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Monday, September 27, 2010

The Debate Over Colbert

Sept. 27th, 2010

by F. Grey Parker

As most everyone knows, Stephen Colbert made quite the appearance before the House Judiciary Committee last week to discuss immigration reform. The coverage, in my view, has been a testament to the failure of the moment. A great number of bright thinkers heartily disagree. 

Below, is a thread from another forum between myself and some of my compatriots who mostly think I have it all wrong. I have only used their initials as it was a private thread. Everything has been copied without correction. It has been a lively and contentious debate so far. I may have missed some valuable points in my haste. I may simply have been dismissive of others. Tempers flared. I lost my cool at times. I even received a personal message describing my tone and work as arrogant which is distinctly possible. Warts and all, though, it has definitely not been a waste of efforts.

F. G. P. 

Am I the only person who realizes just how much damage Colbert caused today?

S. M. 
damage or view of stupidity

C. P.
No. You and most media jealous about his getting more people to watch CSPAN on this issue than ever would consider it share the same mistaken notion. There's a style of presentation he used that even the farmworkers' president appreciated. I think that you're missing his point.

F. G. P. 
I am pissed, frankly. If there is anyone in America who has a better grasp of how news is segmented, spun and compartmentalized than Colbert, I'd be hard pressed to name them. 

Unfortunately, it doesn't matter how much of what he said was correct, the presentation was glib and ultimately arrogant. Instead of broadening sensitivity to his talking points he wound up giving the rest of the media an excuse for a sideshow.

I am not saying he couldn't be funny. But every entertainer needs to know "how to play the room." He wasn't there to please the farmworkers or his sympathetic audience. He was supposed to be there to try and move those in the middle. Or, it was just another sideshow.

C. P.
Well, you shouldn't be pissed. No one has any way of knowing which of the committee are "in the middle." The Chair of the committee appreciated his highlighting an important flaw in anti-immigrant arguments.

He brought this issue to his d
emographic, which will now become one of their causes. One of my former students, now a recent college grad, said today: " I think he nailed it with this one. Congress failed to see the truth behind his humor. This is just another reason to appreciate this man..."

Can't you see that he entered into the Congressional Record the results of the "Take Our Jobs" offer by the UFW? He and they literally PROVED that Americans can no longer cry that undocumented workers are taking their jerbs, when they proved that they can't/don't want to do the very jobs upon which 5 - 6 other jobs depend? He recounted that, out of 3,000,000 who showed an interest, only 8.700 actually made application, and of them, only EIGHT, EIGHT are now actually working in the fields.

Spin it as glib or arrogant, a racist code meme was broken and he raised awareness. Didn't you also see how one of the committee members recounted the visits of various other celebrities in the past? This event is not new for Congress.
I saw the whole thing, and was glad he did it. When DREAM comes up, the public will be more engaged with Congress about it because of him.

C. D-G.
This event wouldn't have gotten the press that it did (i.e. no one would have even known about it) had he not done what he did...end of story. Think about who America is these days and what they value: pop culture over politics, reality TV over REALITY, etc. What he did won't change any minds of the fundamentalists, but it may energize those who are more reasonable about immigration issues.

One of the biggest faults on the Left is complacency and fatigue (I know because I am guilty). Humor and commaraderie boosts morale, spirit and involvement.

F. G. P.
His PRESENCE would have gotten the press no matter what. The way he did it overwhelmed the issue. No one is talking about the issue. All anyone is talking about is Colbert. If no one is actually talking about the issue, how the hell is it going to energize anyone on the damn issue.

As for complacency, I was chatting some other of the other local OFA activists online last night. This high-hatting showboat of an appearance seems to have sucked the wind out of their sails as much as it did mine. After phone banking, petitioning and directing action at key legislators for DREAM over the last month, do you have any idea how many people are now LESS likely to keep pushing Reid on this issue?

I have received a couple of e-mails from folks who are NOW fatigued. THIS fatigued them. We already feel like neither OFA or MoveOn has provided us with the materials or the coordination that we need. We already feel like the grassroots is being left out in the cold by like-minded groups and individuals who have both media access and the power of the purse but are not helping.

