#CancelColbert and the “White Conservative Caricature” Dilemma

On Thursday the Twittersphere blew up over the “Cancel Colbert” hashtag started by “hashtag activist” Suey Park. The campaign was in response to a Colbert Report joke that was tweeted out of context from the Comedy Central promotional account (not affiliated with Stephen Colbert).

Original Tweet from Comedy Central Account

Original Tweet from Comedy Central Account

The offensive tweet (now deleted) was the punch-line Colbert used to demonstrate the ridiculousness of Daniel Snyder’s real-life “The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.” For any who don’t know, “redskins” is a slur for Native Americans.

The joke aired on the Wednesday night show, but the outrage did not surface till the offending tweet was published the following day. The hashtag sought to promote conversation of “safe racism” (would this be debatable if he had used the N-word?), and the tendency of white comedians and white activists to hide their racist remarks/tendencies under the Progressive label.

Response Tweets from Suey Park

Response Tweets from Suey Park

Long story short, as the hashtag gained popularity, the conversation derailed into: “Don’t you understand satire?” “Yes, I know satire!” “Stop being sensitive!” “Stop defending racists!” And the always expected death/rape/go-kill-yourself threats otherwise known as the “dark matter” of the internet. (Ok, so I made that up… still fits.)

Amongst the back-and-forth tweets between the pro-hashtag and anti-hashtag camps very few gems of criticism were available.

Dan Snyder gets a break

Daniel Snyder gets a break

When this ends, there really won’t be much of a concrete pay-off in terms of this battle, so everyone seems to be scrambling to find a “take-away”. (If you think smart, successful, and riskier activists such as MLK didn’t pick and plan their battles you need to watch the documentary “Eyes on the Prize.”)

Some look at the practicality of “hashtag activism” (and yes, I personally do separate hashtag and “click” activism from activism), some comment on how to conduct yourself in a twitter debate, some comment on the effect of in-fighting for larger movements, and some wonder whether all voices should be equally heard in a debate (I don’t take kindly to white tears either), or what it means to have Michelle “pro-Asian internment camps” Malkin as an ally, etc.

One problem that was overlooked was Stephen Colbert.

I’m saying this as a fan, who does not–as a woman of color, Muslim, non-American–get offended by his show. And for future reference, of course I mean the character not the man.

Colbert is a caricature of neo-con, conservative media. His show is a mirror to that of Bill O’Reilly’s on Fox News. He extends the assumptions, beliefs, actions, and talking points of conservatives to their logical extremes. When I laugh at his jokes, I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh, they [conservatives] would totally say that! How stupid! How outdated!” etc. I’m exercising my sense of superiority.

For argument sake I’ll call this “White Conservative Caricature,” WCC for short (not to be confused with the White Citizens Council).

In demonstrating WCC there is inherently a problem: how do you approach the caricature of white conservative beliefs without drawing upon the ideas (or -isms) that have historically made up that identity?

In plain English, how can one play a racist without saying something racist? How can one play a sexist without saying something sexist? How can one pretend to be homophobic without saying something homophobic?

The history of conservative White America is not a pretty one. When taking on WCC you’re incorporating a history of colonialism and chattel-slavery, and more domestically: “Black Face,” “Yellow Face,” Cold War hysteria, McCarthyism, etc., frankly a lot of bad crap. (Please spare me the white tears, I know not all white history is bad.)

In Colbert’s case, it’s true that some instances have been more successful than others. For instance, when “defending” Bill O’Reilly’s racist remarks (about Asians), Colbert used “technical difficulties” and his lawyers as a moment to highlight key problems with stereotyping (even as a compliment), and Twitter did not explode.

Bill O’Reilly’s Racial Insensitivity

Many have criticized that Colbert doesn’t walk the line between satire and oppression, he “tramples it” when it comes to topics such as transphobia.

The topic of “safe racism” fits well in this observation. It is safe to say that Colbert will probably never come out on set with black paint all over his face. Certain acts of racism will never be deemed acceptable in any context (though it doesn’t stop some from trying). This then begs the question for some groups who don’t have that level of “protection” why some acts of racism are always unacceptable and not all.

Ultimately one wonders if a character such as a WCC is always inherently harmful because of the history, privilege, and oppression it must draw upon.

