Until yesterday, I knew nothing about the year’s most devastating and entertaining evisceration of the Bush Administration. Then I read Salon’s Video Dog column and learned of the wickedness Stephen Colbert had perpetrated on our beloved president and his worshipful followers in the White House press corps.
This past weekend marked the annual White House Correspondents dinner which roasts the president. Usually there is a comedian like a Jay Leno who makes some slightly witty wise cracks about the president & it’s all in good fun. Everyone laughs, a little tension is excised fr. the body politic & everyone goes home little the worse for wear.
But Colbert, the political satirist behind The Colbert Report (itself an offshoot from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show), took his task very seriously. He decided that he was going to roast Bush with real flames. It was savage, it was funny, it was a tour de force of political satire. Jonathan Swift would’ve been proud.
But I have to say that watching it makes you VERY uncomfortable. It’s like watching a Brecht play. You know you’re watching a play but it’s unlike any play you’ve ever watched before. It’s a play that deconstructs what it means to be a play. It distances you from everything you thought you knew about plays.
And as you watch Colbert play a right wing, sycophantic Fox News-like political pundit, you know that this fellow is taking a metaphorical switchblade to the profession and to his president. And George Bush is sitting only 10 feet away! And Colbert has the temerity to hail him as he’s skewering him in delicious irony. It’s a breathtaking act.
Another layer of alienation is provided by the audience which is nervous beyond belief. The White House press corps is used to an adversarial relationship with the president. But they know they’ve got to go along to get along. So while they may periodically be angry at him or feel betrayed by a press secretary’s lies, they’re not going to expose or bite the hand that feeds them. They know that this Dinner is supposed to be mild fun, taking satire just up to the edge but never over it.
Well, Colbert said: “Fuck that. Baby, I’m goin’ all the way.” And in this segment he certainly did:
Addressing the reporters, he said, “Let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works. The president makes decisions, he’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Put them through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know — fiction.”
No one looked pleased (except Antonin Scalia who took Colbert’s ribbing about his Sicilian “fuck off” gesture in rollicking good humor). Not Bush (smiling but noticeably not laughing), not Laura (who refused to shake the comedian’s hand), and not the crowd (which mostly didn’t know what to do with itself).
This was the kind of political satire that would make Aristophanes proud. Humor that slashed, that bit, that wiped away the coruscations of mendacious political discourse with an acid wash.
I didn’t really “get” Colbert’s performance until I read this penetrating column by Michael Scherer at Salon called, somewhat disappointingly, The Truthiness Hurts. It’s really much better than the title implies and well worthy reading. I urge you to watch this video footage (part 1 and part 2). You won’t be disappointed.
I was a charter member of Sl;ate online–even paid and got an umbrella, but the incivility of the bloggers, the naked hatred and disrespect, blind syncophancy to the leftwing doublespeak got to me and made me realize just how wrongheaded my own ideas were. I jumped ship,and the comment I’m responding to is a perfect illustration of why. Salon has jumped the shark. I’m not conservative, but I’m not a liberal. I’m an American who has lived abroad for many years and heard the mean-spirited comments about my country. At one time I would have agreed. This is a wonderful country; freedom of speech is wonderful, too, but it isn’t wonderful to read and hear and see Americans whose idea of America has to be in alignment with their political views or else. Else? Else they attack and attack and attack leaders who are trying their best and in my opinion, probably doing a good job in the face of such times. I would quit.
Richard Silverstein says
Gee, I don’t even know where to begin in addressing this comment. First, lighten up! Second, I have no idea what you’re on about most of the time. For example, this post refers to SALON, not Slate. So if you’re teed off at Slate, pls. don’t blame Salon though I guess all these liberal elitist online media sites do start to look alike to some folks.
While we’re on the subject of Slate, they don’t do blogs per se so I have no idea what you’re referring to. Perhaps you’re referring to the Fray comments section? If so, I too have noticed that the Fray is pretty naked & mean-spirited a lot of the time. But if you think the Fray is any diff. than any other political online forum (like the NY Times groups or Charlie Rose’s forums) you’ve got another thing coming. Forums are rough places. If you go there solely for love & respect, you’ve prob. picked the wrong place to find it.
Just because you’ve lived abroad & heard mean-spirited comments about your country doesn’t mean you have a monopoly on such experiences. I too have lived abroad & my experience has been quite different. I never heard any such negativity in my travels. But if I did I might chalk it up to the mean-spirited American tourists who give their own country a bad name abroad. Not to mention the mean-spirited ones in the White House who also give the country a bad name abroad.
Sorry you thought Colbert was being REALLY MEAN to yr. president. I thought he gave George Bush precisely what he deserved.
James R. Becraft says
Thanks. We need a gaggle of Colberts skewering the hubris flaking out of Washington—and helping to wake Americans up to the ill-advised policies of the cabal in charge.
ok well.. i have something to say.. about your anti-truthness.. stephen colbert just exposed him infront of everyone… can you hate a man for telling the truth… bush cant be mad… ITS TRUE.. whats there to be mad about?! I happend to have watched this… and found it quite funny… and bush was laughing right a long for the most part… so EAT IT! courtisy of THE COLBERT NATION!!!!
So Colbert publicly satirized the President, and made some people feel uncomfortable.
Cry about it.
If it takes one of the greatest comedians of the twenty first century to tell Bush what he’s doing wrong with the administration, so be it!
If you ask me, politics in general is not about being comfortable. It’s about doing what’s right, telling the truth, and simply standing for what you believe in, not bending to the will of humiliation and intimidation.
Preaching to the Choir Colbert, preaching to the choir.
Sahre Davis says
I first saw this film in my speech 245 class. That was the first time I have ever seen Mr. Colbert- but I’ve never forgotten him since.
I feel empowered because of Mr. Colbert. The truth stand on its own and verily I say, he brought all present political corruption to light. He didn’t embarrass the president, but rather aired out the presidents dirty laundry. Every detailed he referenced, shameful as it is- is true. The truth stood while bush sat.
In a country dominated by money, men and power it is good to see one man who isn’t following suit.
I love you Mr. Colbert!
You empower me to empower others!!