Wednesday, May 03, 2006

How A Comedy Persona Terrorized His Victims

First you have the video of Stephen Colbert standing before the thousands of people at the White House Correspondents Dinner like he was their worst nightmare. Colbert, the mock-conservative who uses black humor to twist neo-con logic to its ultimate far right extreme, was telling the President and the obedient press corps that sat before him:
But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason: they're super-depressing. And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished. Over the last five years you people were so good -- over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.
As you can imagine, the verdict on Colbert's performance has been mixed. This is to be expected given that the target of much of his venom is the same press corps that is supposed to be objectively reporting on him. As an Observer article critically bashed Colbert's performance, their description of the event was curious: "Mr. Colbert had gone through a litany of his own branded, harsher barbs, courtesy of the persona — and in some instances, the scripts — adopted on his cable comedy show, The Colbert Report."

Yes, the persona - sometimes scripted, sometimes not - wrote his way into the event so that his "well-worn shtick" (their term) would have its final say on the political farce that passes as our contemporary Federal government run by so many crooks, cronies, and liars that it's becoming difficult to out-farce them. It's as if this administration's "well-worn shtick" (my term) gets wearingly one-note-ish and whenever they go out and "try new material," the audience boos them off the stage (think of the most recent $100 gas rebate fiasco that happened just this week - a new shtick that bombed with its intended audience).

In a Salon article, "The Truthiness Hurts" (great title), the writer compares Colbert's performance to the Situationists and their "ironic mockery 'détournement,' a word that roughly translates to 'abduction' or 'embezzlement.'" The writers goes on:
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.
He then goes on to quote Guy Debord:
"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."
Of course, that quote is from the 19th century writer Count de Lautreamont, not Debord. But the dark, violent comedy from Lautreamont, the author of Maldoror, does not get its props here because reporters rarely do their in-depth homework, and besides, when the dark humor of the artist-terrorist overtakes the political intentions of that same artist, it's hard to make the necessary connections one must account for when writing journalism. This is why most of the journalists at the Correspondents Dinner didn't "get it" - not because they are dumb (although some of them may be that too), but because they have never done the investigative research into their own and America's dark side. Have you ever read a story in the Washington Post about the darkest, psychic undercurrents of American social behavior that somehow plays into the manufactured "fear factors" produced by the current administration and its none-too-subtle attempts to rule over our individual thought processes?

Still, situating Colbert's performance in the lineage of Situationist détournement in a mainstream press venue like Salon is a good start. And like Lautreamont, Colbert's "shtick" released the deadly emanations of his comic barbs so that they would soak up our souls like water does sugar. The funny thing is that the clueless Washington press corps did not even realize this was happening to them and that the entire event was a pitch-black joke at their expense.

We need more Situationist Comedy.

Metadata: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home