I still enjoy the show, but #CancelColbert did succeed in making me think more about the toll a caricature like this may have on the oppressed peoples it tries to lift up through satire.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in The Blog and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

71 Responses to #CancelColbert and the “White Conservative Caricature” Dilemma

  1. llgrafto says:

    We live in a world where everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Unless their opinion could go viral. Then that opinion needs to be politically correct. Sad but true.

    Liked by 2 people

    • tahirra1 says:

      Well, as my mom said, “opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one.” Though I’m not sure what you mean by politically correct? Colbert wasn’t espousing his opinion he was making fun of Dan Snyder’s opinion which was not politically correct.

      Liked by 1 person

      • llgrafto says:

        I get that. The commentary is also a form of opinion though. I was more referring to the original issue however. The opinion that sparked it all. Either way the debate wouldn’t be going on if one comment or another wasn’t “news worthy” and if speech is truly “free” than no opinion however correct or incorrect should be “news worthy” in the first place. Just an interesting irony of sorts.

        Like

        • tahirra1 says:

          Well commentary can be valuable depending on who it is coming from. I don’t believe all opinions are equal on different subjects. *Sweeps blog under the rug* I think valuable commentary comes from experts in the field. Then again, with the twitter-fication of the news, everybody is an “expert” even when the facts are against them.

          Like

  2. Hello. Freshly Pressed brought me here. If it wasn’t for your post & Twitter, I never would’ve known about this. I don’t have cable subscription. 😦

    Liked by 2 people

  3. nataliepetitto says:

    “Safe racism” is an apt description. Satirists are known for these types of jokes. This is also prevalent on SNL, where it’s OK make ” there’s the black guy” joke, because the black comedian goes along with it. However, satire and comedy are different animals, and Colbert fits into that category. Not everyone is intelligent enough to get the meaning behind the joke, so it’s a dangerous joke to make. Again, that’s the point of satire. It’s dark and designed to make people uncomfortable. It’s a fine line.

    Like

    • tahirra1 says:

      Very interesting that you bring up SNL. I was thinking about the differences in reception between Colbert and Stewart. Stewart has a whole team of diverse comedians behind him who bring great material on the subjects of race, sex, religion, nationality, etc. I wonder if people think Colbert should be barred from those topics because he doesn’t have that team (not even among his writers)?

      Like

  4. Ah yes, that whole “safe racism” bit. How many times have I watched my white coworkers go too far for the sake of a joke, a drunken over-share, any random insensitivity that they “didn’t mean.” And how safe it is! Safe like my brother’s rampant use of the N-word when white people aren’t around. And my nephew who seems to want to use it more when they are. Safe because it’s apparently okay for bro to do it around me because I “get it”, and nef’s young culture seems to absorb it as an endearing term. Never in my life have I seen such an evil reference associated with the word “safe.” Damn, I wish everyone wasn’t being so damn safe!

    Gotta admit though, as anal as I am against racism, that Colbert tweet is very funny. That I DO get.

    Like

  5. lmarks04 says:

    Interesting theory. Yeah I guess whites are more able to get away with overt racism.
    dailyquizquestion.wordpress.com

    Like

    • tahirra1 says:

      Thanks for reading! I don’t think any one can “get away” with overt racism. I just mean the character that Colbert plays is inherently racist because the real life versions of that character (Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, etc.) do say a lot of racist crap.

      Like

  6. “Safe racism” is risky. Complimentary racism seems is where it’s at! Who would get upset at being told they’re naturally better at math, or better at jumping high or having mucho awesome fiestas??

    Like

    • tahirra1 says:

      You should definitely watch the movie “42” there’s a very telling scene when a sportscaster tries to argue that Robinson was naturally better at baseball, I won’t spoil it for you. (In general, it’s a great movie to watch no matter what!) Those attitudes and assumptions (about being naturally better) remove the hard work people (mostly POC) did to be better at math, jump higher, or plan the fiestas.

      Like

  7. I’m not sure I agree with you, but I am so using “dark matter” as the technical term for the crappy threats of the internet that come out in every fight.

    I see satire as a type of ultimate slam-dancing of its topic, so as long as care is taken for tact, I don’t see a problem with the WCC. However, the trouble DOES come when we ask what is tactful…we’ll all be sure to have different ideas of what is tactful and what is not. Hrm…I guess it’s not a simple matter no matter how I try to angle it.

    Like

    • tahirra1 says:

      I’m so glad you liked “dark matter!” I felt like such a genius when I came up with it, haha. But yes, I see your point. As a fellow writer, I fear for when tact is used as an excuse to censor.

      Like

  8. Scott Sewell says:

    Very good observations!

    Like

  9. neighsayer says:

    It sounds like someone doesn’t “get” Colbert, and that’s not uncommon. I live in Canada, near Vancouver, and some Canadian friends of mine took offence at something Stephen said about Canada during the Vancouver Olympics. Of course Stephen loves Canada. I have this theory that about half of Colbert’s (and Stewart’s) audience is Canadian, and that on many matters, America has no sense of humour. Take it from a Canadian liberal who never misses Colbert, he’s on the correct side of all these issues, no worries there.
    There was a time though, when he first got his show, that I stopped watching him because all he did was the WCC thing, and it was a little too real. For me, it felt too much like I was really watching Hannity, and I turned him off for a while. But he got sillier and funnier, and now, if you speak decent English, I don’t think there can be any confusion about whose side he’s on. It probably loses a lot in translation, though . . .

    Like

  10. People are starving…Extreme weather is killing people left and right…And there is outrage directed at a tv show???

    Thus the decline of Civilization…

    Like

  11. swiftymr says:

    To me, this seems more like a parody of Daniel Snyder’s foundation that was taken out of context, interpreted as offensive, and plainly blown out of proportion.

    Like

    • tommccrary says:

      Yeah, that’s basically pretty obvious. The discussion underneath the discussion is people wondering if things like that promote or hurt racism. I’d say it obviously hurts racism by making it seem foolish, but some ignorant people would take it literally. Suey Park truly blew it out of proportion. I don’t understand how she thinks it was designed specifically at Asians. They just chose another race that wasn’t as privileged as whites. Personally, I find the movement very stupid.

      Like

      • tahirra1 says:

        Well you did notice the “discussion underneath the discussion,” so it can’t be all that stupid.

        I’d agree though that in picking battles, this was probably the wrong one to choose.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Rocco Brown says:

    Very interesting…

    Like

  13. Michael Bennett says:

    Ironically, Suey Park released a statement about this addressed “Dear White People”.

    I’d like to think that people took her response as satire.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. But isn’t comedy just a matter of sharing jokes and endless humor to everyone? It seems like working as a comedian does not work out good these days. You try to be funny, they try to contradict your sarcasm. Not fair.

    Still, racism is an act of misjudgment. And it is a serious issue. It should not be tolerated. Good thing there’s a fellow Asian named Suey Park.

    Or else, this kind of matter would have been ignored.

    Like

  15. Kevibee says:

    Had no idea hashtag activism was a thing. Interesting read, congrats on freshly pressed!

    Like

    • tahirra1 says:

      Haha, I use “activism” extremely generously in that setting. It has a place, but without boots on the ground it’s just punditry to me. Thanks for reading!

      Like

  16. chunter says:

    Colbert plays his role so well and stays in character so strongly that I think I’d find the out-of-character him interesting… but after that cat’s out of the bag, the old Colbert loses its strength…

    I suppose he considers himself to be playing the role correctly if he can generate real outrage.

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

    Like

    • tahirra1 says:

      Thanks! Colbert’s been out of character often, actually. There’s a pretty good Bill O’Reilly interview with the real Colbert (you should definitely look it up on youtube). I don’t think he loses his strength, I think clarifying that he doesn’t believe the crazy things his character says mitigates the swell of more criticisms that would follow otherwise. But true, real outrage means he is certainly good in his role!

      Like

  17. backuphill says:

    All this uproar over Colbert, and yet nothing about SNL’s “Black Jeopardy” last night.

    I have said it before, we pick and choose what we are offended by. Sometimes we are and other times we are not. I am guessing whomever is behind the Colbert thing was laughing the other night at SNL. There is no standard that is hard and fast any longer and most people are just too sensitive these days.

    Like

    • tahirra1 says:

      Actually there was a #CancelSNL to that too.

