American Views Abroad

Saturday, May 06, 2006
Stephen Colbert, We Salute You!

If I want to show the consequences of alcohol addiction, in other words, fight against it, I cannot do so with pious bible quotes. The most effective way is with the gripping representation of a man who is hopelessly drunk. I lift the curtain protectively spread over the decay, and say: "Look!" - Kurt Tucholsky, from "What May Satire Do?" (1919)

Last weekend at the White House Correspondents Dinner the comedian Stephen Colbert delivered a monologue ten feet away from Bush, before the entire Washington press corp. What was to have been the evening's main entertainment turned into a scathing attack on Bush and the complacent American press. Overnight, Colbert turned into a folk hero. Although this has been story number one in the Internet, the newspapers and television news ignored the incident for three days. Finally the media reported on the Internet activity and explained their silence with the premise that Colbert wasn't funny.

In my opinion Colbert was funny, brave and set a stellar example for patriotism and protest in these times. But I urge you to decide for yourself. A transcript and videos may be found at Dailykos. You may say thank you to Stephen Colbert at If you still wish to read something after watching or reading Colbert's monologue, we offer this theoretical dialogue between an Editor in Chief and a Columnist of a generic newspaper, occurring a few hours after the dinner...

Office of the Chief Editor, Anytown, USA

Editor in Chief: Have the phones stopped ringing?
Columnist: Yes, we've unplugged them.
Editor in Chief: Good, because we need to talk now.
Columnist: Yes?
Editor in Chief: We need to talk now and we can't have interruptions. We need to work out something definitive. Turn your cell phone off, please.
Columnist: OK, got it.
Editor in Chief: It's about Stephen Colbert.
Columnist: Yes sir.
Editor in Chief: We must be prepared for every contingency.
Columnist: How bad is it?
Editor in Chief: Bad. That man just delivered a State of the Union address!
Columnist: Look, let's just ignore the performance. I mean, who watches C-Span? We forget. They forget.
Editor in Chief: That's actually what we plan to do, but just in case it does come up, we need, we'll need arguments. We need reasons why we hushed it.
Columnist: Look, who's the idiot that hired him? That's what I want to know. He should be fired!
Editor in Chief: Probably will be.
Columnist: I mean, that guy put us all in danger.
Editor in Chief: I understand that steps are being taken to avoid a recurrence next year - they're looking at Ann Coulter. But back to the point, how do we pick it apart.
Columnist: I was thinking. His points were good. Too good. All the spin in the world won't unravel them. But I looked up the definition of satire and --
Editor in Chief: Yes.
Columnist: It's not satire!
Editor in Chief: It's not? But of course it was! What do I remember from my school days? Satire's a mirror, hold it up to the targets, reflect the truth at them, they feel uncomfortable. Seems likes satire to me. Certainly made me feel uncomfortable. How dare he!
Columnist: But that's just it! We got him! Satire doesn't only reflect the truth, it exaggerates it! Not once did he exaggerate! We got him! We could even accuse him of plagiarism!
Editor in Chief: No we can't sue him. It's nothing we wrote.
Columnist: Then we say it's bad satire!
Editor in Chief: We can't argue that. In the first place, it's too abstract. "It's not satire." "So what," they'll say. People don't know what satire is. They think it's: "Someone should go kill him." And then they all laugh. Like Coulter and her ilk always do. Satire.
Columnist: He did have that "bump him" bit.
Editor in Chief: Yeah, maybe. But don't you see we can't argue that. "It was terrible satire because it didn't exaggerate the truth." That's a subtle admission that we know that it was true. We can't print that!
Columnist: Oh yeah, I see.
Editor in Chief: We really gotta get this guy, I mean when he said, "I would have made a fabulous press secretary. I have nothing but contempt for these people." I could have punched him. Who does he think he is telling us that! We'll show him contempt.
Columnist: Isn't there an official statement from the White House?
Editor in Chief: No and there won't be - we're on our own with this one.
Columnist: Let's just say it wasn't funny.
Editor in Chief: You know, I think that just might work. Funny's subjective. And a lot of people didn't laugh. Bush didn't laugh. We didn't laugh. The right didn't laugh. Even some of the left - the ones still living in the world we write for them, hoping that it might be true. I mean, people want this to be a good world, want America to be the ideals it's built on. Left and right, they all want to believe that. They didn't laugh. They might have cried.
Columnist: I get it. I'll go back and work out why it wasn't funny. Hard to do though, so many points, impeccably delivered. Except for the one flub he admitted to, the half empty glass. Maybe I'll pick up on that. I have nothing but contempt for idiots who can't express themselves properly. And what else is there to say? There's no arguing with those truths.
Editor in Chief: All right! That's what we do. As a back-up, in case that doesn't pull, maybe you can work in that the humor was European. "Ewwww" everyone will say.
Columnist: I get it! High comedy, irony, political cabaret, thinking. European. Great!
Editor in Chief: OK! Let's go. Oh, and, by the way, how's the book coming along?
Columnist: Wonderful! Almost finished! Just ended the chapter on impeachment. Has quite a few twists to it.
Editor in Chief: Such a great imagination! That's why I hired you! Please let me read it when you're done.

