Peace Trains, Crazy Trains, Love Trains and automobiles at Stewart rally
It was all about the trains.
The highlight of the Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear, headlined by the comedic duo of Stephen Colbert's bloviating, bombastic pundit and Jon Stewart, America's straight man, was a clash that occurred towards the middle of the afternoon, between two trains. There was a surprise showdown between The Artist Formerly Known as Cat Stevens and The Shambling, Addled-Looking Man Formerly Known as Ozzy Osborne, singing the two songs about trains that made them famous. "Get on the peace train," Yusuf Islam sang, before he was interrupted by Ozzy Osborne, "going off the rails on a crazy train."
Each song epitomized what the two "rallies" were about -- Stewart's peaceable, go-along, get-along, "I-Disagree-With-You-But-I'm-Pretty-Sure-You're-Not-Hitler" ethos versus the high-octane bombast that fuels Colbert's pundit persona. For both of them, the crowd went wild -- swaying back and forth and making peace signs for "Peace Train," and throwing up horns in the air during "Crazy Train." Each song generated wild enthusiasm. But neither was adequate for the whole crowd.
Finally, Colbert and Stewart backed down and compromised -- Love Train. The O-Jays poured onto the stage and the crowd cheered -- wildly, perhaps without the same intensity they'd generated for the Prince of Darkness, but with deep and mutual contentment. Everyone joined in and started a love train.
They could have ended the rally right there.
The rest of it was all right. It ran the gamut -- a pre-taped skit about merchandise, apologies from famous over-reactors like Steven Slater and someone named Theresa Giudice ("I'm proud I don't know who that is," someone near me observed), awards for people who had embodied sanity (robbed perfect-game pitcher Armando Gallaraga) or fear-mongering (Anderson Cooper's tight black t-shirt, mainstream media outlets who had refused to allow staff members to attend). A highlight was when the Koran-snatching skater behind Dude, You Have No Koran received a sanity-promotion medal and flung it into the audience. Colbert and Stewart sang a humorous (and grammatical!) duet extolling their virtues as Americans, Stewart attempting to lampoon the elitist coastal liberals with jokes about his hybrid car and gay marriage ("I'd marry Uncle Sam if I could do it legally") and Colbert singing about the "shores of Kentucky."
There was an entertaining prayer from SNL's Father Guido Sarducci. There was a song by Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, and TI, basically in favor of benign apathy -- "I can't make the world fair. All I can do -- is care." One characteristic that seemed to unify the crowd seemed to be an indifference bordering on contempt for Sheryl Crow. (Seriously, does anyone go to her concerts any more? I feel like she just wanders the continental united states forcing herself on gatherings of more than eight people. "This is a family reunion," people retort. "Now it's a family reunion for awareness!" she responds, whipping out a guitar and making a sound that approximates the noise a cat would make if you were performing an exorcism on it.)
The showdown between Colbert, the monger of fear, and Stewart, the voice of reason, revealed them to be better-matched as opponents than might have been initially apparent.
And when it wasn't about the trains, it was about the cars.
The keynote address that concluded the rally, a rare moment of sincerity from Jon Stewart, returned to America's favorite overused metaphor -- the car. The grotesque mistreatment of this piece of imagery has led me to run around screaming: "Forget the walrus! Save the metaphor!" Nowadays, transportation metaphors are on the verge of extinction due to overuse. They are bent and broken and potholed, similar to America's infrastructure itself. Take the keys? Keep the keys? President Obama has toured the country talking about taking away the car keys, driving cars into ditches, riding shotgun, riding in the back seat, specifying everything about the mythical car of America except who has to get out and change the oil every 3,000 miles.
But Stewart took the imagery in a new direction. There were trains, sure -- crazy and peace and the kind that takes you to Lynchburg, Virginia on Saturdays. On trains, people either ignore you or collar you and try to tell you stories from their childhoods. This -- and their tendency to break down and become hot -- is why most Americans avoid them. Instead, we drive cars.
During his keynote address Stewart showed footage of cars merging into a tunnel. Most people, Stewart pointed out, don't live their days defined by the confines of their ideologies. They are conservative and liberal, but, asked to define themselves, they choose other words -- doctor, lawyer, mother, father, rap lover, philatelist -- rather than, say, Fabian Socialist. They spend their days keeping the country going, driving from one spot to another, working together across the aisle -- not with a grand flourish, but because that's the way life tends to operate.
The point of the rally, as it turned out, was that there was no real need for a rally. Most of us are, as Stewart noted, relatively sane. The image in the media is the world in a funhouse mirror. If the rally did nothing else, it reassured us that there were people out there like that. True, they were mostly liberal. They weren't free of partisanship or completely reasonable. Many, by all appearances, were aging hippies. And quite a few of the signs jeered at Fox news rather than transcending the need for this sort of jeering.
But most people seemed to grasp the rally's hoped-for point. The fighter Mick Foley stated it well: if he spotted anyone being less than reasonable, he vowed, "I will jump out there like a righteous bolt of thunder and -- ask you to be polite to each other."
Perhaps Stewart unfairly demonized cable news, the mainstream media, and the people who use their magnifying glass not to bring truth into focus but to "light ants on fire." But as he pointed out, we are Americans. We are proud. And in spite of all the shouting and distraction, we manage to muddle through somehow. Even in traffic.
| October 30, 2010; 6:44 PM ET
Categories: Petri, Reality? Television, Tea Party | Tags: Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, cars, rally, trains
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