Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Friday, June 07, 2013

Jon Stewart Goes to Summer Camp

When my first son went away, I received two undated postcards. One said he was having a great time, the other begged to come back home. The pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock decoded them for me: “The happy one was written first. It takes a while to get homesick.”

Such memories are stirred up by Jon Stewart’s summer departure from the Daily Show to, of all places, the Middle East to direct a movie-—parental angst over an absence coupled with hope for an enriching experience.

With John Oliver replacing him, the house won’t be empty late evenings, but the tone will change from Yiddish to British as our inner child reacts to the insanity of the day’s news.

At 50, Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz may be having his midlife crisis, but it serves to underscore the role he plays in American life, something more than what the New York Times has described as “advocacy journalism,” coupling him with Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.

That may have been damning him with faint praise. What Stewart more closely resembles is a 21st century version of figures going back to Will Rogers and, before he started writing novels, Mark Twain--the comedic commentator who keeps Americans sane by deflating political powers-that-be.

Calling Stewart a pop social critic could be closer to the mark but might lump him with gasbags he so deftly deflates--the cable TV commentators who purportedly analyze the news but pour the ketchup of ideology over it and obscure rather than reveal its essence.

Whatever he is or may eventually become, Stewart is now part of thinking people’s brain structures whose absence will leave a hole in their lives until he returns.

To ease the pain, they can revisit one of his earlier ventures into movies, as an actor in the sweetly dopey “Playing by Heart” of 1988, romancing Gillian Anderson and a shaggy dog bigger than both of them, with a cast that includes Angelina Jolie, Sean Connery, Gena Rowlands, Ellen Burstyn and other accomplished thespians.

It’s available for instant streaming from Netflix. It won’t fill the void left by Jon Stewart but, like a postcard from summer camp, may help tide over his absence from the house weekday nights.

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