By: BRENDAN McDANIEL
New academic year, new column title, same amateur columnist doing whatever he can to throw a wrench in conventional journalism and reporting. Welcome back to school, everybody!
Before I have to cover any bigger stories this year, and before I hear one more thing about the Sony-Disney breakup and have a stress-induced heart attack, I want to talk about why I do what I do here with my recurring columns. If you’ve been following my work since last semester, you’ll have noticed that I write and report with a pretty unconventional style. Despite being a pop-culture columnist, I try to find the actual news stories and greater cultural significance of the topics I cover, and when I do put out columns that have more reporting than one might expect, I tend to tackle actual news with a very liberally applied dose of humor and snark.
Part of the reason for that is that this is the way I interpret the world around me. I like to learn and understand the world, and often it’s hard for me to do that without finding something to have a laugh about in any given story.
I see this as both a weakness and a strength of mine; while laughing through the pain is more often than not off-putting to most people, I find that it allows me to work through tragedy faster and lets me get right back to doing something about the horrifying events that seem completely inescapable in the news. While people much smarter than I can argue for the rest of time whether that’s a product of who I am or the environment I grew up in, I know that I have one person in particular to either thank or blame for this attitude, and his name is Jon Stewart.
Let’s jump back in time a few years. I’d never picked up a paper, except to read the occasional comic, I never watched the news outside of whatever talk show my parents had on in the background, and I certainly never imagined that I’d end up writing for a newspaper and distributing my questionable thoughts and opinions to an audience.
Like most middle-schoolers would likely have thought, news was a boring thing that some adults knew about because it was important and they were supposed to know about (in theory). Scrolling through YouTube and having nothing better to do, on account of me having been a loser with no friends, I saw a video of a man in a suit sitting at a desk with an important-looking logo. Since it looked like news to me, I figured I’d get a head start on doing what I was supposed to. Again, loser.
The video I had found was a clip called “The Daily Show – Burn Noticed,” a 2014 segment in which Jon Stewart discusses a climate march in New York City while decrying the American government’s general incompetence in addressing the very real and very present danger of climate change.
There’s not much special about that clip on its own; it’s a pretty standard take down of whatever major events happened to be going on at the time, delivered with Stewart’s usual blend of snark and comical exasperation. However, I would argue that that clip changed the course of my life. I had never laughed so hard at what was supposed to be news.
The concept was something completely new to me at the time; as a pre-teen kid, the list of things that are fun and entertaining, and the list of things that are for adults and that you need to know about one day generally have no overlap. At that age, it was hard to even imagine having fun doing something that you know you’re supposed to do. But there I was, keeping up to date on current events and having an absolute blast doing it.
In the following weeks, I binged episode after episode of The Daily Show, completely enraptured by the way Stewart handled his approach to the news. It’s a comedy show first and foremost, certainly, but that never seemed to stop Stewart from doing everything he could to ensure that his audience was not just informed, but thinking critically about the information being presented to them.
That sense of comedy being used as an educational tool is something that has become very dear to me. It’s what I hope to accomplish with this column, and with a career in news in general.