Last month, Bill O'Reilly described fans of his guest, the titular host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," as "stoned slackers" with a "scary" influence on the current presidential election.
Annoyed by O'Reilly's characterization of "The Daily Show" audience, Stewart's bosses at Comedy Central responded with data from Nielsen Media and the University of Pennsylvania that indicated Stewart's viewers are better educated, better paid and more politically savvy than the average American (and the average "The O'Reilly Factor" viewer).
Now, with the recent release of "America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction," Stewart and his "Daily Show" cohorts can quite honestly claim to have "written the book" on the informed and responsible audience.
"America" is organized in the style of your history textbook from sixth grade. Only this time, the chapter on the judicial branch contains pictures of all nine Supreme Court justices completely, painfully and hilariously nude (p. 99). The book also features a foreword from Thomas Jefferson ["Oh, and is it true Halle Berry is once again single?"], and chapters titled "The President: King of Democracy," "Campaigns and Elections: America Changes the Sheets" and "The Rest of the World: International House of Horrors."
But don't get the wrong idea here. Naked Supreme Court justice pictures aside, the book really does have bigger things to say. In its chapter on the media, "America" reads, "A free and independent press ... serves to inform the voting public on matters relevant to its well-being," and then transitions into a Kobe Bryant and "Friends" pulp-culture rant on the failures of the media to live up to this noble purpose. Funny, yes, but also pointed and demanding of both readers and the media.
Still, that doesn't mean the book is too serious for easygoing enjoyment. It is a farce, a laugh-out-loud skewering of our times and our systems, often deliriously ridiculous and refreshingly candid.
But these comics haven't given up on the subjects they dissect so revealingly. You get the sense from "America," much like from "The Daily Show," that Jon Stewart and friends don't ridicule and expose just for the sake of tearing down our often-dysfunctional institutions. The humor in "America" is a form of coping with the disappointing reality of politics and media (Stewart's favorite targets). But, perhaps more importantly, the authors also seem to hope and believe that informed humor can ultimately be constructive.
Stewart and company hide this earnestness of purpose beneath layers of quips, graphics and naked pictures. But their message rings true: You must be informed in order to be funny. Similarly, you must be informed in order to effect change. "America" is a rallying cry for citizens fed up with the current state of affairs and convinced that some intelligent laughter might be a first step toward making things better.
In the end, "America" reminds you to "rock the vote" — or, at the very least, "singer-songwrite" the vote.
MTV's parent company, Viacom, also owns Comedy Central.