Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Big Brass Colberts

After Stephen Colbert's performance at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, they'll have to change that expression. Because Colbert has become the embodiment of big brass ones. It was nothing save a fearless and uncompromising in your face skewering of the powerful. It was as classic as Jon Stewart's appearance on Crossfire when he thrashed the blowhards on that program. Except with higher value targets. At turns he left the audience in stunned silence and at times in spurts of nervous laughter. And at points they could not stifle outright belly laughs. But Colbert did not falter. He did not break character. At home we were ROTFLOFAO.

What makes Colbert's attack so deadly is that it is not a frontal assault. It is not an angry, loud, or strident. It is not crude. It is not Ann Coulter. It is a kind of philosophical judo that uses the weight of the opponents arguments against them. His weapon is irony. And he uses it with the deadly accuracy of a Samurai warrior. If you haven't seen The Colbert Report (pronounced colber repor, the Ts are silent), on Comedy Central, and you should, his character is a parody of the Bill O'Reilly, Tucker Carlson, blowhard conservative pundit type taken to the Nth degree. You can see clips on Comedycentral.com.

Colbert's is a brand of political and cultural commentary in the vein of the French Situationist, as this commentary on Salon points out.
In the late 1960s, the Situationists in France called such ironic mockery "detournement," a word that roughly translates to "abduction" or "embezzlement." 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. "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."
There is a site set up for fans to thank Stephen for the courage of his performance at www.thankyoustephencolbert.org. Because he was not feeling the love from the audience, and it is easy to see why. They were the butt of the joke. Which is not much different from what he does on his show, but there it is one on one and it works. Last night on the Daily Show Jon Stewart wondered if they'd expected Colbert to do what he does on his show. There are links on thankyoustephencolbert.org to the whole performance. YouTube has a 60 Minutes piece on Colbert, the real Stephen Colbert, not the character from the Report.

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