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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Sunday, April 30, 2006

the Colbert moment

Blogger awol called me and told me to read/watch last night's "moment" at the Washington Correspondent's dinner. (Thanks to Frederick of dkos for the transcript.)

Whoa.

That speech was more than a roast. It was more than humor. (And even in that regard, if you ask me, the last part with the video falls flat.) What Colbert just did wasn't even, in the electoral sense of "who wins or gains," all that political or partisan.

What happened last night night was an epochal blow for the unvarnished truth. The "wall" of BS that runs through DC...the "wall" of lies and business-as-usual that keeps us citizens on the outside of the cozy fiefdom of the press, the parties, the establishment...just had the first big chunk taken out of it in years courtesy of an accidental hero, a jester, a clown.

That speech was a visceral repudiation of politics in this country made all the more powerful because the vehicle for delivering that message was a comedian whose appearance on the podium had the "accidental" effect of letting the fox into the henhouse.

They should have known better.

Hell, letting Stephen Colbert up there in 2006 is like somebody inviting Jello Biafra to give a speech on the same podium as Ronnie Reagan in 1983. Colbert's über-Americanism is an updated version of a punk pose made popular by songs like the Dead Kennedys' "California über alles"...who in turn took chapters from Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times and Shakespeare's Hamlet..."a play's the thing, to catch the conscience of the king." At a certain point the hypocrisy and corruption of the establishment becomes so blantant the only thing to do is to use a "play" to explode the comfortable lies of the powerful from within...taking up their own rhetoric, their own pose, and using it against them.

The truth can't hurt, can it?

Of course it can. Ask the jester. Ask the clown.

And that's exactly what Colbert did in a bravura performance whose legacy will at a minimum be one or two phrases that will be used to sum up George W. Bush for the ages:
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.

and
The greatest thing about this man is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man's beliefs never will.

It's one thing to hang a phrase like that on a sitting president from the comfortable distance of a TV studio or an editorial page...but to do so on the same podium is chutzpah of the highest order. That one was for the history books. Literally.

You see, the hens...the press and the White House...invited the fox to the henhouse for a reason: to coopt him. If you can laugh and share a joke, if you can defuse the "critique" by inviting the critic into the clubhouse, then the wall of BS not only stands but withstands attempts to bring it down earnestly through politics and punditry. "Hey, check out this clown...too funny...he's one of us!" In effect, they invited Colbert, on some level, in order to defang him.

Of course, the hens made a grave mistake thinking that Colbert's schtick was going to have the same effect as Bush's frat-boy "where's the WMD" pranks. The two are fundamentally different. When Bush makes fun of himself and invites the fourth estate to pal along, it's simply one more enabling ploy...it reinforces the wall of BS by pointing out that "hey, we all know this town runs on lies and corruption...isn't that a larf!" When Bush makes funs of himself in front of the press it makes his lies and their obeisance no big deal.

It's not the same with someone like Colbert. Colbert isn't earnest. Like all comedians, he's only in it for himself. (And hats off to him when it benefits us.) Further, since the disinfectant of the truth is the root of all comedy, Colbert simply used the tools of his trade to wicked effect. The fox couldn't help it if the hen house was full of plump targets. (One of those targets, Antonin Scalia "got it", and laughed along heartily as only someone with a lifetime appointment can.)

The point is, the jester Colbert, with his buffoonery, with his send up of the "FOX news" persona, did something that NOBODY has yet done: he defined the bad conscience of DC in forthright terms in front of the guilty parties in a language they understood clear as day. In lambasting "King Bush" and his obvious flaws, Colbert also described the utter poltroonery and obsequience of his "Court" for the last six years. That's what hung in the air over the crowd. The awkward silence was deafening.

They may have come to kiss the King's ass...

but last night Colbert served the DC establishment their posteriors on a platter.

5 Comments:

  • What Colbert did was excellent! Now if only those that it was directed to (the media) will actually take note of it.

    My guess --- no.

    By Blogger Angie, at 6:07 PM  

  • To see the youtube video version in three parts, click on my name

    By Anonymous stickdog, at 10:23 PM  

  • You nailed it, ko! Beautiful post!

    By Blogger Myshkin, at 10:54 PM  

  • it was truly a thing of beauty. colbert knew exactly what he was doing, and spoke truth in halls long unaccustomed to its presence. i'm still stunned by it all.

    they know that we know.

    By Anonymous wu ming, at 1:52 AM  

  • In effect, they invited Colbert, on some level, in order to defang him.

    I hadn't thought of that angle, and you're very probably right about it. The sad (or perhaps 'hopeful' would be a better word) irony is that in the middle of the D.C. 'elite', Colbert stood up and simply did his job - the one thing he's paid to do.

    Oh, that the press would take a lesson from him on this, eh?

    By Anonymous Ripley, at 3:56 PM  

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