Political satire has a long and effective history of highlighting important social and political issues, going back at least as far as the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.
Contemporary satire has taken many forms, from political cartoonists like the late Paul Conrad; the sixties Yippies throwing burning cash from the balcony of the New York Stock Exchange, performance art that finds contemporary expression in the corporate punking Yes Men; late night television comics; stand up comedians; radio shows like Stephani Miller’s; and Bill Maher’s commercial free political rants on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher, the successor to his ABC show, Politically Incorrect (canceled because he said something politically incorrect), which is even now finding new life as early tapes oTeabagger Senate candidate Christine O’Donnel have emerged, making her the laughing stock of the nation.
Technological innovations from the creation of the internet to the magic of Photoshop has empowered hordes of political bloggers to lampoon the powers that be. Social networking sites like Facebook can launch a presidential candidacy (Barak Obama), or organize protests against the likes of Tony Blair (encouraging “friends” to move his new memoir justifying the Iraq War from autobiographies to the crime section in their local bookstores). The Twitterverse provides instant snark to millions.
Then there’s Comedy Central‘s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, in a class by themselves as their multiple Emmys prove. While roughly a third of Stewart’s programming involves skits by his always excellent ensemble cast (many of whom have gone on to lucrative careers of their own, including Steve Carell and Colbert himself), Stephen is a one man show, a format that befits his outsized Bill O’Reilly persona.
In his seminal 1964 book, Undertanding Media, Marshall Mcluhan observed that “the content of a medium is just the juicy piece of meat used by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind.” Stephen is a master burglar in this sense, using innovative comedic devices to disguise and infiltrate his advocacy of a number of critical social and political issues. (I’ve covered a few of his skits here at US, summarized below.)
But his performance before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration yesterday was in another category altogether. Other actors and entertainers have appeared before Congress giving testimony on issues dear to their hearts, such as Kevin Costner‘s recent testimony before the House Energy and Environment subcommittee investigating BP‘s despoiling of the Gulf Oil Mexico. But nobody has ever dared to do it in character.
To those familiar with Colbert’s schtick, separating satire from substance is easy, as was the case here. But judging from the puzzled looks of many of the congressmen on the panel, especially those with an “R” after their names, they alternated between befuddled and be pissed. (Neurocognitive studies have shown that some people aren’t capable of recognizing sarcasm due to lesions to the area of the brain responsible for registering same, but they are fairly rare and shouldn’t be considered a factor here.)
Colbert’s testimony got off to a rocky start when liberal Congressman John Conyers suggested that he forgo live testimony due to the mob of reporters that had crammed into the hearing room (not shown in the clip above). But Colbert held his ground, saying he would be happy to do so if the congresswoman who had invited him, the committee’s chairwoman, Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), agreed. She didn’t and the show went on.
Colbert and Lofgren have caught a lot of flack from both sides of the political spectrum for his appearance, from David Corn on the left, to the screaming banshees on the right, most vociferously from former beauty queen, Fux News’ Gretchen Carlson. But I think Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), who took over Hilda Solis‘ heavily Hispanic district in E. Los Angeles, said it best:
The lone day Mr. Colbert spent in the fields gave him a better understanding of this issue than many people covering this story.
As promised, Stephens greatest US hits.
Stephen channels the public outrage over using taxpayer dollars to bail out the likes of AIG and other Wall Street bankstas.
Stephen says he just loves Glenn Beck’s sanity and fears for it…that I wrote in tot: Simply brilliant.
Stephen takes on the Obama Administration to task for preserving and extending the Bush Administration’s extra-judicial activities
Stephen underscores the danger to America’s democracy in the infamous Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizen’s United
Preparing for the Beckapolalypse with Beck’s sponsor’s magic beans: Nothing moves product like the hot stink of fear
Fake news it’s not.
Back from a two week vacation, Stephen weighs in on the Shirley Sherrod libel, cats that look like Hitler, and an Andrew Breitbart style mashup of the State Department’s resident genocidal maniac, Hilary Clinton.
Stephen busts Laura Ingraham on the racist imaginings in her new book The Obama Diaries, asking her: What are the odds that Barack Obama’s private musings would completely and perfectly match up with the narrative that the right is trying to push about him?
Stephen ruminates on the prospect of staring down a shrimp harvested from the toxic brew of the GOM.
Then of course there was his classic roasting of George W. Bush at the White House correspondent dinner in 2007. Think of how it must have felt to look a sitting president in the eye and tell him that his attempt to reverse his sinking poll numbers, then 32%, wasn’t the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titantic but more like rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenberg.