Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

(UPDATED 11/1/10)

On Saturday, my friend Jody and I traveled to Washington D.C. to attend the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, hosted by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. To watch a recording of the rally, visit the C-SPAN website here.

Jody and I drove to the Shady Grove, MD metro station, where we encountered a line of rally-goers spanning hundreds of yards out of the entrance. After nearly an hour in line, we bought tickets and boarded the insanely crowded metro to Washington D.C. As more people packed into the metro cars at each stop, we found ourselves packed like sardines until no more people could fit. Fortunately, everyone remained calm and polite despite the oppressive conditions, an auspicious portent for the day.

Once in downtown D.C., we walked outside to find the D.C. streets packed with rally goers, all streaming toward the Mall. Signs and costumes were everywhere, and the atmosphere of the city was energized. En route to the rally site, Jody and I saw a man dressed as an Indian sadhu, several Where's Waldos, and a woman dressed up as Christine O'Donnell posing next to a man dressed up as part of the male anatomy (!).

Once at the Mall, we were overwhelmed. A teeming sea of humanity was flowing into the rally, and I can honestly say I've never seen so many people in one place. The rally was so packed that agile attendees were climbing atop trees and traffic lights to get a better view. I fondly remember a guy dressed as Jesus climbing onto a traffic light as nearby attendees cheered. A woman passing by shouted, "Jesus gonna get arrested!" A police officer chuckled and admitted, "I'm not arresting Jesus. I have to go to church tomorrow!"

Everywhere we looked, we saw costumes and signs. Behind me were four people dressed as Burger King, Wendy, Ronald McDonald, and Colonel Sanders. Nearby, someone was holding a sign that read "Public Libbrarees = Socialized Reeding". Another person held a sign with Sarah Palin's face that read "I don't know politics, but ... I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express."

Given the sheer size of the crowd, it was difficult to get close to a screen, so Jody and I mostly listened to the performers. The rally started with a musical performance by the Roots, followed by a fun appearance by Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman from MythBusters. Savage and Hyneman had the crowd do polite laughter, mad scientist laughter, and cheek popping on cue, execute a massive wave, and jump at the same time to create seismic effects.

Finally, Jon Stewart appeared on stage, delighted at the diverse demographics represented in the audience. Colbert was hunkered down in his "fear bunker" underneath the stage, communicating with Stewart via screen. After much coaxing from Stewart, Colbert emerged from his fear bunker in an escape hatch, much like the one used to rescue the Chilean miners. Wearing a red, white, and blue superhero costume, Colbert chanted "CHI-CHI-LE-LE", to the delight of the crowd.

After Colbert's failed attempt to terrify the audience with the threat of a peanut butter-covered bee swarm, Father Guido Sarducci performed a benediction over the rally. Sarducci read off a list of religions and asked God to give a sign as to which was the right one. Sam Watterson from Law and Order read "the greatest poem ever written" by Colbert, detailing every possible frightening thing on the planet, including meth, ayatollas, and germs.

Stewart brought Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) on stage to sing "Peace Train", which enraged Colbert. Demanding that fear reign, Colbert brought Ozzy Osbourne on stage to sing "Crazy Train", much to Stewart's chagrin. After arguing about which song was more appropriate for the rally, Colbert and Stewart compromised on the song "Love Train", which the OJs then performed live.

After showing some media clips of less than sane behavior, Jason Jones and Wyatt Cenac provided commentary from within the crowd. Jon Stewart gave out Medals of Reasonableness, and Stephen Colbert gave out Fear Awards. After an argument about their respective American flag clothing, Stewart and Colbert sang a duet about America being the greatest country in the world, and how people on all parts of the political spectrum were still Americans. LOVED IT! Kid Rock and Cheryl Crow then gave a spirited duet, which the audience enjoyed. Later, Colbert and Stewart debated the merits of reason versus fear, starting off this way:

STEWART: Steven Colbert, reason is how mankind advances. If we were afraid of everything, we would have never harnessed the power of fire.


STEWART: No, Steven, no, there's no fire.

