Thursday, May 04, 2006

Colbert and his cojones

True lies and white guys, we can see it through the eyes.

What can I say about Stephen Colbert that hasn't already been said by a million bloggers? His routine at the White House Correspondents Dinner was hilarious, smart and on point. Predictably, some weren't so amused. Or rather, they missed the point. See, the speech wasn't so much an attack on Bush - well, it was, to the extent that Colbert mocked the Presidents' failures - they are obvious to all but the staunchest and blindest of his defenders deep in the Red States and they hardly need pointing out. No, the speech was an exposé on how far political reporting and discourse have veered from reality, and how much of a joke the Fourth Estate has become.

Of course Tucker Carlson didn't think it was funny and claimed that Colbert "bombed", since he and his ilk were the ones being lampooned. And of course the "liberal" journalists in attendance were uncomfortable - Colbert was calling them out on what was to be a night of mutual back slapping. If they had to be reminded how the media has been complicit in destroying political discourse in America, Colbert did them a service. If they were aware, lighten the fuck up, Francis.

The mistake Colbert's critics, particularly WaPo's Richard Cohen, makes is thinking of Colbert as a Jon Stewart 2.0. Stewart inflicts damage as a news remixer, twisting the traditional network news broadcast with a timely "Whaaaaaaa?" and a well placed smirk, whereas Colbert simultaneously constructs and deconstructs gravitas. Or if you want to get all Shakespearian on this bitch, Stewart is Hamlet, putting on a reenactment of the crime for his mother and uncle, and Colbert is the play itself. Where Stewart tries to influence by playing the voice of dissent, the anti-O'Reilly, Colbert becomes O'Reilly.

It's not surprising that the allegedly liberal Cohen didn't find Colbert's speech funny on the surface (well, even if he weren't a complete idiot). You're not going to appreciate Colbert's humor by connecting setup to punchline. It's not what Colbert says; it's what he becomes, and the punchlines are mere setups for the character. Unless you can understand that, you're not going to understand what Colbert is really saying. For those of us who understand satire, this should not be all that difficult, but it apparently is, for pundits like Carlson (who, I gather, is not a huge fan of Comedy Central personalities) and Cohen.


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