My family moved to New York City when I was 14 years old, leaving behind our comfortable and tranquil home in Hong Kong for the busy bustle of the Big Apple. My mum had been sent by the Hong Kong government to work in their regional office in NYC, in charge of promoting Hong Kong as a prime economic and trade partner to American businesses and governments.
This move to the USA marked my first interactions with politics and current affairs. Keen to integrate myself into a new country and culture, I incessantly ingested the output of the mediums of television, radio and print media. What struck me was not just the weird accents, slang and vernacular I was seeing and hearing, but also the content of what was often being discussed and debated. I became aware that politics dominated the public discourse in American society like no other topic. I remember thinking how politics pervaded almost every level of mainstream American culture, even manifesting itself in my favourite shows like The Simpsons and South Park.
In fact, my first experience of the Daily Show was a result of my addiction to South Park at the time. One random night at 10:59pm, as a hilarious episode of South Park ended, I left the TV on, and on came the Daily Show.
Looking back, I recognise that the passion I have now for politics and social affairs was borne out of moving to the States, a major catalyst being this show. Even though I can’t outright say that Stewart’s fake news program was the reason for my passion for politics, it certainly was the nanny of my nascent interest and fascination, if not the delivery nurse herself.
My first experience of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart was not a self-conscious moment of epiphany. I remember thinking – why is this greying man making weird noises between clips of real news? What is this show? It looked and sounded like a news program, except for the jokes, laughs, applause, interviews, set, host, graphics etc. It was unlike anything I had ever watched before, and it seemed so out of place on Comedy Central, a network I associated with irreverent cartoons, fart and dick jokes. I remember being mesmerised by Stewart, not only for how funny he was, but what he was making fun of.
In Hong Kong, there was and still is a monopoly on news, one station dominating all the airwaves. Every evening, middle aged men intoned the happenings of the day while interspersed graphics and statistics visually depicted these intonations with equal gravitas. There was no debate, opinion or ideas. Bias existed, but in its worst form – editorial and institutional bias, instead of the more honourable bias of viewpoint and belief. People watched the news and accepted it.
That was what the Daily Show revealed to me. That bias and bullshit is everywhere, and that if I believed everything I see, hear and read, I’d simply become a talking-point bobble-head caricature of what is incessantly spewed out by the news programs. As a 14 year old, it was almost liberating to learn that just because people look smart and sound smart and write smart does not mean that they are telling the truth, or that they are tackling an issue honestly and fairly. Stewart taught me to see outside the box, the bigger picture, the other side of the story.
What I loved about Stewart was certainly not his political views. Absolutely not. As I became a Daily-Show-Addict, I would often find myself arguing with him, shouting at the TV, on controversial issues like abortion and race. Our political views often did not align. What I did love about him and the show was his intolerance of hypocrisy and insincerity. He did not hate people who disagreed with him, as long as they were sincere and steadfast in their convictions e.g. he always respected Bill O’Reilly and Chris Wallace, the Fox presenters. He taught me to respect different views and opinions, and be informed and sincere in my own – not to be unwavering in my own beliefs, but to be open and tolerant to other perspectives.
So I say, thank you Jon Stewart. You are why I am reading political science at university. You were why I first loved to watch the news, to learn about current affairs. This is an understated achievement of Stewart’s tenure on the Daily Show. Even if you don’t agree with his views or his politics, you cannot deny the fact that he got his viewers to care about politics and society. Many complain that he was “brainwashing” young Americans with his liberal agenda, but you know what? That’s better than young people not caring about politics and society at all.