Voces Clamantium: Villegas, Seaton and Rotering

by The Dartmouth | 3/1/16 6:45pm

To The Editor:

Ben Szuhaj argued in his February 26 article “The Tragedy of Comedy” that “The Nightly Show” and “The Daily Show”’s fall in viewership could be attributed to an emphasis on race, class and gender and that Americans are too squeamish to broach the subject. I disagree that the fall in viewership has anything to do with the news anchors focusing on the topics of race, class and gender. And I especially disagree that Americans take offense to an outsider, like South African Trevor Noah, pointing out our idiosyncrasies.

One of the great successes of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” was that the anchors could speak about any topic they wanted to; whether horrifying, shocking, dumbfounding or tragic. In most cases, the anchors were able to present various perspectives and highlight the major issues and inconsistencies in rhetoric that lawmakers or celebrities used to make their points. While bluntness was key, the anchors relied heavily on presenting a series of evidence and let video clips, news clippings and interviewers do the talking. Colbert and Stewart would only highlight and emphasize, sometimes rephrasing and summarizing what was said on very important issues. Occasionally, they would add a moral, ethical or pragmatic point to put the issue into context. Their successors, on the other hand, expostulate their topics. They overexplain the clips or issues before hand so that when the viewer sees a clip the punch line is given away

Noah’s viewership is not down because he is from South Africa. In fact, Noah has a particular strength and authenticity because he is from South Africa. Indeed, John Oliver is not American yet he has managed to succeed where Noah and Wilmore falter. Oliver constantly uses his outsider status as a means to leverage his comparisons. And his accent is in no way an impediment, yet it is thicker than Noah’s. What Oliver has over Noah is that he has a faster speech rhythm, and he focuses on all kinds of news. Noah, on the other hand, has largely focused on developments in the United States. Americans have thick skins, and it does not matter to them where the presenter is from.

The main reason that viewership is failing is because their delivery is off. Both Wilmore and Noah use a measured and direct tone to bring their issues to the audience. This is a problem because there is very little variance throughout an episode, and everything feels slow and labored. An essential component to both Stewart’s and Colbert’s styles was a clipped speaking pattern and fast, often impassioned delivery. Their voice levels would change between low and high pitches so that the audience had to do a lot of work to follow what they were saying and to understand how the delivery fits the context of a set.

On the other hand, Noah and Wilmore are overly consistent. There is little variation in their voice levels. The issue is that a consistently measured tone leaves little room for highlights. This is more of a problem for Noah. Sure, he is charming and his jokes have potential. But there is little buildup and little variation because he takes so long to say anything. The result is that the joke feels tired or obvious. The essence of a joke, and especially important for these comdey series, is the unexpected. But a special kind of unexpected, one in which plain and obvious individual parts come together to make a whole — a whole that is so obvious that it is incredible that the audience did not see the whole before when it was just composed of the individual parts. With Noah, you can see where the joke is headed. And while the joke is still funny, what is the point? Sure, both shows have established a reputation in discussing current events and issues. But at the base, both shows are comedy shows. If the jokes are obvious, then there is little excitement because the audience can already see what is coming.

-Alfonso Villegas ’12, South Royalton, VT

To The Editor:

I’m writing to congratulate all those involved with the production of “Chicago” at the Hopkins Center. I’ve seen the show on Broadway with Bebe Neuwirth as Velma Kelly and again in Singapore with the road company, and the Dartmouth production rivals both! From the actors to the sets, lighting, costume, they hit it out of the park. What a bright future all those talented young people have before them. I look forward to future Dartmouth theater productions.

-Jaimie Seaton, Hanover

To The Editor:

Climate change is justifiably a hot topic today, but the ecological crisis is far more serious than climate change alone. Numerous environmental limits have been violated, not just those relating to greenhouse gases. You — the young — face a perilous and frightening future.

The rational response to this disaster is to quickly reduce environmental impact by ending overconsumption, reducing the population and sharply increasing efficiencies. The old are in positions of power and could initiate these changes, but they have persistently failed to act. Unless they are jolted out of their immoral passivity, your lives will be much worse than theirs. Your children will suffer the most, with many dying prematurely in a degraded and chaotic world.

I am a baby boomer who has studied the environmental crisis for 25 years. I have concluded that the progressive and environmental movements are tightly bound to the prevailing order and will not spur the required economic and social transformations. The only hope is a youth ecological revolt: your militant refusal to succumb to an imposed fate.

I strongly urge you to strike, challenge teachers and administrators, disrupt school events, write scorching articles and in general disrupt society’s ecocidal flow. Do not be beguiled by the implied promise that playing by the rules will lead to a comfortable life. The current situation is unprecedented and the rules are obsolete. The promise is a lie.

History has dealt you a terrible hand, but swift action may yet salvage the biosphere and preserve your future.

-Frank Rotering, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada