Monday, October 19, 2009

Reading Faces

North Street Face, 2005

We went to see John Stewart the other night at Norfolk’s Chrysler Hall. I didn’t know it before, but my wife told me this is what you're supposed to do on your 33rd wedding anniversary. So much for gems and minerals.

Stewart was good. He recalled his student days at the nearby College of William & Mary, though not altogether fondly, and took some pride in being on the same stage where he once came to see U2 perform. He took jabs at Wall Street, the religious right, gay rights opponents and the Republican candidate in Virginia’s gubernatorial race. He drew his usual attention to the inconsistencies and contradictions of indecisive Democrats, fundamental conservatives and the galaxy of hysterical Fox News opinionators.

My wife and I don’t go out every night. But we’ve been around. We’ve seen enough places to have an idea of who the people who share this world with us are and what they’re like. We’ve laughed when we found fellow Rick Steves fans at a certain corner of the Eiffel Tower (because Rick told us that was the best place to catch the elevator). We know what fundamental social and political conservatives look like. Likewise rabid liberals, gays, lesbians, the rich, the poor, people of color, extreme Christians, New Agers, Gilded Agers, Fleetwood Mac fans, gardeners, society dames and all manner of other folk.

You can usually pick out members of some of these groups. There’s a certain, almost recognizable similarity and camaraderie, for example, among those who go to the opera or the symphony. The same holds true for people who hang out at NASCAR races, UFC fights, Baptist church socials and garden clubs meetings.

The John Stewart audience was much harder to read. When we walked into the theater, I found myself asking, “Are these ‘my people’?” Are these the people with whom I’m likely most in sync? I assumed they’d have more liberal social and politically perspectives. Beyond that, I had no idea.

The crowd wasn’t generous in its clues. They were neither very young nor very old. Most were earnest looking adults with gray hair who likely get most of their news from NPR and like to think their life includes some “good work.” There was a smaller group of college kids, some of them down from Williamsburg and wearing the green and gold of William & Mary, and some dressed as if they’d just come from a rave or a Star Trek convention. (I’m afraid the W&M kids were disappointed that Stewart’s comments about his college days were more tipped in acid than they were in love for a college town that is forever stalled in 1764.)

As best as I could tell, Jon Stewart’s fans are birds that only flock together on television. The friends I could pick out in the audience were a geographic smorgasbord of our region, defying attempts to categories them by anything but their political perspective. My guess is that our kindred spirits, like my wife and me, are living among the infidels, occasionally lobbing flaming arrows over the fence when we’ve had enough of our neighbors’ hysteric rhetoric, but not getting too close to the fence posts to get burned ourselves.


  1. Dan is from Buffalo and because marriage is about give and take, I have to make an annual trip to visit his family. On the rare occassions that his family lets us out of their house, I get to see Buffalo and I'm always surprised. The last time I was there, as we were leaving town, I was finally able to put my finger on what I don't like about Buffalo. I've never seen anyone like me there. "My people" don't live in Buffalo.

  2. Well, that's interesting! I guess I would have expected "my people" to be there. I think you're probably right about where they're lingering. Perfect photo to illustrate this post.