Stewart and Colbert Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the National Mall
A warm-up performance by The Roots and John Legend, a collective seismic jump led by Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters”, and a poetry reading by Law & Order’s Sam Waterston; these were just a few of the spectacles rally-goers were treated to at John Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear”. The comedian-turned-pundit and the media satirist took the National Mall by storm last Saturday, in an event that seemed to counterpoint Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally from two months prior.
“We have over 10 million people!” quipped Stewart following the National Anthem—a clear jab at Beck, who claimed some 500,000 people had attended his rally, even after AirPhotosLive.com released an estimate of 87,000. The same company now approximates 215,000 concerned citizens showed up to restore sanity. That’s one in the win column for Stewart and Colbert.
Rally participants came bearing an assortment of signs, most of which poked fun at the divisive, partisan nature of politics of late. “I want my country back! Or a pony…One of the two”; “The Death Star was an outside job, and so was 9/11”; “I fought Nazis, and they don’t look like Obama.” Others were aimed directly at the Tea Party, such as “Teatards”; “O’Donnell turned me into a newt!”; “The Mad Hatter called. He wants his Tea Party back.”
With the audience setting the rally’s jocular tone, Stewart and Colbert set to work drawing laughter. As with any show, the duo’s sketches were hit and miss, and sound was an issue in the far reaches of the audience. The artist formerly known as Cat Stevens, introduced by Stewart as Yusuf Islam, began to sing “Peace Train” before being interrupted by Ozzy Osbourne. At Colbert’s behest, the self-proclaimed Prince of Darkness started performing “Crazy Train.” A musical deul ensued, culminating with the O’Jays performing their conciliatory hit “Love Train,” much to the crowd’s amusement.
Following the musical routine, Stewart began presenting Medals of Reasonableness to those individuals who exemplified rational thought. Not to be outdone, Colbert countered with his Stephen Colbert Fear Awards, one of which went to ABC, CBS, AP, NYT, and NPR for disallowing employees not covering the rally from attending. A 7-year-old girl accepted the award on their behalf, on the grounds that she exhibited “more courage.” Regrettably, the final musical act, consisting of Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, and T.I. (audio only), was rather anticlimactic. This was followed by a less than stellar exit by Colbert, who once again interrupted Stewart as he began his “keynote speech.” Though Colbert’s video montage highlighting the fear-mongering tactics of the media was hysterical, melting like the Wicked Witch of the West after Peter Pan (John Oliver) convinced the audience to cheer for Stewart, was odd even for them.
Fortunately, the rally took a turn for the serious immediately after, with Stewart delivering a heartfelt address. In it, he expressed optimism for the future: “We live now in hard times, but these are not end times.” Still, Stewart condemned the fractured media environment. He knocked, “The country’s 24-hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder.” He continued, “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”
Though he did not name names, Stewart’s distaste for media figures like Beck was evident. While his message was not explicitly tilted, this has not stopped the mainstream media from speculating as to his political agenda.
In a post-rally press conference, Stewart and Colbert stressed that the purpose of the rally, first and foremost, was to entertain. Said Stewart, “We’re proud of the show we did. You can’t control people’s reaction to it.” Downplaying the rally’s political undertones, Colbert commented on the audience, “They were there to have fun. They were there to play a game along with us.” Nevertheless, the debate over the rally’s political influence will surely continue, particularly as it pertains to the events surrounding Election Day.