Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Paul Krugman versus Jon Stewart on the Platinum Coin

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently went after satirist Jon Stewart for what he called a "lazy" bit on the frivolity of the Trillion Dollar Platinum Coin idea:
[W]hat went wrong here is a lack of professionalism on the part of Stewart and his staff. Yes, it’s a comedy show — but the jokes are supposed to be (and usually are) knowing jokes, which are funny and powerful precisely because the Daily Show people have done their homework and understand the real issues better than the alleged leaders spouting nonsense. In this case, however, it’s obvious that nobody at TDS spent even a few minutes researching the topic. It was just yuk-yuk-yuk they’re talking about a trillion-dollar con hahaha.
 Having been attacked by one of his own, Stewart had no choice but to respond:
Now, part of Stewart's response is his standard, somewhat weaselly excuse of, "I'm just a joke man!" But another part of his response is more substantive—his point that there are always counterarguments on the topics that he chooses to lampoon, but it is simply not funny to acknowledge them. It's probably not an overstatement to say that exaggeration is the essence of comedy. What matters here is that Stewart has considered the counterarguments and (correctly) decided that, nonetheless, the platinum coin is a "stupid fucking idea." So it's open season.

This is something to keep in mind when watching "The Daily Show": it doesn't present a fair or nuanced view of the issues of the day. It picks out the worst arguments being made to support a particular position and it shreds them, to great comic—and rhetorical—effect. It takes a certain sort of humorlessness to notice this unfairness only when it's your own position being shredded.

This is Part 6 in The Gillette-Torvik Blog's 94-Part Series on the Trillion Dollar Platinum Coin idea.

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