On Mr. Stewart’s Trip to Raw, or Our Moment of Zen

Originally published March 2015. I’m reposting this in honor or Jon Stewart’s upcoming appearance at SummerSlam. Many people don’t seem to understand why  — or how — Jon Stewart would deign to… lower himself to something as plebian as hosting the #2 pro-wrestling event of the year.

[eye roll]

As if a satirist is incapable of enjoying a parodic form of vaudevillian entertainment rooted in athletic exhibition.

Jon Stewart, the patron saint of acerbic intellectual humor and women’s college alumna fantasy boyfriend (hey, Emily!!!!), will be appearing on WWE’s Raw tonight. This is important for three reasons:

1. Jon Stewart is a legitimate celebrity who has a documented, open, and unabashed love for pro-wrestling.
2. Jon Stewart is a legitimate intellectual who has the power to open dialogue and press discourse on a variety of subjects across the socio-economic and political spectra.
3. Jon Stewart is a legitimate wrestling fan who defies the pro wrestling fan stereotype.

For the uninitiated in WWE, Raw, or Jon Stewart (seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you?), I’ll provide a rough primer.

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is a publicly-traded corporation focused on “sports entertainment” that revolves operations around live and televised shows featuring athletes and mildly athletic fitness models performing grappling- and aerial-based maneuvers on an elevated platform (the ring or “squared circle”) to tell a story. Monologues and dialogues (“promos“) between the pro wrestlers and non-combatant performers are used to promote and push storylines forward. On televised shows, a commentary team is used to tell the story to viewers at home — think of them as a line-fed Greek chorus.

In short, WWE promotes a theatrical production that is rooted in athletic exhibition, vaudevillian in nature, and shares many of the same tropes and character archetypes, stereotypes, and parodies found in commedia dell’arte and traditional mythology. Sports entertainment, the bread and butter of WWE [side note for fans: I’m soooo not getting to this debate, but just roll with me for a bit] is a parody of what one would consider traditional pro wrestling.

Raw (also known as Monday Night Raw) is WWE’s flagship program and is aired internationally on a weekly basis. It’s key demographic is males, aged 18 – 49. The show first aired live from the Manhattan Center in 1993 and has aired continuously ever since.

Jon Stewart is a deity of liberal intellectual satire and former roommate of my former Congressman, Anthony Weiner. In this interview with Kevin Hart, he talks about his wrestling fandom.

Parody and satire are ideas that are often (wrongly) used interchangeably. There is a key difference between the two: Parody, which may have satiric elements, is meant to entertain with mimicry; Satire, which may highlight its points with parody, is intended to illicit thought and change. The problem with both, high and low brow, is either you get it or you don’t. The WWE (then WWF) produced a 30 second ad for the 1999 Super Bowl based on this concept.

Those that don’t “get” parody (or, in the same vein, satire) either believe what is presented at face value (we all know at least one person, even a self-described educated or intellectual, who thought The Onion was a legitimate news operation) or condemns it with the gunfire and brimstone. They’ll just brush the whole operation off and condemn it (and its fans) as bullshit. In my experience, this camp is often the loudest and least informed.

Those who “get” parody/satire and its references and nuances will play along, generally enjoying the show. My favorite example of this comes not from the above-mentioned ad spot, but from the arbiters of satire and snark, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. In 2009, South Park aired an episode titled “W.T.F.” (it’s on Hulu) in which the South Park boys create their own pro wrestling company (complete with Chorus Line-esque auditions) that counts an opera glasses-wearing Vince McMahon among its audience.

South Park Vince gets it

By getting involved with a storyline involving Seth Rollins, and having the performer appear on The Daily Show, Stewart shows that he “gets” it. And judging by the look on Stewart’s face at the end, he appears to truly enjoy himself. He is a fan. He gets it because of his masterful understanding and use of parody/satire and how it can be used to entertain.

Not every wrestling fan is an uneducated neckbeard from Appalachia who believes every line jarringly uttered from some sleep-deprived meathead who shows up every Monday night on the teevee. Some of them are degree-holding public intellectuals from New Jersey with as firm a grip on current events and contemporary political machinations as they do on The Authority and The Streak. Jon Stewart’s presence on Raw tonight proves that.

For some of us fans (the highly-educated, graduate degree-toting, politically-aware, socially-conscious geeks and non-geeks alike), seeing Stewart step through the ropes tonight, regardless of where the story takes him, will be our moment of zen.


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