'Ruly Mob' Takes Over Washington

“Ruly Mob,” read one sign, which just about summed up the Jon Stewart/Steven Colbert Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear on The Mall Saturday.Yes, there were some pushy and angry people as folks tried to get closer to the stage. But, mostly, it was a lot of people dancing and clapping and displaying their signage on the day before Halloween at what was a three-hour Daily Showbert Report extravapalooza.A high school teacher from New Jersey said the signs were the best he’d ever seen, and there were a lot of them to see.

Some of my favorites: “Death To Extremism,” “Paranoids for Fear,” and “We have nothing to fear but fear itself…and spiders.” Then there was the middle-aged man who had put his arm around an orange street sign reading “End Road Work” and chanted, what else: “End Road Work!” “End Road work!”

It was that kind of rally.

The sort that National Lampoon or The Onion would not be able to lampoon or Onionize because it was itself a schizophrenic mix of parody and earnestness, and something of a breath mint/candy mint hybrid of political attacks–on Fox and the Tea Party and Glenn Beck–calls for legalizing pot and not eating animals, and poking fun for poking-fun’s sake.

One twentysomething dressed as a pilgrim and carrying an anchor was being earnestly probed by a news crew. He said he was just having fun,” and when asked about the election, said: “What election?” A friend advised him that had not been the way to get himself on the news.

There was not exactly a sea of costumes, as might have been expected the day before Halloween and after Colbert called on rallygoers to dress as their greatest fear. But there were plenty of bears, penguins,

Muppets, Smurfs, and even a couple dressed in matching tea bag costumes. Interesting “fears” out there.

The rally was heavy on music and mocking and was not so much of a tight ship as a meandering pleasure cruise for its stars and audience. But as that New Jersey high school teacher said, the point was really only to be there and be counted.

Stewart acknowledged as much, asking a couple of time why he and they were all there. “They” being somewhere between the 10 million estimate of Stewart and the “sparse” estimate of one Daily Show correspondent, both being jokes, of course.

The crowd looked to be in the six figures, though. One volunteer volunteered that if the crowd reach 14th street it could be 300,000. It did and I’ll guess it was over 250,000.

In his “brief moment of sincerity” at the end of the show, Stewart said that their presence was all he had been looking for.

He also said said the country was going through hard times, not” end times,” and that there could be animus without being enemies. He said the perpetual “conflictinator” of news punditry and gloom and doom reporting did not create the divide in the country, but it did make it harder to solve.

Stewart called the press the country’s immune system, but said it if overreacts to everything, “we actually gt sicker,” he said.

Journalism got the business end of some more tough analogies.

He said it can be a magnifying glass that illuminates or sets a bunch of ants on fire. And as to making a mountain out of an anthill, he suggested that “if we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”

Sadly, a teacher who had traveled all the way from Nevada said she couldn’t hear that part of the speech over the crowd noise.

It was that kind of rally.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.