This is Jon Stewart’s last day on The Daily Show. I will miss his humor but most of all I will miss his insight. He loved to skewer politicians and policies but I watched his show because he saw past incidents to uncover intent. One of my favorite recent examples was when Stewart called out the news media for repeatedly showing the images of the murders of Black men as entertainment for the masses. In a piece that preceded Freddie Grey and Sandra Bland, he made the point that using video of the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Eric Harris, 12-year-old Tamir Rice and many other African Americans as background, or wallpaper, for newscasts inures us to the fact that these are images of the last seconds of human life, not just fodder for the 24-hour news cycle.
News coverage fills the airwaves, and our minds, with a steady and unbalanced diet of primarily negative images of people of color; in altercations with the law, face down in the street after their lives are taken, families contorted in anger, grief and pain. The explanation or justification of just why and how this happened comes later — if it comes at all. However the image leaves an impression that endures. When violence is all we see of people of color, that is what we know of people of color and, when that is all we know, that is all we can see. Fortunately, there are people like Jon Stewart who can see past all of that, however most don’t command a half hour of television every night.
Images are how we learn about each other – that picture is worth a thousand words thing. When images are edited to exclude everything except the negative, it is impossible to see the wisdom and beauty of Black women, the dignity and grace of Black men, the elegance and power of a Black ballerina, the brushstroke of an artist of color, the excitement of young black scholar. All of this and more is supplanted by the media’s targeted focus on Black bodies dead or dying in the street. In the words of Marshall McLuhan, “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and our tools shape us.” We need advocates in media so that the focus on people of color can broaden, the picture can be reframed, the dialogue redirected.
Jon Stewart, in his unique way helped encompass more of what we are as a nation. Thank you, for seventeen years of training your well-focused lens on the essential picture of America. We will miss your wit, wisdom, whimsy and your heart. As you leave to explore other opportunities, please continue to share your valuable insight with us – if not nightly then as often as you can. You are the kind of advocate America needs.