      Like

    • ironeaagle says:

      So I just started typing into my address bar for black Jeopardy, got to ‘black j’….and I get a suggestion list that includes niggermania.com. I was kinda stunned, totally thrown off track. Black Jeopardy was a VERY bad idea for SNL, and will produce huge amounts of traffic for a website of, apparently, black jokes. I’m not offended by that crap anymore, but I marvel. It’s like a fully automatic shotgun; it exists only because it can.

      Like

  18. Hann Solo says:

    There’s a difference between laughing WITH racism, and laughing AT racism. We should be more concerned about real, structural racism than what a satirist with a 22 minute show on Comedy Central thinks.

    Liked by 2 people

    • tahirra1 says:

      Just to play Devil’s Advocate: what do you think about the argument that your impact is more important than your intention? Also, to the racist in the room, what’s the difference between laughing with or at a racist joke when all he/she hears is laughter and not the motive behind it?

      Like

      • Hann Solo says:

        That’s nobody’s problem. PC people are never happy.

        Like

        • tahirra1 says:

          Still playing D/A: Well there is a portion of Colbert’s fan base that doesn’t know he’s playing a character, believing and agreeing with what he says. Wouldn’t they feel empowered if there weren’t checks every so often like the Cancel Colbert hashtag?

          Like

          • Hann Solo says:

            I’m not responsible for someone else’s ignorance.

            Like

            • tahirra1 says:

              I agree with that. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to change a racist’s mind (hard to argue with someone who sees you as less than human to begin with). I guess for me the difference is when that ignorance collectively harms others. One racist may seem like nothing, but a racist system that protects them harms many. That’s why I prefer targeting systems not individuals. Sometimes though, individuals (especially famous/well respected ones) can be a good indicator of how a system is working. So highlighting individuals is good. But really the system is what really oppresses. Of course systems are usually made up of individuals who perpetuate it, which in turn churns out more individuals that fall within that system… and round and round we go.

              Liked by 1 person

  19. bringreaner says:

    I had similar thoughts about this. I’m a fan of Colbert but I also spend a lot of time around Asians and see the way they’re portrayed and it does bother me.

    I just didn’t know what to think about this, because I can see and partially agree with both sides of the issue. To make fun of someone you sort of have to do what they do…but studying Japanese in the Midwest has also led people to say things like ‘ching chong ding dong’ to me, and it’s very frustrating. At the same time I know he’s showing how utterly ridiculous it is, by saying something else that we’re supposed to take as utterly ridiculous, which is good. But a lot of people don’t think that far into it.

    And it’s true that it took attention away from the issue of the mascot name.

    Ack, and so I go around and around in circles.

    Like

    • tahirra1 says:

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who was on the fence about this. Both sides have valid arguments in their favor, which makes it harder. Then again, a very dear professor of mine used to say: justice is not blind, it’s hard.

      Like

  20. I’m glad someone had the courage to call out the hypocrisy of certain philosophical strains (and races) being given a pass on racism, while others are vilified for the same things. Plus, there are some people out there (to steal a bit from Doug Stanhope) with their blank signs and Sharpies at the ready just HOPING someone says something offensive so they can complain; bitching makes some people happy, I guess!

    It’s like Carrol O’Connor playing Archie Bunker. How is playing a bigot possible without bigotry? We laugh at The Colberts, Bunkers, and Cartmans of the world because they are racist asses, not because we consider them role models! Silence the satirists and it is the racists who win.

    Like

    • tahirra1 says:

      I’m not sure if it’s hypocrisy or if it’s just two sides refusing to contend with each others’ ideas and concerns. I’ve met lots of people who just like to bitch and never do anything, so I’m not going to say those blank sign people don’t exist. But I do prefer to err on the side of listening. Hypothetically, even if Ms. Park didn’t believe in what she said, she still raised enough ruckus to make others think of the valid issues surrounding the hashtag (even if indirectly). Not sure which races are getting away with racism as you say…

      Like

      • Thanks for the thoughtful reply, honestly. And I do see your point. But, as far as “which races” get away with racist jokes, I should’ve been a little more clear: actually, all groups (not just races, per se) has elements who feel like stereotyping and racial humor should be their privilege exclusively, yet they should themselves be protected from it. Perhaps it is universal human nature to be able to “dish it out, but not take it in”.

        Most of what is on TV offends me. I simply refuse to watch without trying to incite the mob to hound them off the air. Again, thanks for your civility and insight.

