Laughs are exactly as honorable as tears. Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion, to the futility of thinking and striving anymore. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward – and since I can start thinking and striving again that much sooner.
Looking back at the events that unfolded later that day in Blacksburg, I have to question if this is always true. There is plenty of absurdity in that tragedy, but little to laugh at.
I did, however, smile upon reading a recent piece by Ethics Daily’s Bob Allen on a Pew Research Center poll comparing Fox “News” watchers to fans of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. (Sorry, I always have to put sarcasm quotes around “news” when it’s next to the word Fox.)
Along with education, income and political interest, researchers found where people get their news had a significant impact on how much they know. Fifty-four percent of those ranked with high knowledge of current events said they watched “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” with Stephen Colbert, the same percentage as readers of major newspaper Web sites and one point ahead of “News Hour with Jim Lehrer” on PBS.
That compared to 35 percent in the high-knowledge category that get their news from Fox and/or their local TV news and 34 percent who watch network morning shows.
Daily Show and Report fans shouldn’t be too smug, however:
Other programs with a high percentage of very knowledgeable viewers and listeners included “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News (51 percent) and Rush Limbaugh’s radio show (50 percent).
Still, it would seem that smart and funny beats smart and mean 54% to 51%. There is hope. The poll apparently makes no mention of Fox’s attempt at satire, The 1/2 Hour News Hour, likely because it contains neither news nor humor.
But even – or especially – during a week like this, I guess I still agree with Vonnegut about laughter. As I wrote in Sojourners a few years back about The Daily Show: “Satire can be a vital tonic to those numbed by current events—a way of engaging the powers that be without going crazy.”
We need that medicine now more than ever. Get a double dose with an archive clip of Jon Stewart’s interview of Vonnegut – showing his age, but still plenty of edge.
Ryan Rodrick Beiler is the Web Editor for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.