COLBERT: Oh thank God, thank God, Jon. It could have burned this field to the ground.

STEWART: Stephen, history tells us--

COLBERT: History, Jon? History? Since you're quoting history books, Jon, I will refer you to the garden of Eden. If Eve had just had a healthy phobia of snakes, she would not have eaten that apple and cursed us all with original sin. Then I'd be able to walk around naked everywhere, instead of just my bathroom, my living room, and participating Burger Kings.

STEWART: Stephen, you're just creating boogie men.


STEWART: No, there are no boogie men, Stephen. FDR once said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

COLBERT: Yes, but just twelve years later, he was dead.

Stewart warned Colbert that "they" want us to be scared, and that "they" are always concocting new things to frighten us. Stewart made a case for not fearing all Muslims, for instance, because most of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world are not dangerous radicals. Kareem Abdul Jabbar came on stage as a Muslim whom Colbert would like, and when Colbert protested that Kareem was a cool, Kareem retorted with, "A real friend understands that no matter what religious position someone plays, we're all on the same team." Then, when Colbert claimed that all robots are scary, R2-D2 came on stage to remind Colbert that not all robots are bad. (R2-D2 later ran over Stewart's foot.)

Colbert began to capitulate to Stewart's reasonable arguments, but his fear quickly reasserted itself. Colbert's fear -- a giant paper mache Colbert head -- came on stage, followed by a video montage of fear-inflaming media reports on death panels, terrorism, gay penguins, and other horrors. Stewart argued that most of those fears were imaginary, and the American public could confront the ones that were real. When Colbert claimed that the Americans can't cooperate with each other, showing another montage of media political divisiveness, Stewart showed him a remote control -- arguing that people can simply turn off the TV or change the channel. Colbert refused to admit defeat, claiming that the Daily Show was dead. Suddenly, John Oliver appeared in a Peter Pan costume, urging the audience to help Stewart by clapping and chanting "Will this help?". The unity of the audience annihilated Colbert's fear, and as Colbert screamed, his fear puppet fell.

After the silliness, Stewart gave a much-needed, eloquent speech about American cooperation.
"What exactly was this? I can't control what people think this was. I can only tell you my intentions. This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith, or people of activism, or to look down our noses at the heartland, or passionate argument, or to suggest that times are not difficult and we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times, and we can have animus and not be enemies."

"But unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country's 24-hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems, but it existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen. Or, they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire, and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous flaming ant epidemic. If we amplify everything, we hear nothing. There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats, but those are titles that must be earned. You must have the resume. Not being able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Partiers, or real bigots and Juan Williams or Rick Sanchez is an insult, not only to those people but to the racists themselves who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate. Just as the inability to distinguish between terrorists and Muslims makes us less safe, not more."

"The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything, we actually get sicker ... And yet, with that being said, I feel good, strangely, calmly good, because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us through a funhouse mirror ... We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is, on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate, and how it's a shame that we can't work together to get things done. But the truth is, we do. We work together to get things done every damn day!"
Crowds notwithstanding, it was an honor to attend this rally. Let's come away from this rally with a little more sanity, a little more willingness to work together, and a little more humor toward all the fear-mongering out there.

For news and commentary about the rally, visit the following links.

CNN: Stewart, Colbert preside over lighthearted, star-studded rally

CNN: Stewart and Colbert fans in D.C.: Serve us up sanity, not Tea

Telegraph: Thousands Attend "Rally to Restore Sanity" in Washington

Salon: Jon Stewart's media critique annoys the media

Salon: The clumsy, beautiful Rally to Restore Sanity

Huffington Post: Keith Olbermann: Jon Stewart Jumped The Shark At Rally

Huffington Post: The Funniest Signs at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

Politico: Jon Stewart Points Finger at Media

Freak Out Nation: Will the Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear Motivate Voters?

RH Reality Check: The Insane Thing About the Rally for Sanity

Monkey See at NPR: Highs And Lows From The 'Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear'

Media Matters: Want to Restore Sanity? Drop Fox. It Keeps Fear Alive.

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