The Rally to Restore Sanity may be a much needed opportunity to
relieve generational anxiety.
By Neil FitzPatrick
October 17, 2010
A few hundred thousand people are expected to show up in Washington,
D.C. for Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity on Oct. 30. The event
will be, by all accounts, the largest rally for a cause that we've
participated in with comparisons being made to Woodstock.
But the Rally to Restore Sanity is no Woodstock. Woodstock appealed
to members of an already existing counterculture movement, was
closely tied to the antiwar movement, and billed itself as "Three
Days of Peace and Music." Stewart's event is three hours long and is
specifically not aimed at any one group. As the rally's website puts
it, "If we had to sum up the political view of our participants in a
single sentence… we couldn't." Instead of reacting to a war or to
cultural conformitylike the hippies didparticipants in the Rally to
Restore Sanity are reacting to extremism in the national dialogue.
The rally champions no opinion except the one that says, as one of
The Daily Show's premade signs reads, "Take It Down a Notch for America."
I had been pondering what kind of atmosphere could cause a generation
to take up a half-joking bid to "restore sanity" as one of its
defining moments when I stumbled upon a blog post mentioning the 2009
trial of Josef Fritzl. Fritzl is an Austrian man who held his
daughter captive in his basement for 24 years, repeatedly assaulting
and raping her, while fathering seven of her children. The post
reminded me of how upset this story had made me when news of it broke
in 2008 and how the American media had covered it closely for months.
And then it occurred to meAmericans' knowledge of (and fixation
with) someone like Fritzl was a uniquely modern thing. Twenty years
ago, word of his crimes and his case may have reached the United
States, but it would have received, at most, steady coverage in
certain national newspapers and evening news shows. In 1990, there
were no websites on which people could receive minute-to-minute
updates on the case, and the 24-hour news channels either did not
exist or were less than prominent.
Our generation, on the other handhaving grown up in the age of CNN,
Fox News, and MSNBC, and, more importantly, in the age of the
Internetfaces a constant stream of bad news. Whereas one once had to
seek out a newspaper or magazine to learn about national or
international affairs, we now get word of flooding in Pakistan,
corrupt politicians, oil spills, foreign wars, muggings, and so on
every time we turn on the television or open up our computer's home
page. This phenomenon has, I think, resulted in a generational
anxiety that often leads to apathy.
In the face of such overstimulation, we are forced to either ignore
all of the information or find some way to cope with and process it.
And, of course, one obvious method our generation has developed to
deal with all this bad news is to make light of it by getting our
news from a comedianJon Stewart. Stewart alleviates our anxiety by
letting us laugh at both the news-makers and the news-givers, and he
keeps us informed in the process.
The only problem is that it can be hard to truly care about something
you are so used to laughing at. Stewart does the admirable service of
informing a generation which, overwhelmed, might otherwise completely
ignore the goings-on of the world, but even after experiencing relief
from our anxiety, we still find it difficult to pick a single issue
to fight for, care about, or agree on. The members of our
generationor the members who watch The Daily Showare left-leaning,
but by no means are they in possession of homogenous opinions. We are
really only united in our desire to relieve this anxiety, to laugh,
and to restore sanity.
And is that so wrong? Is it regrettable that we have no larger cause
around which to unite? Probably not. We have no Vietnam War to
oppose, and as a well educated group of postmodern brats, our
opinions on other issues are too complex and too diverse to
facilitate mass movements. It is, however, regrettable that many of
us don't fight for any issues at all. I've spent this column talking
about a possible cause of the (occasional) apathy of our generation,
but don't think I would mistake a cause for an excuse. We all have
the capacity to do good and therefore should do good. We just need to
filter through the information, find something we care about, and fight.
Neil FitzPatrick is a Columbia College junior majoring in creative
writing and East Asian languages and cultures.