Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"The Daily Show" controversy: Boys' club?

I've held off on posting anything about the flap surrounding "The Daily Show," brought on by a post that ran last month on the popular blog Jezebel. As a major "TDS" fan, I tend not to want to see the show (which was created by two women, Lizz Winstead and Madeleine Smithberg) dissed in the media. However, in the last couple of days, the "woman problem" at "TDS" has been endlessly discussed and dissected. Here's a handy recap in case you had too many cocktails on the 4th and are just now coming back online.

Late night watchers with long memories, like me, may recall a similar controversy involving "TDS" that brewed several years ago. Return with me, friends, to mid-2006, when the blog Racialicious posted, "Is 'The Daily Show' racist?" "[W]hen’s the last time you saw a non-white person on 'The Daily Show?' Apart from the occasional black actor or comedian, I rarely see any people of color on the show. Are there really no Asian-American, Latino, African-American, or Native American progressives worth interviewing? I think that if the show weren’t so lily-white, I wouldn’t be so conscious of the way Stewart puts on a Mexican accent when discussing immigration."

"I did notice awhile back that 'The Daily Show' is one of the whitest shows around," agreed a commenter. "If it were a country club, it would probably be criticized."

"I have always felts that it is a really White show, and that is one of the primary things that turns me off about the show," said another commenter. "I like the show overall, but that aspect doesn’t sit well with me."

The New York Times reported on "TDS"' 2005 Emmy win, when "the horde of white, male writers of 'The Daily Show With Jon Stewart' gathered onstage in black tie to accept their award, almost [looking] like a mock tableau of the past -- the Whiffenpoofs, circa 1961. Mr. Stewart joked about it, bragging that his staff members were only '80 percent Ivy League-educated Jews.'"

So what happened? The minority staff members of "TDS" did not post an open letter on the internet to let people know that Stewart wasn't a racist, though wouldn't that have been funny? Imagine this: "'The Daily Show' isn't a place where [black and brown people] quietly suffer on the sidelines as barely tolerated tokens. On the contrary: just like the [whites] here, we're indispensable. We generate a significant portion of the show's creative content and the fact is, it wouldn't be the show that you love without us."

No, "TDS" hired some actual minorities: "Senior Black Correspondent" Larry Wilmore first appeared in 2006, Aasif Mandvi was hired in 2007, and Wyatt Cenac came aboard in 2008. I don't think anybody can say with a straight face that these were affirmative action hires -- they are all very talented people, and that their presence has enhanced the show considerably. There also seemed to be an effort to more regularly feature minority guests, such as astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson, author Reza Aslan and pundit Fareed Zakaria.

Ever since, no one has said a peep about the supposed "racism" of "The Daily Show." And I suspect that if Olivia Munn and Samantha Bee are eventually joined by another prominent female correspondent, this controversy will be forgotten in a few years as well.