I don't need Colbert to put me in the position of trying to talk a fellow local activist BACK INTO ACTION. That's what my experience with this has been. And I call bullshit.

Leave the malarkey to Glenn Beck. We're fighting against the most dangerous flirtation with fascism in our country's history. We need our message to be fierce and firm. Anything that turns politics into just more entertainment this close to the election is a disservice. Or, perhaps you think people are going to be more likely to vote because they are laughing?

C. P
I do. They are. I've told both OFA and MoveOn the same things you've said in no uncertain terms. They don't listen, either.

But it's going to be okay. The smart people aren't going to give up good politics that easily. The only clowns are 
the "serious" media people who think they're "king makers" in this political game. The laughers know otherwise.

What's left for the powerless or voiceless but to laugh at a corporate-captured congress -- and its media lapdogs -- all the way to the voting booth? If neither can claim to be taken any more seriously by their leaders, at least laughing people are healthier and more clear-headed than angry people.

C. E. G.
You've said it all Grey, i didnt realize the impression his input would make at first

S. B.
Satire is utterly lost on the stupid. If you doubt me, just read the original newspaper reviews of Swift's "A Modest Proposal"

F. G. P.
But Colbert could have pulled it off. It's not what he MEANT to do that I mind... It's what he DID I don't like.

C. P.
When you're not in control of the venue it's hard to be in top form. Besides, he's humble enough to know that he was not "the show."

For what it's worth, this is a good slice of his past in Chicago:

N. Z 
unfortunately, educated and thoughtful people tend to get mired down in the minutia and takes away only the negative rather than seeing the whole as an overall positive &/or a victory. The victory here is that the issue is being portrayed as more complicated than just "They Are Taking Our Jobs!" It's becoming more difficult to pigeon hole this issue into a neat sound byte, and that is by far a Colbert victory. IMHO, that is.

F. G. P.
Hey everybody. Nice, lively set of responses here. Now if you would be as forthcoming with commentary over at my ACTUAL BLOG... :-) just sayin'.

Anyway, I stand by my critique. I think a lot of the media praise that's been heaped on Colbert
 is about as smug as most of the criticism. I did find a better than average write up at the Nation. Check it out:

C. P.
Correction: the media panned him: "... to the Washington press corps, you’d think he’d just put a condom on the Washington Monument or something. Even the NBC guys were ruffled—Chuck Todd said he was “offended”... which really offended ME.You're wrong about there being a lot of media praise. There's a lot of popular praise that doesn't reach MSM. Different.

MSM make a mockery of politics AND the electorate by blowing up the emo retarded dramas of only 2% of the electorate to paint ALL voters with the same brush. And too many reasonable voters get taken in by this media ass clownery.

On top of that, too many on the Right so badly want this man's comic persona to be real that when he nightly burns their prejudices and stupidity before their eyes, they ignore it. So they're not helping.

Most Comedy Central viewers are young and have always known Colbert to be a classic Catholic liberal underneath, which was an uncomfortable revelation to the obtuse when he slipped from right wing character to honestly answer an honest question.

When anyone makes fun of do-nothing politicians, I say politicians should suck it up with good humor or umbrage. Colbert mocked people who deserve mocking, and by their acceptance of his testimony, they showed that they know they are wrongly inactive about immigration reform. I don't care how they and their stupid media lapdogs feel.

You stand by your critique? People occasionally misread media effort, but when you stand hard by your offended critique, then you're surely standing up for Washington's own impotent, political mockery of racist immigration issues. When you refuse to focus on Colbert's message by focusing on how he sent his message, you are humorless.

C. P.
Thanks, N. Z.

F. G. P.
C. P. wrote :"You stand by your critique? People occasionally misread media effort, but when you stand hard by your offended critique, then you're surely standing up for Washington's own impotent, political mockery of racist immigration issues. When you refuse to focus on Colbert's message by focusing on how he sent his message, you are humorless."

It is not I who am refusing to focus on the message. It's a vast majority of the media that is. And not only the bad old MSM. If no one is really talking about the message, then the delivery of the message failed. I am completely on board with his message. I suspect N. Z., S. B. and C. D-G. are too. That's my point. His methods didn't actually advance the debate. It gave those that are looking for any way to keep us from doing so exactly what they needed.

