Friday, June 12, 2009

Stephen Colbert in Iraq

When Stephen Colbert first announced that he was doing a week of shows in the Middle East, it seemed to me like a sensible idea. The soldiers there probably need all the entertainment they can get, and the general concept fits in well with the character's bullet-headed, jingoistic persona.


This week was the week. And the results were, I'm sorry to say...weak. And worse, they were weak for reasons that should have been entirely predictable.

Obviously, you have a big rhetorical challenge on your hands if you're trying to do something like this. Colbert is known as a satirist, but if you're trying to appeal to a general audience (as opposed to the entirely self-selecting one that watches the show in the States), there are very definite limits on what you can and cannot do. Limits which, honestly, might well be insurmountable.

There were funny moments. Of course there were. It's Colbert. But not nearly at the same frequency as there are in the regular show. Instead, we got an incredibly toothless, anodyne barrage of jokes--most of them recycled several times--to the effect of "boy, it sure is hot here, isn't it?" "boy, there sure is a lot of sand, isn't there?" "boy, Saddam's palaces sure were ostentatious, weren't they?" "boy, alcohol sure is illegal here, isn't it?" This is what is known, in scientific parlance, as "weakass shit." It would no doubt have been better if you were there, but it was never going to be comic genius. There were a few exceptions--a joke about soldiers clandestinely masturbating in outhouses surprised me--but only a precious few.

There were also video clips from a strenuously bipartisan array of politicians, each of whom made an incredibly insipid, canned joke. And the metajoke--oh look, the powerful politicians are getting WACKY--wasn't much either.

So: kinda lukewarm. But what's more insidious--and the reason why, in my opinion, this whole enterprise shouldn't have been undertaken in the first place--is that the entire week was basically a long combination army recruitment campaign and Iraq War PR video. There is never any question but that the soldiers are on a noble, victorious mission. Under the circumstances, how could you possibly expect anything else? But more to the point, the actual situation in the country is badly distorted by the fact that--again, completely inevitably--all the guests were military personnel. If this show were your only source of news on the war, you would never guess that there was still any sort of significant violence still going on. You would really and truly believe that the invasion was a good and noble thing, that we're basically done there, and that the end results will be unalloyedly positive for everyone involved. If we were talking about World War II, in which our involvement was widely uncontroversial and the reasons for fighting were clear and unambiguous, that would be one thing. But this is not that, and under the circumstances, painting this picture strikes me as rather malignant.

You know those Kraft ranch dressing commercials where Samantha Bee goes to various places purported to be "Hidden Valleys" (and who knew the rivalry between salad dressing manufacturers was so bitter?) to see how people like The Great Taste Of Kraft Ranch? Those commercials are distasteful because they represent a big corporation attempting (pretty ineptly, but it's the effort that counts) to co-opt, and thereby neuter, Bee's Daily Show persona in order to sell shit.

Same principle here, only much worse. If Colbert were nothing more than an apolitical song-and-dance man, I wouldn't say anything--but he has a well-earned reputation as a sharp satirist, and seeing that reputation being used by the military to prop up an illegal war and occupation--not a pretty sight. Compare this to his White House Correspondents' Dinner performance, in which he viciously insulted President whatsisname to his face. This is very much Colbert Defanged.


Anonymous dlauthor pontificated to the effect that...

Thank you. I'd been thinking something along those lines, too. Good material for a USO tour, but weaksauce for his show. The best and most enlightening part of the week was the bit he did about Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the reaction to which made clear that the soldiers themselves think the whole thing is idiotic. But otherwise, it just sorta lay there, and yeah, we should have seen it coming.

Much more interesting has been Jason Jones in ACTUAL FREAKING TEHRAN for the election this week on TDS. What the hell? There's a man with some cojones.

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

Well, put not your faith in cable TV comedians, I guess. A while ago, Jon Stewart was interviewing some neocon ideologue, and during the interview, he (Stewart) argued against Truman's use of the atomic bomb. The next day, Stewart recanted everything he had said, in a very strained bit, and tried to write his criticism of Truman off as a spur-of-the-moment exaggeration, when in fact he had gotten it pretty much right the first time. I guess his corporate sponsors had a word with him behind the scenes, or something.


12:01 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

I agree that the DADT was the best part (also amusing, albeit not in a very political way: the part at the beginning where he's asking questions to try to figure out where he is, and upon receiving a "no" to "can I get a Kosher meal here?" he crosses off "Israel" and puts a question mark next to "Mel Gibson's Island).

From Stewart, I wouldn't necessarily expect more. Occasionally he goes for the jugular; mostly, he's WAY too nice to asshole neocon guests. Which, no doubt, is why they're willing to come on.

12:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

Ah, no, my point was that he was actually quite incisive during the actual interview with the neocon. He only recanted at the beginning of the following day's show. So it wasn't just out of politeness to the guest, since by that point the interview had long been over.


1:00 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

I know what you meant; I'm merely describing his typical MO. I think I turned off that interview, because I strenuously object to shitheads like Clifford May, but I did see the takeback--there is something just a little RICH about apologizing for being (allegedly) over-the-top with a fucking TORTURE APOLOGIST.

3:14 PM  

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