On the Media's own PJ Vogt wrote a story for our new blog TLDR about the difficulty outlets like The Onion and The Daily Show are having finding humor in the situation in Syria as it becomes more complex. Bob talks to PJ about what the outlets are doing wrong, and how they can improve.
BOB GARFIELD: We started this conversation with the Daily Show, and funny thing about that or, actually, at least according to TLDR blogger PJ Vogt, something not funny about that. Vogt says that when it comes to Syria, both Jon Stewart and the satirical paper, The Onion, always reliable at framing the news better than the news, have suddenly fallen flat.
PJ VOGT: I think that our nation's satirists are letting us down on Syria. I think that The Onion, who are super hawkish, are doing weirdly one-note bad humor on this. And I think Jon Stewart, who’s incredibly dovish, is doing badly one-note anti-intervention pieces.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, give me some Onion headlines to make your case.
PJ VOGT: So The Onion had, “’Help Has To Be On The Way Now,’ Thinks Syrian Man Currently Being Gassed.” “Obama Deeply Concerned After Syrian Gassed to Death on White House Lawn.” “Syrians’ lives are worthless,” Obama tells daughters, before kissing them goodnight. There’s sort of a theme.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay PJ. Now, comedy, obviously, is subjective, but you say these are objectively unfunny. Why?
PJ VOGT: Well, because they sort of rely on a much simpler version of reality than the one we’re living in. I mean, all these Onion articles are premised on the idea that the case for intervention is very clear, that as soon as we get there the slaughter will stop. I don't think even the people who are proposing intervention are saying that.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, let’s talk about the Daily Show. We played some tape from John Stewart's screed –
PJ VOGT: Yeah.
BOB GARFIELD: - a little earlier. You’ve got another cut.
JON STEWART: You can’t use chemicals to use your own people. You have to do it organically.
America and the world want to make sure Assad uses only locally-sourced free long-ranged lead ordinance.
Now, back in the early ’80s, we knew Iraq had used chemical weapons against Iran, were likely to use them again, and not only did we not attack them, we supported Iraq in doing that. And, of course, we still reserve the right to use bunker-busters, cluster bombs, and the Mark 77, which is not, not filled with napalm, technically.
PJ VOGT: Okay, so with Jon Stewart I think it’s a little more complicated. He is against intervention, and so he makes this big case where he points out a lot of things that are true, that we’re hypocritical, that we've actually - previous administrations have looked the other way on chemical weapons, that we use horrible weapons. But there is still this idea that maybe we don't want to live in a world where tyrants are allowed to gas their own people, and that maybe it's worth intervening for that reason. It's weird to alight that whole debate in the service of making a stronger case.
BOB GARFIELD: So you're saying that comedy, especially political humor, has to obey the same rules of intellectual honesty that, that, say, we do.
PJ VOGT: Yeah, for my money they do, and especially topical political humor. I mean, you can do it the cheap way. You can make jokes about the argument you wish the other side were making. But the reason that, I think, we cherish The Onion, the reason we cherish Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert is that typically they don't do that. And I - I wish they’d sort of get back to the standard I feel like I'm used to, with Syria.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, now I knew you were gonna say all this stuff ‘cause I read it on your blog. TLDR. PJ, pray, what is TLDR?
PJ VOGT: Too Long, Didn’t Read. It’s what people post after incredibly long articles to either complain or just sort of like preface a summary.
BOB GARFIELD: Right, and you have expropriated that Internet lingo for the blog, which does what?
PJ VOGT: Okay, so you know how the radio show that you host has a website?
BOB GARFIELD: Yes, onthemedia.org.
PJ VOGT: But we never post anything on it.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, there’s that.
PJ VOGT: So we’re posting things on the website now. We’re posting really good blog posts every day, multiple times a day. It’s text and audio and video. Alex Goldman – you know that guy?
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, yeah, I know that guy.
PJ VOGT: He and I are putting out weekly audio, and we are hoping that listeners will visit it and let us know what they think and what they like and what they hate.
BOB GARFIELD: We are a multi-platform media technology and – civil liberties clearinghouse, one-stop shopping.
PJ VOGT: You’re damn right!
BOB GARFIELD: All right, PJ, thanks – again.
PJ VOGT: Thanks, Bob.
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BOB GARFIELD: PJ Vogt is a producer for On the Media and a blogger for our very own – TLDR.