Reform through satire
Stephen Colbert is usually one of the last people to be taken seriously. Since he has decided to run for president – only in South Carolina – he has been a person who should be taken very seriously. While Colbert seems to be comedian first, he is now bringing politics to a whole new generation and calling out the government on some of their actions. This is more than just a prank pulled by a cable show host; this is a statement on politics in America.
Michael Gibbons, USF associate professor of government and international affairs, believes that Colbert is taking this election very seriously.
Colbert is doing what he said the framers of the Constitution wished the American press to do: keep the government in check. When asked to speak at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, he was probably expected just to be funny.
He did bring humor with him that night, but he also brought “truthiness” to the table. He was critical of both the media and President Bush.
“The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down,” said Colbert at the dinner. “Make, announce, type. Just put ’em through a spell check and go home.”
Gibbons explained Colbert’s election is motivated by the failure of the press.
Colbert understands that just saying what is wrong with America is not enough. He knows that satirizing with humor will get the attention of many; those who wish to get their points across have always employed satirizing the government. Take, for example, Voltaire’s Candide and Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.”
In Candide, Voltaire uses humor to subtly discuss his own philosophies. Candide was a best seller in its time and was a major work during the Age of Enlightenment.
Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” was a response to the starvation throughout Ireland in the 18th century.
“Jonathan Swift was quite serious about the fact that England was sitting around doing nothing, while millions of Irish were starving to death,” Gibbons said. “In order to get their attention he engaged in satire.”
Swift said that a way of solving the problem of starvation was to sell children born into poor families as food for the rich. Swift was, in fact, Irish himself and did not actually wish for people to eat children. Gibbons said Swift believed that it was as serious as the nonsense that was brought up in Parliament.
On the Oct. 30 episode of the Colbert Report, Colbert finds that he can’t be sponsored by Doritos for his election. Federal law denies corporations from donating money to candidates. So Colbert is finding ways around this law. Doritos, for example, will not sponsor his election, but will sponsor the coverage of his election on his show.
“In accepting corporate money, I promise to respect federal election laws the same way I respect the must-shower-before-swimming law at the Y,” Colbert said. “As a candidate, I am under no obligation to promote the zesty, robust taste of Doritos brand tortilla chips, regardless of how great a snack they may be for lunchtime, munch time, anytime.”
This is another example of the satire of the questionable fundraising candidates take part in. Hilary Clinton has been accused of fraud in the documentary Hillary Uncensored.
A satirical run may just seem like the best marketing campaign to sell his book, I am America (And so can you) and his new DVD The Best of the Colbert Report, but in reality he is making a clear point about the government that could potentially change it for the better.
Candace Kaw is a junior majoring in mass communications and history.