October 31, 2010

Reporter’s Notebook: Ralliers Bring the ‘Show’ to Stewart Rally in D.C.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Only after mounting a cluster of Porta Potties did Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear come into clear view — an enveloping landscape of necks, costumes and posters straining up against the crisp D.C. sky. Atop the toilets, a group of bearded Proposition 19 — which is on the ballot in California to allow the recreational use of marijuana — supporters worked diligently to match the latrines’ putrid fumes with a pungent haze of their own. An older couple from Woodstock, N.Y., talked wistfully about bygone protests, sprawled across the feces-filled foundation.The rest of our Porta Potty pals hollered at the recently-christened “Man In The Tree,” who had found another way to see over the multitudes. “Are you God?” “How much shrubbery do you demand of us?” “Trees are people, too!” they shouted playfully at Mary Washington University sophomore John Ball — until, to general booing, the police forced him to come down.It seems safe to guess that for a great many of the rally’s 200,000 estimated attendees — and for this reporter — the real entertainment of the day was not Stewart and Colbert’s show. Far off in the distance, their performance merely formed a backdrop to the day’s true main event: an orgy of comic release on the national mall.While many rally-goers struggled to hear the show itself, they still took away valuable experiences.“It was very difficult to hear,” said Jeff Roshko ’11, adding that going to the rally was “worth it” nonetheless.  Mary Fischer, 17, who drove down from Indiana with her family, admitted she had been unable to hear most of the rally. Matt Ritter said he “could not hear anything,” but was similarly glad to have attended the rally. And yet, although not all heard their words Saturday, Stewart and Colbert’s ideas radiated in a more important sense across the city, making the nation’s capitol a kind of show itself.It was broadcast on the host of ironic signs — “I Support the Sign I’m Holding,” “(Verb)!/(The)/(Noun)!” “Angry Sign” — that formed the rally’s skyline, the comedians’ followers matching their idols joke-for-joke.Or, if you climbed high enough, you could see the show from Stewart and Colbert themselves, staging a discussion with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and R2-D2 about moderate Islam.Precisely classifying the central idea — or philosophy — of this show is probably impossible, even for its creators. But central to its aim is, as was articulated in Stewart’s final speech, a critique of the perceived hysteria and divisiveness on both sides of modern politics and an attempt to respond through humor.Still, despite the comedians’ paeans to centrism and non-partisanship, the rally had an undeniably left-of-center tilt, a last liberal gasp before the Democrats’ expected trouncing in Tuesday’s midterm elections.Many of the signs displayed the liberal opinions of the rally attendees. “Decaffinate the Tea Party,” one sign read. “When I think about Christine O’Donnell I touch myself” and “Reality has a well-known liberal bias” said others.Yet simply saying Stewart and Colbert used a non-partisan guise to advance a liberal rally is also an oversimplification of the day’s purpose and function. Atop the Porta Potties, I could see couples kissing, toddlers chasing each other and random strangers stopping to grin at each other’s signs, t-shirts and costumes. Unifying them was a belief that, for one day, for a couple of hours, scare tactics had been defeated — that a sea of jokes had replaced a sea of fear, and that everything was, in the end, going to be okay. And that message, true or not, transcended left-right politics.“We live in hard times, not end times,” Stewart said toward the end of the rally. At that line my friends atop the porta potty turned, at once forgot the distraction Stewart’s speech posed, and applauded raucously.

Original Author: Jeff Stein