One of my biggest gripes with the extreme flanks of the political debate is this: neither the far-left nor the far-right appears capable of modulating their respective screeching. This not only self-marginalizes both wings, but all of the indiscriminate shouting tends to bleed together into a kind of monotonous white noise resulting in actual decision-makers shrugging them off, Oh it’s just the flanks shouting, like always. Nothing to see here.
Facebook and especially Twitter, with its well-known nuance-free vacuum, only amplifies this dynamic.
Any movement that’s interested in actually influencing the corridors of power is best served by modulating its efforts — being more reasonable with friendlies, tough on opponents, while standing firm on whatever goals they seek to achieve. Effective persuasion is about more than shouting down everyone who gets in the way of those goals. Case in point, is President Obama more willing to listen to Glenn Greenwald, who makes it a point of vocally dismissing the president as a war criminal and baby killer, or Rachel Maddow who mixes reasonable, thoughtful criticism of the president with credit where credit is due? The answer is obvious.
Likewise, there are men and women in powerful stations who have, each in their own way, spoken out against those who market in hatred, intolerance or racism. Over the past several days, one of those men, Stephen Colbert, has been unfairly smeared as an enemy of tolerance by nuance-blind Twitter hashtag activists.
As you’re probably aware by now, on Wednesday night’s show, Colbert, who plays what he describes as an “idiot” — a meta-satirical version of a reactionary paleoconservative cable news host — was very clearly mocking and shaming Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder over the title of his new charity: “The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.” It’s a fantastic set-up for a smack down. Colbert announced that he — again, playing a far-right cable news idiot — was forming the “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.” The intention here was to scold Snyder’s obvious tone-deafness: the inclusion of “Redskins” in the name of a charity aimed at helping Native Americans.
Whether it’s been Rush Limbaugh (Obama is a “little black manchild”) or Bill O’Reilly (“Em-effer — I want more iced tea!”) or all points in between, Colbert has always played his fake cable news persona as being in allegiance with those guys as a way to mock from within their ongoing syllabus of ridiculous and often racially insensitive remarks. The character he plays is in cahoots with the Limbaughs and O’Reillys of the world, and through his character, he incisively highlights their myopia.
In a recent interview, Colbert stated quite clearly that his role isn’t to prescribe solutions to problems, but instead to mock through exaggeration and caricaturization the people who are responsible for the problems. It’s difficult to think of another performer working in television today who’s been more effective at this task.
Now, sure, I concede that the name “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong” is in and of itself offensive. But here’s the thing: it was supposed to be. It was supposed to be shocking in order to underscore how shocking it is, in Colbert’s view (the man’s, not the character’s), that “Redskins” is seriously the name of a professional football team in 2014. In other words, it was a spot-on comment about the shocking offensiveness of the word “redskins.” If his satirical charity wasn’t at all offensive, how could it ever adequately comment upon the offensiveness of “Redskins?”
Using offensive words in the context of satire is much more than a comedy tradition, it’s often what makes for the most thought-provoking comedy, whether it was… READ MORE