        Like

        • tahirra1 says:

          Usually the stereotyping or racial humor is about their own demographic. I think that sort of “in-humor” goes along with the idea of community/identity building. Those jokes come out of a shared experience for that group. I suppose a much smaller example of that is in-jokes amongst a group or friends or a family. When someone not part of the group starts laughing most people look at them and think, “why are you laughing? You weren’t even there.” etc. (Or maybe I’m more possessive than most :P) Thanks for reading and having the conversation with me, it’s been a treat!

          Like

  21. itscarly says:

    Reblogged this on Love and Looks.

    Like

  22. Thank you for the balanced approach to the issue! I agree that this has come to a loggerheads of two sides refusing to talk. Park raised a legitimate issue: opposition to racial satire through irony. Very valid and worthy of debate. But I believe her tactics were manipulative. Through denigrating a brilliant (though not untouchable) satirist, her real aim was goading his defenders to prove her point, and in doing made the debate built in incredibly shaky foundation of Colbert’s character, and ruined any chance for a reasonable debate on race. I’ve written my own take here. https://finetoothcolumn.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/stephen-colbert-and-the-politics-of-manufactured-controversy/

    Like

    • tahirra1 says:

      Thanks for reading and the link to your blog, it was an interesting take away from the hashtag Cancel Colbert (trying not to actually hashtag it anymore). I completely agree that she picked the wrong target because of course this was going to become about Colbert and not the not-so-liberal fans she was trying to pull out. On the point of manipulation though I’d have to say it is an effective tool for activism. You should really get your hands on “Eyes on the Prize” and look at how the confrontations were planned out in some cases (most famously with Bull Conor, a super racist police chief). Connor was a Bull, and MLK forced him (by means of nonviolent protests) into a china shop then let the world watch the destruction. In that case the manipulation didn’t show anything untruthful about Connor, it just brought it out in plain view. In this case Ms. Park chose the wrong person to be her bull in a china shop.

      Like

  23. My, oh my. When did it become such a big deal for someone to make a light satire of something? If Lewis Black said this, who would have revolted? Not a single person.

    The blatant fact of the matter is blinded activists will take a person, ignore their entire life of contribution and otherwise benevolent statements and use ONE misguided joke as the defining characteristic of that person. It’s pathetic. We are defined by the sum of our lives, not one single event from it.

    Like

  24. Prophecy says:

    Reblogged this on Dometi Pongo and commented:
    Couldn’t put this article down. My take: Satire is used to highlight societal ills in a light-hearted way. Let’s not silence one of those voices.

    Like

  25. jsam245 says:

    stop crying about the stuff other people say get a job ,get thicker skin

    Like

  26. Ian Carry says:

    can we talk about how the majority of white conservatives are in fact not racist and how you are doing nothing but contributing to the polarization of this country?

    Like

  27. bladimz says:

    Colbert’s tweet was just a stab at the Redskins’ weak gesture at creating a native american foundation. You only have to recognize their bogus attempt at smoothing out the whole conversation concerning the team’s name and logo to understand Colbert’s tweet. That said, he knew that he’d get a pretty strong response. Wouldn’t you? In fact, i can imagine that the #CancelColbert movement might have been a plant; all part of his gig.

    Like

  28. #Global411 says:

    Reblogged this on #Global411 and commented:
    Interesting points made.

    Like

  29. #hashtagactivistbecauseactuallydoingsomethingintherealworldiswaaaayyyytoohard

    Like

  30. agentlabroad says:

    I don’t know that The Colbert Report is trying to lift anyone up, but rather expose the hypocrisy of people who like to keep other people down. And no, duh, you can’t parody homophobics, racists or sexists without saying something homophobic, racist or sexist. So stop pondering that. For some folks, humor is a great way to relieve the stress of disenfranchisement and oppression. I have heard the most racist jokes spring from the lips of black friends, for instance. For some it’s a pursed lipped sign of everything that’s wrong. I personally believe in humor, and surround myself with people who believe in humor. Cause if you don’t laugh, well hell. The world is sorry enough that you might start crying and never stop.

    Like

  31. Not to put your writing under the microscope, but i don’t like the use of superiority. Otherwise i thought you made a good point

    Like

  32. Pingback: Censorship Boycotts are for Cowards | libertarianinmind

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s