Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Colbert Fallout

Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents' Dinner: it needs no introduction at this point. Read it or see it if you haven't yet. The debate is well-encapsulated in this excellently balanced thread. What follows are my takes on both the event and the reactions thereof by the punditry (both amateur and paid-amateur):

--Nothing's a failure if all of the blogosphere (and most of the nation) is talking about it.

--There's been endless comparison of Colbert's monologue to that of Don Imus' lambasting of Bill Clinton in 1996. But the only similarity I can see is that both went full-throttle and showed no interest in appeasing the guest of honor. Otherwise, comparing Colbert to Imus is like comparing orange juice to orange paint; one goes down much tastier than the other and is a lot more nutritious.

--Colbert plays a blowhard on his show. And while he certainly invoked elements of his signature character in his speech, I think a lot of people overstate that in a desperate attempt to dismiss what he said. One does not have to be a regular viewer of The Colbert Report to know that Stephen is simply being a smartass here; his character barely factors into it.

--The targets of Colbert's barbs didn't laugh not because he was not funny; they sat silent because they knew there was truthiness to the snarkitude. Antonin Scalia was one of the few who laughed at himself, which makes me almost respect him. Sca-ree. Conversely, George W. Bush's reaction should permanently kill the illusion that he is a humble, "aw-shucks" kind of guy.

--Anyone who has been around someone of even mild community influence knows how intimidating it can be to talk to them, much less express dissent. Colbert was surrounded by some of the most powerful people of the world, so I'm willing to grant him a certain degree of chutzpah. And that degree is a doctorate.

--The same people who jump on the media for showing its liberal bias in everything it writes claimed that the reason Colbert "bombed" was because the liberals in the room did not want their bias to shine through. Gee, that makes sense!

--Anyway, none of the standard rules of comedy apply here; Colbert was not looking to fill the room with laughter like the preceding act. A political satirist's job is to jab at the nerves of power like a cavity in Nancy Kerrigan's teeth. For someone like Stephen Colbert, silence can be the most deafening ovation of all.

--Several observers have noted that Colbert was not courageous for speaking truth to power, because it's not like he was ribbing Saddam Hussein. How's that for a damning comparison? "At least we're not as bad as the old Iraqi regime!" That's like saying your date isn't quite as ugly as Camilla Parker Bowles. The peril here may not have been literal death, but rather the career death that's a very real precedent when crossing the Bush administration. It's probably not something most people would risk, even in America.

--This speech wasn't a matter of being funny/unfunny if you are liberal/conservative; both mostly agree that the speech was hard-edged for such a function. The main question is, was it the right thing to do at a generally genial event? In this case, I say yes. Forget this business about the Correspondents' Dinner not being a forum for biting criticism; if the national media did its job in the first place, then there'd be no need to expend so much dissent at one time.

--In a more enlightened day and age, Colbert's speech might have been rightfully criticized as little more than a mean-spirited roast. But it has taken on legendary status because it marks quite possibly the first moment of genuine criticism anyone has been able to aim directly at Bush. Colbert is literally the voice of the frustrated majority at the moment.

--Forget the naysayers; Colbert knew exactly what he was doing. Though he said he did it "just for laughs," he clearly said that, just for laughs. He knew that what he said would make a lot of people uncomfortable, and that was exactly what they deserved. And the Bush administration and the national press both deserve to feel uncomfortable: Bush for his tragic policies and the press for complicity in perpetuating the charade. I found the speech bitingly funny, because it represented the kind of satirical punch that people like me can only dream about lobbing to those who long ago chose to ignore our voices. Thank you, Stephen.


Michelle said...

Thanks for the link to the Imus speech. I haven't heard any comparison to this. This is great.

Anonymous said...

The biggest difference between what Imus and Colbert did was this: Imus spoke for a grumbling minority against a popular president. Colbert spoke for an outraged majority against an unpopular president.

T-Mac said...

I agree with you that he should have done it in that arena...nice.

Schroeder said...

Great analysis. I'll link to it.

he who is known as sefton said...

"At the recent White House Correspondents Dinner, master comedian Stephen Colbert performed magnificently. With the rapier of wit and the mace of truth, he respectively skewered and censured the presidency of "dum'ass botch".

Talk about wonderful lagniappe! Mr Colbert made that nincompoop's lap dogs in our national conventional media run for cover with their tail between their legs. And that's not all Mr Colbert accomplished.

Tucked away in his address to the dinner's flabbergasted attendees, like a ticking time bomb, there was an "easter egg", which we had absolutely . . . here "we" is a polite nod . . . NO right to expect. Like the Easter Bunny in a mischievous mood, Mr Colbert camouflaged a bon mot, so profound as to approach philosophical.

oh, before I reveal Mr Colbert's casual accomplishment, I should like to preface with a cave-- . . . "

The above blue text, which is enclosed within quotes, can be found appended to the article, which is located on the other side of the below hyperlink.

thanking you in advance for your gracious patience,

.he who is known as sefton


. . . oh, yeah, I should add that the full title for that post is "rehabilitation of and by and for the right wing" . . .