Monday, May 08, 2006

the truthiness hurts

i love the way the media is ignoring stephen colbert and the speech he made. everyone is jumping on the internet to see exactly what the deal is, while the conservatives are trying to explain it all away. what mr. colbert did was a wonderful piece of political theater/performance art. when i saw it, all i could think was:
  1. who was the bonehead that booked him? whoever he is, there's no way that he could still have his job...
  2. what gigantic balls of steel stephen colbert must have, to get up there and basically say what no one else in the media has up to this point -- and
  3. wow -- art really can change the world.
in the meantime, here's the complete transcript of the speech (just in case you'd rather read it than see it), a website that kind of sums it all up (http://thankyoustephencolbert.org) and two articles from salon.com: "the truthiness hurts" and "making colbert go away"...
-------------------------------------------------------------

"The Truthiness Hurts"

Stephen Colbert's brilliant performance unplugged the Bush myth machine -- and left the clueless D.C. press corps gaping.
By Michael Scherer


May 1, 2006 Make no mistake, Stephen Colbert is a dangerous man -- a bomb thrower, an assassin, a terrorist with boring hair and rimless glasses. It's a wonder the Secret Service let him so close to the president of the United States.

But there he was Saturday night, keynoting the year's most fawning celebration of the self-importance of the D.C. press corps, the White House Correspondents' Association dinner. Before he took the podium, the master of ceremonies ominously announced, "Tonight, no one is safe."
Colbert is not just another comedian with barbed punch lines and a racy vocabulary. He is a guerrilla fighter, a master of the old-world art of irony. For Colbert, the punch line is just the addendum. The joke is in the setup. The meat of his act is not in his barbs but his character -- the dry idiot, "Stephen Colbert," God-fearing pitchman, patriotic American, red-blooded pundit and champion of "truthiness." "I'm a simple man with a simple mind," the deadpan Colbert announced at the dinner. "I hold a simple set of beliefs that I live by. Number one, I believe in America. I believe it exists. My gut tells me I live there."

Then he turned to the president of the United States, who sat tight-lipped just a few feet away. "I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound -- with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world."

It was Colbert's crowning moment. His imitation of the quintessential GOP talking head -- Bill O'Reilly meets Scott McClellan -- uncovered the inner workings of the ever-cheapening discourse that passes for political debate. He reversed and flattened the meaning of the words he spoke. It's a tactic that cultural critic Greil Marcus once called the "critical negation that would make it self-evident to everyone that the world is not as it seems." Colbert's jokes attacked not just Bush's policies, but the whole drama and language of American politics, the phony demonstration of strength, unity and vision. "The greatest thing about this man is he's steady," Colbert continued, in a nod to George W. Bush. "You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday."

It's not just that Colbert's jokes were hitting their mark. We already know that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that the generals hate Rumsfeld or that Fox News lists to the right. Those cracks are old and boring. What Colbert did was expose the whole official, patriotic, right-wing, press-bashing discourse as a sham, as more "truthiness" than truth.
Obviously, Colbert is not the first ironic warrior to train his sights on the powerful. What the insurgent culture jammers at Adbusters did for Madison Avenue, and the Barbie Liberation Organization did for children's toys, and Seinfeld did for the sitcom, and the Onion did for the small-town newspaper, Jon Stewart discovered he could do for television news. Now Colbert, Stewart's spawn, has taken on the right-wing message machine.

In the late 1960s, the Situationists in France called such ironic mockery "détournement," a word that roughly translates to "abduction" or "embezzlement." It was considered a revolutionary act, helping to channel the frustration of the Paris student riots of 1968. They co-opted and altered famous paintings, newspapers, books and documentary films, seeking subversive ideas in the found objects of popular culture. "Plagiarism is necessary," wrote Guy Debord, the famed Situationist, referring to his strategy of mockery and semiotic inversion. "Progress demands it. Staying close to an author's phrasing, plagiarism exploits his expressions, erases false ideas, replaces them with correct ideas."

But nearly half a century later, the ideas of the French, as evidenced by our "freedom fries," have not found a welcome reception in Washington. The city is still not ready for Colbert. The depth of his attack caused bewilderment on the face of the president and some of the press, who, like myopic fish, are used to ignoring the water that sustains them. Laura Bush did not shake his hand.

Political Washington is accustomed to more direct attacks that follow the rules. We tend to like the bland buffoonery of Jay Leno or insider jokes that drop lots of names and enforce everyone's clubby self-satisfaction. (Did you hear the one about John Boehner at the tanning salon or Duke Cunningham playing poker at the Watergate?) Similarly, White House spinmeisters are used to frontal assaults on their policies, which can be rebutted with a similar set of talking points. But there is no easy answer for the ironist. "Irony, entertaining as it is, serves an almost exclusively negative function," wrote David Foster Wallace, in his seminal 1993 essay "E Unibus Pluram." "It's critical and destructive, a ground clearing."

So it's no wonder that those journalists at the dinner seemed so uneasy in their seats. They had put on their tuxes to rub shoulders with the president. They were looking forward to spotting Valerie Plame and "American Idol's" Ace Young at the Bloomberg party. They invited Colbert to speak for levity, not because they wanted to be criticized. As a tribe, we journalists are all, at heart, creatures of this silly conversation. We trade in talking points and consultant-speak. We too often depend on empty language for our daily bread, and -- worse -- we sometimes mistake it for reality. Colbert was attacking us as well.

A day after he exploded his bomb at the correspondents dinner, Colbert appeared on CBS's "60 Minutes," this time as himself, an actor, a suburban dad, a man without a red and blue tie. The real Colbert admitted that he does not let his children watch his Comedy Central show. "Kids can't understand irony or sarcasm, and I don't want them to perceive me as insincere," Colbert explained. "Because one night, I'll be putting them to bed and I'll say ... 'I love you, honey.' And they'll say, 'I get it. Very dry, Dad. That's good stuff.'"

