Monday, November 1, 2010

What Sanity Means to Me

Around a month ago when John Stewart and Steven Colbert announced their joint rally/march for sanity/fear I was left confused. I knew that the event was in response to Glenn Beck's rally to restore honor and was interested to see exactly what message the two comedians were going to try and send. I was surprised to find that neither comedian explained their rally's meaning in their shows leading up to the big event, leaving me blinded to the exact intention of the rally I was going to attend.

So with this knowledge I woke up Saturday morning with really no expectations for anything. The first thing I noticed was the fact that the event was taking place on the opposite end of the mall from GW and from the usual setting for rallies, the Lincoln Memorial. The first thing I thought when analyzing the odd location of the event was its "representational" implications. Martin Luther King seemed to have establishedthe sight of the Lincoln Memorial as a place to get a message across. The sight has become infamous for large gatherings including last year's HBO concert event on the mall as well as the location for Glen
Beck's rally which took place only a few weeks earlier. With all of this in mind I came to the conclusion that maybe Colbert and Stewart really weren't trying to get a message across. Maybe this event truly was intended to be a bi-partisan gathering where everyone could simply come, get along, and be entertained. This notion pleased me but I couldn't sit with that being the fixed meaning of the location. My mind quickly turned to the other events on the mall I have attended in my two years living in Washington. The one that stuck out was obviously the inauguration of the 44th president, Barack Obama. This brought out a completely different meaning of the location. It seemed to me pretentious that these two comedians would chose the location of the inauguration of the presidents to hold their rally on "nothing". I then remembered that this class has often led me to question the meanings of things since my enrollment and quickly dismissed all notions as absurd.

My View From Crowd

With a clean slate I showed up at the event not really caring or knowing what to expect. Lucky for me I was able to get some VIP passes for the event through a fraternity brother and only had to show up to the event an hour before it started. The place was packed with people from all around the country, some dressed early for halloween and others with hilarious signs that they had prepared for the event (See Below). The program started with a musical introduction from The Roots who kicked things off with a bang. The performance set a tone for the rest of the rally which was very musically centered with very little comedic antics from Stewart and Colbert. Performances from John Legend, Ozzy Osbourne, Cat Stevens,and Jeff Tweedy of Wilco seemed to be when the crowd was most engaged with the happenings on stage. This seemed to be intentional as Colbert and Stewart for most of the event seemed to be more of emcees than they were hosts of the event. Of course Stewart closed the event with a long speech, but even that seemed to have little to no intention.

Because of the importance of the music to the event, and the lack of seriousness on stage, I found meaning of the event not in what was happening on stage, but rather what was happening in the crowd. Everyone around me seemed to have this same realization as people were able to communicate positively with each other with great music as a back drop. The only thing uniting the people in the crowd was that they all showed up to an event with no idea exactly why they showed up. This notion ended up being a beautiful thing that made for a friendly and seemingly low key event for the 200,000 people that showed up. Stewart's rally for sanity to me was the nation taking a deep breath and a step back from everything that is going on. Sanity is a word that he was using to tell people to simply calm down. The purpose of politics in this country shouldn't be about which party wins, but rather what the people themselves want. Sanity is something we as an American population should share and embrace as it is something we would all be happier in having. By staging a rally for nothing, Stewart was able to create an environment where everyone could simply get together and have fun and that is exactly what happened. See below for some pictures my friend took of what I believe "sanity" means:


  1. Andrew, I'm going to throw this into the mix.

  2. I find it kind of funny that you call it a "rally about nothing," just because I think the nothingness was the point -- that America really doesn't need a crazy, polarizing sort of rally right now, that it needs to take a step back and consider what's really important to us as a nation, regardless of all the pundit chatter. I think that fact came across really well in your post.

    What bothered me at the actual rally, though, was the massive number of people who missed the point. Even the GW College Democrats totally missed the point -- I saw one girl from the organization with a sign that said something along the lines of, "OBAMA'S NOT RAISING YOUR TAXES, SO STFU." I think we're so used to being divided into right and left that we've forgotten how to take a step back and, well, maintain our sanity.

    Maybe that's why Stewart and Colbert chose the location they did: they had the Capitol building in the background, as if calling for our representatives to stop spouting partisan sound bites and actually get to work.

  3. I agree with Kate, and Andrew great post. It seems that politics is moving away from its ideals of democracy - "government by the people and for the people" - and more towards a power struggle between two parties. Its all about how well the politician can debate, and what connections he has in politics..the power of knowledge and language (Foucault).

    As crazy as politics has become lately, the rally seems perfectly timed.