Parts of this story are true.
Other parts, not so much.
Also there is a chance that I am not, in fact, the inspiration for "Hands Across America".
In my defense it was the 80s, and what with the fog of rum and such, the events of the time tend to merge and mingle and get in each other's pants.
If this is a problem for anyone, let me tell you in advance that as a sometimes-repentant exaggerater, to get your trust back I am willing to step right up and submit to exactly the same penalty as Brian Williams -- if it is the will of the internet, I shall stop blogging completely for six months, decline to appear on the Letterman show and collect a mere $5M while I stand in the corner and take it like a man.
Just wanted to get that out of the way up front.
See, once upon a time, back when I was a wee driftglass, my brother and I shared an apartment, and for awhile our primary means of transportation was his aging Camaro, which he bought from my then-soon-to-be former girlfriend for, as I recall, nine dollars and half a bag of sub-par weed.
And let me tell you, he got every inch of Detroit rolling stock value that he paid for!
For example, on more than once morning, when I had missed the train to the Big City because I had stayed up far too late reading Pilgrim's Progress to poor orphans (or so I recall) we piled into the beast and up I57 we would roar, rocketing like 70 along the shoulder or slaloming up and down embankments as required. And like a miracle, I would end up at the front entrance of my workplace, intact and on time, thanks to my brother's "Transporter"-like skills and his ancient Camaro.
Problem was, the car had reached that point in its life where clearly all it wanted was to return to the land of its ancestors to die. I believe that there was some pantyhose being used as a fan belt at one point. Also, there were days when I had to crawl under the beast with an Ambassador Pro blow dryer on an extension cord so I could thaw out some linkages that would seize up whenever the air temperature fell below "dang!"
I remember that that the most versatile weapon we had in our long war against automotive entropy was the Big Ass Screwdriver. On "below dang" days, sometime one had to forcibly open the choke to get it running. And one a couple of occasions, when the starter had died and there was no munnies to fix it, we used the Big Ass Screwdriver to short circuit the leads and spark the old thing to life manually.
All of my brother's hacks worked -- that they got the machine fired up and moving. But the truth of the matter was, to be inappropriately anthropomorphic, the machine didn't want to move anymore. It's basic mechanical functions were starting to fail. I've only mentioned a few of its eccentricities here for effect, but the truth was, it was getting very close to End Stage Bluesmobile Syndrome:
And although we were able to prod and limp it along for awhile, it either needed major, expensive work or a trip to the boneyard.
Which brings us to Mr. Jon Stewart.
(A point emerges...)
In this parable, our decrepit Camaro is the sorry state of journalism in America,
And Jon Stewart is our nation's Big Ass Screwdriver.
The machine itself is so fatigued and so compromised that it needs a massive overhaul, or to be chopped for parts, and everyone standing abaft of this shuddering, smoking, corrupt mess know it. And if journalism were doing the job of, y'know, journalism...they'd be reporting the hell out of it, because it is the single most important story in American politics today.
But as you all know, they don't; instead, at the first sign of controversy, they shit themselves and flee like hell in the opposite direction, abandoning their posts and leaving the rest of us to face the worst kind of corporate scuttlefish and political predators unarmed and on our own. As I wrote four years ago on the occasion of David Broder's death:
...The vehicle is broken -- rusted out, splintered axles, with enough sawdust in the oil to keep the transmission from shaking itself to pieces just long enough to pawn it off on some chump. It is beyond saving, and yet the fact remains, as shitty as it is, our democracy need this oxidizing hulk. Sure we'd like a functional, swift, maintenance-free Jetsonmobile to whiz us around in space-age, quality-information-on-demand comfort, but that's not in the cards anytime soon. Too many very powerful people have too much invested in making sure this broken-down, swayback media shitbox is our only means of mass, democratic transportation.
David Broder sired and suckled an entire generation of well-heeled, well-connected, establishmentarian insider merchants of Beltway Common Wisdom who have made a massively profitable cottage industry out of displacing honest reportage in favor of passing around empty "process" stories, vapid D.C. gossip tricked out in somber political rhetoric and the status and style updates of Very Serious People like Tennessee Williams' proverbial "dirty postcard".
And the glue that holds the whole ugly, toxic scam together is the relentless, reflexive, completely-dishonest buffering of any and all Republican crimes, treasons, hypocrisies and obscenities...of any kind...in any context...in any venue...on any given day of the week...with the Broderite mantra of "...but the Liberals": a habit so ingrained b y now in the Villager Hive Mind that the Center-Right Shill Factory known as Politico could not help but go out of its way to take a gratuitous swipe at the dirty fucking hippies in the middle of their eulogy to Mr. Broder (emphasis mine):
Broder, who grew up in Chicago and was a graduate of the University of Chicago, revered the political process and admired those he saw as rational voices focused on achieving results. That sometimes opened him up to criticism from ideologues on the left, who saw him as the epitome of conventional, inside-the-Beltway wisdom. But he also earned respect from prominent politicians on both sides of the aisle, many of whom released statements soon after news of his death was announced Wednesday.Sorry, Politico, but however much of a legend his hard, on-the-ground, sandal-leather reporting on what the Average Roman thought about the first Punic War ("Hiero II of Syracuse shoulda listened to his general onna ground!") may be, David Broder's lasting legacy is ultimately a tragic one.
For against the tide of imaginary of dirty hippies who were forever plotting to mess up his lawn, and in the name of an idolatrous worship of the God of Fake Objectivity, the Dean of the Washington press corps' most enduring contribution to his profession has been as the Patient Zero of a lethal strain of syphilitic Villager Centrism which may be more responsible than any other single factor in all-but wiping out anything resembling honest national political journalism in America.
And that is the definition of tragedy.
But we still need, somehow, to get where we're going.
And so along came Jon Stewart, four nights a week, for sixteen years, with his Big Ass Screwdriver, prying open the intakes, jump starting the engine and by sheer force of precise, comedic craftsmanship, jolting this big, dead thing back to life, just a little bit, just a few yards forward, every day.
And now he's retiring.
Well, you can't say he hasn't earned it in spades.
No one who makes his living in front of a camera has served his profession and his country more nobly and well than Jon Stewart. For 16 years, he and his merry band of geniuses have been the media's media, pointing their cameras at the very last places the Villagers want you to look and I think (as I wrote last October) that among his many other accomplishments, Jon is a big reason why the Sunday shows are in decline:
...Virtually his entire schtick has been as deceptively simple as directing our attention to our craven corporate media's own backyard, raising his eyebrow a comedically perfect increment and asking us, night after night, "Can you believe this shit?" -- if he's calling it quits, well then give him a gold watch that's visible from space, fete him as the Lou Gehrig of political satire, retire his jersey and let him go.
Jon Stewart is one of the reasons the Sunday Mouse Circus is dying. Because he and a few others do the job teh Sunday Shows are supposed to be doing -- pointing a camera at the grotesque, lethal dysfunction which Conservatives politicians and media have inflicted on this country and asking why the fuck are we allowing this to continue -- and doing it infinitely better than any one of them ever could.
But of course, the work Jon does -- planting his feet and telling the truth with twist of funny -- is the absolute mirror opposite of the business model of the network's gasbag cavalcade. The two cannot occupy the same space at the same time without something going "boom"...
He's earned it, so don't mourn.
Instead think long and hard about just how fucking terrible things have gotten in this country -- how utterly wrecked, sold out and rotten to the floorboards our media had to become -- for a comedian on a late night basic cable program to go from being very funny to being our last, best hope for American democracy.
The problem isn't that we need a new Big Ass Screwdriver.
The problem is we need a new car.