Jon Stewart changed my life. Some say he changed the American culture. Some (crazies) believe he redirected the course of our country through secret meetings with Obama.
I have to be honest. Politics used to bore me. I’m not stupid, but it was difficult for me to pay attention to the news. I felt as if I had missed so much by ignoring current events during high school and college, and now it was impossible to catch up. Stories built on previous concepts or events were beyond my reach. This is embarrassing, but I was politically illiterate (which is kind of strange for a college graduate with a reading addiction).
Soon after graduation, I started watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. The Daily Show especially brought news to me in digestible pieces. It made politics and important world events interesting, funny, and relevant to me. I cannot overstate Jon Stewart’s ability to make me laugh out-loud (rare for me while watching TV). Jon Stewart could make me passionate about things that no one else could have, such as corporate tax evasion. It’s not that tax evasion didn’t matter before Jon Stewart, it’s just that no one else had talked about it in a way that helped me see WHY it mattered.
I watched The Daily Show pretty much every day during dinner (I don’t have cable). At first it was a way to laugh and unwind after a long day of grad school, internship, or work. It started to become something more. I started reading the news on my own, looking at what I read more critically, checking for hypocrisy and over-hype. I began to care deeply about certain political issues and began engaging in more political discussions. I researched more carefully who I voted for on Election Day (not even the big every four years election so you know it’s serious!). Jon Stewart changed me.
But I was also ready for him to leave.
I started to be excited when I heard about some event or piece of news. (“Oh my gosh, what is Jon Stewart going to say about this?!”) I started to become angry when he was angry about something, excited when he was excited about something. I loved his show so much that it was difficult to separate my admiration for him from what I actually believed about an issue. I became guilty of trusting The Daily Show for my news, even while Stewart was telling me not to blindly trust other news channels.
Towards the end of his show, it seemed like he was growing bitter and frustrated with the world and the political system. Pessimism and bitterness are qualities I can take on far too quickly on my own without watching more of it every weekday. He lost some of his optimism over the years, understandably so. But my generation still needs hope if we are going to work towards the changes that Stewart believes we need so much.
I say all of this, while I still have the greatest respect and admiration for this man and will miss his show dearly. He encouraged me and my peers to dig deeper, to challenge the media, to embrace the perspectives of those who are not heard. He had correspondents on his show from a variety of religious, gender, racial, and cultural backgrounds which is one of the biggest and most groundbreaking successes (in my opinion) of the show. I think he would be happy to know that I don’t need him anymore and that he has sparked a passion for honesty, justice, and change in me and many others.
He said it best on his last show: “The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something.” I can only speak for myself, but he helped me learn to do this. And I’m glad he is going to get the hard-earned rest he deserves after sixteen years of fighting the bullshit.