Leadership focuses on others

[See video here…Viacom pulled YouTube video above]

When you have really touched co-workers’ lives, when you have helped people grow by nurturing them and fostering their inherent talents, when you have taught people through example, then and only then can you walk away knowing that you have done a good job.

Anyone can shill the product or service that your organization offers, but it takes a special person to see beyond his or her ego and know that it’s about others and making the world a better place.

Looking forward to your next adventures, Jon. Thank you.

It gets to us all – Jon Stewart

jon_stewart-chin

For many of us, programs like The Daily Show were our weekly bulwark against the insanity of clashing cultures and ideologies or against insanity itself. Regardless of your personal sociopolitical leanings, shows like this one help many of us to see that we are not going insane or losing our hearing, that the bizarre ironies of peoples’ words and actions are not just figments of our imaginations.

Cain and Abel

Cain and Abel

But where most of us simply allowed the insanity to flow over us and healed our wounds in the salve that was satirical comedy and commiseration, the world’s woes wear on the people who bring us this salve. Such, I think, was the case this week with the announcement that Jon Stewart will shortly hand the reins of The Daily Show to another.

A couple of months ago, I tweeted Jon and The Daily Show to express my concern about his health, both mental and physical. Over the last several months, it seemed that each episode of the program was taking more and more out of the host, that he had to fight to maintain his composure. And he seemed to be losing that fight.

Aging sucks

Several times, his personal comments on recent events bordered on screeching rants, as though the nuanced commentaries we had witnessed for the past 17 years required too much of him. On other occasions, he almost seemed to throw his hands into the air and with a head-bobbing sigh, surrender to the madness that swirled around us all.

Jon Stewart seemed tired, and if not broken, at least seemed wounded.

And please, this is not a condemnation or expression of disappointment. The man has clearly earned his weariness and wounds. (Too Jewy to say he took on our sins?)

Nice hat...where's my chocolate?

Nice hat…where’s my chocolate?

Even the strongest metal abrades to nothingness if repeatedly and relentlessly thrown against a stone wall that seems to regenerate itself at will. For every monolith of stupidity or cruelty that The Daily Show tackled through humour, a dozen others formed behind it. And the show kept pushing.

And so, as much as he will be missed, Jon Stewart will step aside and begin the healing process, while the show will become what it will become under the guidance of another.

Tracey+Stewart+Jon+Stewart+Family+Walking

As he expressed in his announcement, the first part of that healing will likely be him reinforcing his roles as Dad and Husband. Eventually, will we see him back on stage performing stand-up (sure, we all say we’ll go to the gym)? And after that, who knows? (As long as it’s not acting…dear god, Jon, NO!)

The man has earned his rest, and we will applaud and cheer and cry as he walks out the door (and about two weeks later, we’ll start pitching screenplay ideas to you).

Coming to a theatre near you (please, please, please)

Coming to a theatre near you (please, please, please)

Be well, Jon Stewart, and thank you.

Does satire lead to social change?

chaplin dictator

I love good satire. I am a massive fan of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and early seasons of This Hour Has 22 Minutes. I’ve always thought that satire was a wonderful way to point out the foibles of some aspect of society and thereby elicit change in that behaviour or belief.

The Merriam-Webster Concise Encyclopedia defines satire as:

“Artistic form in which human or individual vices, folly, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque, irony, or other methods, sometimes with an intent to bring about improvement.”

But a recent video posted by a friend on Facebook has caused me to question the idea that satire can lead to real change. The video was a short piece performed by recently deceased Mike Nichols and Elaine May that mockingly celebrated the mediocrity of television.

The piece was performed in 1959…55 years ago…and yet I wonder if the piece isn’t more salient now in the multichannel, multivehicle universe.

Listen to the audience. They’re eating it up. They know it’s true and yet so few of them likely did anything to reduce the mediocrity of television.

Has The Colbert Report done anything to cut into the viewing audience of Bill O’Reilly? Or The Daily Show seriously impacted the rhetoric spewing out of Fox News?

After the first couple seasons of ambushing politicians on Parliament Hill with their satirical antics and challenges, 22 Minutes suffered through a period where politicians practically ambushed the performers. To be seen to be able to take a joke was good for political business, thus neutering the whole point of the satire.

