Ah, those cut-ups at The Daily Show! They’re so delightful and on target–when they’re mocking and ridiculing people who are not you, who do things that you don’t do, and believe things that you do not personally believe! But is Jon Stewart’s satire as funny-because-it’s-true when it comes to your own neighborhood?
A confession: I am a member of the Park Slope Food Co-Op in Brooklyn. The co-op is a collective grocery store founded by food-loving hippies in 1973 with the aim of improving the world through their consumption choices. It now has some 16,000 members, many of them less-idealistic Brooklynites like me who just want to buy really excellent produce dirt-cheap in exchange for working the cash registers or stocking lacinato kale once a week.
That heart-vs.-stomach tension at the Co-Op made headlines recently when a group of activist members wanted the store to join a boycott of Israeli products in protest of that government’s treatment of Palestinians. That the Co-Op only stocks about a half-dozen products from Israel to begin with did not stop this from becoming an impassioned debate, this being liberal Park Slope, after all. Last night, the Co-Op–which votes on nearly everything from selling beer (approved) to allowing credit-card purchases (nope!)–had a general meeting to vote on whether to hold a referendum about the boycott. Yes, a vote to have a vote—and nearly 2,000 people voted at the three-hour meeting. (Disclosure: I was not one of them, because I was working late. And because, come on.)
As a walk-up to the meeting, The Daily Show sent Samantha Bee to capture the spectacle of earnest Brooklynites arguing intensely over a symbolic gesture. Putting me–or at least a group I belong to–in the position of so many other people I’ve laughed at on The Daily Show for years. (They’re so stupid, those other people!)
Did the show take some cheap shots for laughs? Did it play up a vocal minority over us members who just want to buy our damn organic beets and lamb shanks? Did it reinforce a broad stereotype of NPR liberals re-enacting college politics as grown-ups? Yes, yes, and yes. Was it funny? Hell, yes!
And it was also fair, according to the standard of fairness that satire should hold to. Of course a satirical comedy show is going to mirror the most ridiculous human behavior. You can complain that it’s cherrypicking, but that’s really beside the point. When a group of freely associating, relatively privileged adults does something that ordinary people are going to laugh at–in this case, arguing en masse over the political leverage of buying a couple brands of paprika and seltzer makers–at some point they have to acknowledge their role in giving The Daily Show cherries to pick. (And they were delicious cherries! Grown without pesticides!) If there is any egregious misrepresentation I have to complain about in Bee’s report, it is: I’ve shopped at the Co-Op during the day plenty of times, and the checkout line is almost never that short.
A postscript: at the general meeting last night, the Co-Op voted by a substantial margin against the referendum, rejecting the boycott. Which makes me a little sad. Because I was really looking forward to the follow-up report.