And yes, Colbert "mocked people who deserve mocking." But that is precisely what his TV show is for. With so little time in front of committee available these days, there is no excuse for him not doing a better job.

I would like to point out that not one single post here has addressed, endorsed or proposed a specific legislative initiative. That's the problem. Talking about the esotericism of satire or the importance of dressing down the racists or pooh-poohing those who are stuck in the minutiae doesn't get us any closer to substantive bill creation much less the signing of a law.

So we still have the same @12 million mostly hard working human beings inside our borders who are just as marginalized as they were before. The only difference is that now, no one is even talking about what we do about it. Everybody is talking about Colbert. Just like this thread.

N. Z.
Grey- I believe you are over thinking an issue that is not going to be solved by us sitting on our butts and prattling on about the petty details and searching for something to get angry about. It's going to get solved by taking the issue to the streets and showing each one of these ignorant anti immigration fuckwits how ass backwards their platforms are. So can we please stop exercising our thesauri and put foot to pavement instead? Divisiveness within our already tenuous ranks will lead ultimately to our failure. Let's agree to disagree but compromise and say that good points were made by Colbert that cannot and should not be overshadowed simply because he chose a familiar venue to exercise his fact based opinions.

As the OP, you set the focus and you can't fault everyone else if/when you want to shift its focus; everyone's only reacting to your being offended by Colbert's style of testimony. If Colbert fails to advance the debate, it's only because of the greater total FAIL by media to get off their corporate owners' laps and do the investigating that Colbert did. In spite of MSM's fail...

DREAM gets some attention -- also, the UFW president's testimony got put into the Congressional Record -- and Colbert's testimony will give DREAM more attention, and the bill will reach the House/Senate floors for a vote all the sooner. Bottom line is that the 12 million who work unnoticed can no longer be undermined by Congress' vote pander to "stealing are jerbs." That's a change that pro-workers' activists can force the electorate to face.

Colbert very importantly outted the electorate, as well, who want to cheap out on workers' rights when unemployed citizens don't even want the jobs themselves, AND LIE ABOUT IT. Public focus will have to shift to DC ignoring the illegality of corporate hiring. Congressional focus will have to shift to legally make Big Ag accountable. If they don't shift, it's not Colbert's fault, it's the fault of the electorate and prejudice-pandering congress people who only pretend to govern.

We all need to man up and force Congress to pass the DREAM Act. Perfect it's not, but it's a start. There's no better legislation that I know of. Maybe you can find something. Mucho trabajo, eh?

N. Z.
Amen!!! Praise Jefferson!

F. G. P.

I did set the focus. The focus was that the "damage" I referred to was in Colbert becoming the story rather than advancing the dialog. Drawing attention to that fact only affirms my critique.
As for it being the media's fault that Colbert's
 message didn't get through, I have to again point out that communicating through media is what he does for a living.

F. G. P.

@N. Z. - you wrote: "It's going to get solved by taking the issue to the streets and showing each one of these ignorant anti immigration fuckwits how ass backwards their platforms are. So can we please stop exercising our thesauri and put foot to pavement instead?"

With all due respect, earlier in this thread I communicated how much some of my fellow activists and I had felt set back by this. I am not engaging in idle in-fighting.

Also, this is the way I write. I do not require "thesauri".

Many of us are working on both issue and candidate campaigns and not just writing rants. Some of us are putting in over 40 hours a week on top of our regular every day lives to get something done. This issue is one that I have been in the trenches with for months. I spent more than twenty hours last week phone banking registered dems to call their senators in support of DREAM. When cloture failed, a lot of planning was being done to refocus the campaign in support of it and to re-excite the base.

I have had two phone conversations TODAY with colleagues who I would venture have been working a lot harder than myself on DREAM and they are throwing in the towel until next year. They both cited this. They ARE the ones who were in the "streets". Instead of having some momentum to hold Reid's feet to the fire, this has fatigued the activist base. Now they are both focusing on the Ellsworth campaign at the expense of this and other issues.

We are not "just sitting on our butts."


In a nutshell, that's where we found ourselves.

Feel free to continue here.

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