If they made arrests for bad satire, Falafel Sex would have long since bit the dust. Great to hear from you.
aSee this is how it spreads. A speech, a skit, a post. Next thing you know there will be satire in political cartoons.
ha ha

I saw a tevoed version a few days ago. God is was great.
At least from my perspective here in Veryred, we are living in a nation of namby-pamby nicy-nice sentimentalists of all stripes. I know exactly what our newspaper editor would have said (and he's Unitarian, so he's not a typical local). He would have said it was inappropriate for the occasion. (That's what he said when he censored Doonesbury after 9/11.) But there never is an appropriate occasion to tell the truth as far as these people are concerned.
Abby: I think you should worry more about the arrests they're making for good satire. But if they ship you to Europe, try to find out beforehand which secret prison, so I can visit you.

Doug: Have the political cartoonists mentioned Colbert? - I can't say, as I don't have access to local papers over here - but I'd guess they'll just ignore him too. I asked my mother back home what she thought of all this - she didn't see the monologue, and she didn't hear anything about it. But she knew about the Bush sketch. (She doesnt have cable or internet). From that I take it that the news programs have covered Bush's sketch extensively but not repeated anything about Colbert.

Cooper: Thank you for including a link to this post in your current Wonderland post. Also, good luck with your move!

I've download the entire c-span broadcast of the event, and seen Bush's so-called sketch. This was supposed to be funny? I seriously doubt the ability of anyone who thought that was funny to be in a position to explain Colbert's monologue to me, even less to report and analyze news.

Weirsdo: People often feel ambivalent to the ones brave enough to speak the truth. I think ever since the dubious decision to place Bush in office in 2000 there's been a schism in public perception - it's a kind of a brainwashing that the media has been doing. People want to believe that everything is OK and normal and good in their coutnry. I succumbed to it too for a while, but being overseas, the effects of the US media are weaker and don't hold up as well to reality. What Michael Moore said in his Oscar speech is what everyone should have been thinking and saying at the time. But no one wants to believe that one of our elections could be stolen. Anyhow the events today are so extreme, that to many, Colbert's points _will_ be an exaggeration of what they believe.
Fred, the only TV news I watch are The Daily Show and The Colbert Report where it was well-covered.

I've seen stuff in the LA Times about it and Colbert was on the cover of Newsweek a few weeks ago.

Weirsdo, I remember right after 9/11 Terry Gross interviewed Garrison Keillor and kind of zinged him for making silly comments about the President. Keillor responded that he didn't like piety and would be back to make silly comments about the President sooner than she might think.
Good text, very good text. The non-reporting outside the blogosphere was pretty disturbing.

Even FOXNEWS had more coverage on the brilliant Colbert speech than most "left" media - claiming it was controversial etc..
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