In contrast, there was a recent piece on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight about the Miss America scholarship program that showed the pageant was exaggerating in its claim to be the largest provider of scholarships to women. When it turned out that despite the bogus claim, Miss America still did provide scholarships to more women than several other pro-women organizations, those organizations stepped up their game. But such tit-for-tat examples are rare.

So, the question becomes, is satire anything more than entertainment for a group of common-thinking people who feel otherwise powerless? Has it ever been anything more than that?

I’m going to spend some time looking for examples where satire can be linked to social change, and I welcome input from anyone. So, please throw in your thoughts and come on back to see where I’ve landed.

And, even if I decide it really is simply a form of entertainment, I will likely continue to enjoy it as I would any other art form for which I have a fondness.

But I’ll be interested to see what I come up with.

war room

Agenda journalism – Wendy Mesley v Jon Stewart

One of these people is a "serious journalist" (Wendy Mesley; Jon Stewart)

One of these people is a “serious journalist” (Wendy Mesley; Jon Stewart)

As I practice the art of writing (e.g., novels, screenplays), I pay my bills by writing for the pharmaceutical trade publication DDNews. I consider myself more of an essayist and commentator more than a journalist, mainly because I have too much respect for journalists and the tightrope they walk balancing the need to produce a story and discover a story.

With that respect, however, comes a certain level of expectation, and in too many high-profile cases, those expectations are not being met.

The most recent case for me (and the prompt for this post) was an interview between CBC journalist and anchor Wendy Mesley and film director and host of The Daily Show Jon Stewart, who appeared on CBC’s The National on November 14.

CBC The National interview with Jon Stewart (Nov 14) (video)

The interview used as evidence Bahari worked with spies

The interview used as evidence Bahari worked with spies (Jason Jones, Maziar Bahari)

Ostensibly, the interview was meant to discuss Stewart’s new movie Rosewater  (trailer at bottom) and the events that led to the incarceration of journalist Maziar Bahari in Iran, the interrogation of whom involved video of Bahari’s discussions with a The Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones.

Ironically, the interview became an attempted interrogation of Stewart on his culpability in Bahari’s incarceration and torture, and the broader question of satire feeding the flames of fanaticism.

To his credit, while dismissing the questions as ridiculous, Stewart responded to them with logic and tried to look at the bigger picture. Mesley, however, could not be shaken from her belief that there must be guilt and culpability.

This is where I take issue.

Although I believe it is important for a journalist to know what she wants to talk about when interviewing someone, I also believe it is beholden on the journalist to let the conversation happen and see where it goes.

When I interview someone for one of my news articles, I start with a list of questions based on my research of the topic and the person/organization being interviewed. Going in, I have an agenda.

But when the interview starts, most of those questions fall by the wayside and are replaced by bigger, more important discussions that I didn’t foresee. In short, I listen to what the interviewee has to tell me and then adjust the conversation.

I completely understand that if someone is being evasive on a topic, a journalist may want to harder press a specific topic or series of questions, but in the Stewart interview, there was no evasion. He simply did not give the answers Mesley wanted, and she refused to accept them, as she is wont on many pieces throughout her years with the CBC.

Delightfully, toward the end of their conversation, Stewart called her on this, accusing her of not believing anything he said. She clearly did not do her homework on him, because she was uncomfortable with his challenge.

Sadly, this meant that the interview became about the interview and not the subjects that might have been vastly more interesting and were decidedly more important: political fanaticism, satire as a weapon, the erosion of journalism (ironically), human endurance.

An opportunity for insightful exchange was largely missed (Stewart did his best to talk about these things).

For anyone who thinks you might be interviewed at some point in your lifetime, study Stewart’s approach to this interview and any other.

For anyone who thinks you might become a journalist, study Mesley’s approach to this interview and pull a Costanza…do the opposite.

There are too many important issues to be discussed in the news to have the conversation high-jacked by a faulty agenda.

In the meantime, if Mesley wants to be an editorialist or commentator, do so. The CBC has several (e.g., Rex Murphy).

 

PS Some might argue that because I work for a trade publication, my questions are apt to be softball as the publication’s agenda is to suck up to the industry. One: I call bullshit. And two: read my stuff.

Happier times well after the events of Rosewater

Happier times well after the events of Rosewater (Jason Jones, Maziar Bahari)

See also: