Ladies and gentlemen, the numbers are in and it’s official: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert outdid Glenn Beck nearly three times over. According to CBS News, the only organization doing a systematic count, some 215,000 people armed with signs, costumes, and a whole lot of sanity showed up to the Comedy Central-sponsored rally on Saturday, as compared to only 87,000 for Beck in his August rally.
For the millions who tuned in to C-Span, news shows, or the live internet stream, the rally’s comedic appeals and musical performances were surely entertaining, perhaps even thought-provoking. But many of the die-hard fans who made the journey to the nation’s capital had no such luck. Standing among the huddled masses, they couldn’t hear or see a thing.
Perhaps because they are inexperienced rally organizers, or perhaps because they were far too modest in projecting turnout, Comedy Central failed to set up jumbo-tron screens and speakers along the national mall. The inadequate electronics surrounding the stage were visible and audible to only a small percentage of the crowd. Flustered participants chanted “Louder, Louder!” and “Turn it up!” to no avail. Without a view of the stage or a way to hear the speeches, many retreated to nearby bars and coffee shops instead.
"I couldn’t see or hear anything," said Ellen Roche, a 26-year-old DC resident who ended up watching the rally from a coffee shop. "It didn’t seem like it was very well planned."
Despite lacking access to the planned stage antics, participants found a worthy focus within the crowd itself. Aside from its awesome size, the assembly was punctuated with costumes (thanks to the rally falling on Halloween weekend) and saturated with clever, sarcastic, and witty signs satirizing political sloganeering. For weeks, the Daily Show and Colbert Report encouraged people to prepare, photograph, and share their Sanity/Fear signs. One man held high a yellow poster reading “My Arms Are Tired.” Another said, “I’m mad as hell, but mostly in a passive aggressive way.” Nearby, a colorful sign read “God Hates These Signs.”
While the majority of the signs were playful, befitting the rally’s spirit, a significant minority were pointedly aimed at denouncing the Tea Party. ”Don’t Tea On My Leg And Tell Me It’s Raining,’ read one. Another, set by a trash can, advertised the receptacle as a place to recycle Tea Bags. Parodying the seemingly endless comparisons of politicians to Hitler, one sign painted a somewhat less inflammatory mustache on Sarah Palin’s visage: That of Groucho Marx.
Ironically, a handful of people toted incendiary political signs, seemingly missing the rally’s message of moderation. One woman dressed in a devil costume brought a poster depicting former Vice President Dick Cheney burning in Hell.
While many of the people present were, strangely, the last to learn what happened on the rally’s central stage, they at least enjoyed taking part in an event intended to be equally entertaining and political. To these parody activists and zealots of moderation, outshining Glenn Beck was itself a statement worth making. But when it comes to the technical stuff, Comedy Central could learn a thing or two from Fox News.