Perhaps Stewart's "reporters" should have read the New York Times - at least if the name of the town in question is not Wasilla, Alaska. Today's front page features an article on the demise of Iowa's barns, and the way of life that is passing away.
The article draws its information from a Depression-era Federal Writers Project, a history of Iowa during the early twentieth-century. Written by outsiders, it tells a story of small town life different than what has been intimated in recent condescending attacks on Sarah Palin's background.
According to the article:
After the writers moved on, machines, more and more, took the place of handwork and workhorses, and these farm implements grew ever bigger, more powerful, more expensive. Farms, in turn, ballooned in acreage. They shrank drastically in number. So farmhouses, schools, farming towns, even Mr. Scott’s beloved barns emptied, making way in some cases for the long, low, plain buildings used in modern large-scale livestock operations.
That period, as described in the guide, was steeped in a sense of community, an innocent warmth: county fair days, band concert nights, when farm families rushed through chores to gather for music, and threshing runs, when neighbor farmers helped one another with the harvest (before combines made that simpler, solitary work) and their wives gathered to prepare mountainous feasts of meat, potatoes, pie.
“We just don’t neighbor like we used to,” said Donald Wedeking, 81, of Nemaha (A “Mighty Small Town,” as its sign somewhat ambiguously promises), who grows 830 acres of corn and soybeans with his son, far more than his family once did.
He was one of many near and along U.S. 20 through western Iowa, where the guide’s writers wandered, who seemed to long for elements of the past.
“Now it’s kind of dog eat dog,” said LaDon Grotjohn, 63, a farmer in Schaller.
“It was a good way,” said Wendell Body, 76, of Sac City, the county seat for Sac County, an agricultural community where more than 17,600 people lived in the 1930s, but where fewer than 11,000 people live now.
Perhaps Stewart should dispatch some of his reporters there. But, unlike the WPA writers during the Depression, they would doubtless report on these farmers' weird religion (prayer), oppressive beliefs (morality), and strange appearance (overalls). How distant a time, but more, how distant a world, when outsiders - often from cities - could come to small towns and find something there of value. Now they are likely to find only smallness - the thing to be feared and rejected.
The Daily Show is watched - well, daily - by innumerable college students especially. It is representative of a broader culture of derision, sarcasm, and constant irony. This sarcastic detachment forms the true education of the youth of today's wealthy, powerful, free societies. It is very difficult to imagine that a nation whose youth is formed in such pervasive irony can have much of a future. Ironically, it was folkways learned in small towns especially that provided an alternative - earnest, decent, common. If Daily Show viewers can't comprehend why Sarah Palin appeals to broad swaths of their countrymen, they might spend some time reading about a more serious time when your life depended on your neighbors, such as in 1930s Iowa.
(This one's for you, John.)