Sunday, August 31, 2008

Jon Stewart: 21st Century Bricoleur

Before the era of Google, blogs and Wikipedia, an age in which senior WB staff members attended graduate school, we learned a fancy and abstract literary term: bricolage. Because it was a French term, professors presented it in a very abstract and obtuse manner since... well, we never really understood that part. Nonetheless, the term was handy and useful in the study of popular culture but somewhat nebulous — until Jon Stewart's recent video on The Daily Show.


Briefly, the term bricolage can be explained, albeit somewhat oversimplified, as an idea quilt. Bricolage is the concept of borrowing different ideas, theories, and/or practices from different genres, disciplines and cultures and making something new out of those borrowed pieces. The bricoleur (such a pretty word!) is the creator behind all of this.

But this still seems a bit abstract, just as it did years ago sitting in that lit-theory class. What the definition needed, then and now, was a concrete example.

The video below provides that example. Jon Stewart's team has essentially taken different ideas, sentiments, and catchphrases currently swirling around in pop culture and turned them into a satirical biography of the 44th POTUS, Barack Obama. In the video, you'll note the use of Disney's The Lion King (a totally unacceptable "Africanized" reference if anyone but the Daily staff had chosen it), which provides the central metaphor of Obama as "the chosen one." You'll glimpse a piece of the 1996 romcom Jerry Maguire in the video's title, Barack Obama: He Completes Us, a play on the famous "You complete me" line said by RenĂ©e Zellweger to Tom Cruise that had millions swooning over that movie — and an echo of how Democrats feel about Obama. You'll also catch shout-outs to What's Happening, It's a Wonderful Life, the Bible, and even continental drift. (What other pop-cult references can you find in the video? Let's play!) In Jon Stewart's able hands, all of these signifiers become another hilarious political commentary imbued with the brand of sarcasm that only The Daily Show can pull off.

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