform the vital function of creating opportunities for people to demonstrate their determination to be kind rather than unkind. Perhaps the Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear was for those who organized it and many who attended it an event of that sort. For us, it felt unsatisfying to stand on that ground, where countless citizens, ourselves included, have stood over the years for great causes and high stakes, and to feel purposeless. Called to nothing, we groused that our cell phones couldn't find a signal that would have enabled us to call others. When the rally was over, we wandered off to the National Museum of American Art and killed time in the Norman Rockwell exhibit, chuckling mildly over the contrast between the goofy ironies of the spectacle we had witnessed on the street and the utter lack of irony in the paintings on the wall. En route, Moose snapped a last shot of the thinning crowd ambling past the National Archives. It seemed fitting to her that the people in the picture are out of focus. Alas.

Peace out, fellow citizens, and a Happy Halloween to you. And please do get your sorry a$$es to the polls come Tuesday. This morning, over coffee, Goose slammed down the Times and muttered with disgust, "Idiot voters and hapless Democrats." The remark captured the state of the nation on the precipice of this election more clearly than the thousands of words of prognostication Moose read in the WaPo over on her side of the breakfast table. Idiot voters and hapless Democrats: That's where we are, but is it where we have to be, darlings? You tell us. Please.

(Photo Credits: Moose, 10/30/10.)


  1. Tony Bennett? I can't believe that motherfucker is still alive. He must be like over a hundred fucken years old.

  2. You know, I really don't like calling voters "idiots," but when I read in one form or another voter after voter saying he or she wants public services but doesn't want taxes raised, I grow more and more frustrated unto wanting to pull my hair out. And the Dems aren't bothering to tell voters what taxes can do (besides escalate war; but it seems we carry on with that, whatever deficits are created). And the Dems don't bother to point out that everyone keeps saying "there's no money" for health care, decent schools, roads that don't damage our vehicles with their potholes, and so forth and so on, yet there seems to be plenty of money for launching yet another barrage of television ads that yak on and on spewing nasty remarks about an opponent. We are living with and in mass insanity.

    And yeah, the march sought to restore sanity. Mmm. . . .did like hearing Tony Bennett, that's for sure.

    Peace out, and VOTE ON TUESDAY. I'm voting for Moose for Governor of Maryland!

  3. Anonymous9:37 AM EDT

    Moose & Goose, thanks for the disconcertingly honest eye-witness report & commentary. I've had some, mmm, ambivalent feeling abt the march & its stated (or understated) goals, but felt too much like a curmudgeon to explore them, let alone articulate them. And hey I like to laugh as much as the next gal, and these guys are FUNNY. It is great to know so many people showed up - gives me solid hope that many of them will show up again for important things like, oh yeah, VOTING!!! See you at the polls.


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