His point was spot-on. Irony is dangerous and must be handled with care. But America can rest assured that for the moment its powers are in good hands. Stephen Colbert, the current grandmaster of the art, knows exactly what he was doing.

Just don't expect him to be invited back to the correspondents dinner.

Making Colbert go away
The docile press corps was offended when Stephen Colbert dared to expose Bush's -- and their own -- feet of clay. But how to respond? Voilà: "He wasn't funny."
By Joan Walsh

The only thing worse than the mainstream media's ignoring Stephen Colbert's astonishing sendup of the Bush administration and its media courtiers Saturday night is what happened when they started to pay attention to it.

The resounding silence on Sunday and Monday was a little chilling. The video was burning up YouTube, and Salon hit overall traffic heights over the last few days surpassed only by our election coverage and Abu Ghraib blockbusters. But on Monday, Elisabeth Bumiller's New York Times piece on the White House Correspondents' Association dinner kvelled over the naughty Bush twin skit but didn't mention Colbert. Similarly, other papers either ignored the Comedy Central satirist or mentioned him briefly. Lloyd Grove in the New York Daily News pronounced that he had "bombed badly."

Three days later, the MSM is catching on to Grove's tin-eared take on Colbert's performance. Belatedly, it's getting covered, but the dreary consensus is that Colbert just wasn't funny. On Tuesday night, Salon's Michael Scherer, whose tribute to Colbert is everywhere on the blogosphere (thank you, Thank you Stephen Colbert), got invited to chat with Joe Scarborough and Ana Marie Cox, who showed themselves to be pathetic prisoners of the Beltway by passing along the midweek conventional wisdom: The lefty blogosphere can argue all it wants that Colbert was ignored because he was shocking and politically radical, but the truth is, he wasn't funny, guys! And we know funny!

Regular Joe told us he normally races home to watch Colbert. So the problem isn't Joe's conservatism -- Joe's a congenial conservative, a fun-loving conservative, which is why he has Salon folks on all the time (thanks, Joe!). Cox showed why she's the MSM's official blogger by splitting the difference. She pronounced Colbert's performance "fine" but giggled at the left for its paranoia that he'd been ignored for political reasons. Cox and Scarborough mostly just congratulated themselves on being smart enough to get Colbert every night at 11:30, but savvy enough to know he wasn't completely on his game last Saturday. They barely let Scherer speak.
Similarly, the sometimes smart Jacques Steinberg must have drawn the short straw at the New York Times, where there had to be some internal conversation about the paper's utter failure to even mention Colbert on Monday. After all, his sharpest jokes involved the paper's laudable NSA spying scoop, and a funny bit where Colbert offered to bump columnist Frank Rich if Bush would appear on his show Tuesday night -- and not just bump him for the night, but bump him off. How could the Times not notice?

In Wednesday's paper, Steinberg wrote about Colbert's performance with the angle that it's become "one of the most hotly debated topics in the politically charged blogosphere" -- and only quotes Gawker as an example. He also wanders into the land of comedy criticism to explore the assertion that Colbert wasn't funny, but quotes not a comic, but New Republic writer Noam Scheiber. Scheiber (who has contributed to Salon) takes a liberal version of the Scarborough approach. "I'm a big Stephen Colbert fan, a huge Bush detractor, and I think the White House press corps has been out to lunch for much of the last five years," he wrote on the magazine's Web site. "I laughed out loud maybe twice during Colbert's entire 20-odd minute routine. Colbert's problem, blogosphere conspiracy theories notwithstanding, is that he just wasn't very entertaining." Chris Lehman makes the same point in the New York Observer, arguing it was a comic mistake for Colbert to fail to break character.

It's silly to debate whether Colbert was entertaining or not, since what's "funny" is so subjective. In fact, let's even give Colbert's critics that point. Clearly he didn't entertain most of the folks at the dinner Saturday night, so maybe Scheiber's right -- he wasn't "entertaining." The question is why. If Colbert came off as "shrill and airless," in Lehman's words, inside the cozy terrarium of media self-congratulation at the Washington Hilton, that tells us more about the audience than it does about Colbert.

Colbert's deadly performance did more than reveal, with devastating clarity, how Bush's well-oiled myth machine works. It exposed the mainstream press' pathetic collusion with an administration that has treated it -- and the truth -- with contempt from the moment it took office. Intimidated, coddled, fearful of violating propriety, the press corps that for years dutifully repeated Bush talking points was stunned and horrified when someone dared to reveal that the media emperor had no clothes. Colbert refused to play his dutiful, toothless part in the White House correspondents dinner -- an incestuous, backslapping ritual that should be retired. For that, he had to be marginalized. Voilà: "He wasn't funny."

This is a battle that can't really be won -- you either got it Saturday night (or Sunday morning, or whenever your life was made a little brighter by viewing Colbert's performance) or you didn't. Personally, I'm enjoying watching apologists for the status quo wear themselves out explaining why Colbert wasn't funny. It's extending the reach of his performance by days without either side breaking character -- the mighty Colbert or the clueless, self-important media elite he was satirizing. For those who think the media shamed itself by rolling over for this administration, especially in the run-up to the Iraq war, Colbert's skit is the gift that keeps on giving. Thank you, Stephen Colbert!

3 comments:

piu piu said...

just read this (and heard about it) for the first time! great stuff! thanks!

Antoine said...

thank you for posting this!

WeedMan said...

did you knew that president Obama admitted that he used to smoke marijuana as a kid giving one of the most memorable [url=http://weedquotes.blogspot.com%5dweed quotes[/url] ever ?