Colbert: Who gets the last laugh?

By BBC Updated at 2014-04-02 07:39:29 +0000

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When you pick a fight with a man who stars in his own television show - particularly one who uses parody to self-consciously revel in his own glory - you have to be prepared for what might happen.

The Colbert Report's Stephen Colbert, the target of a #CancelColbert Twitter campaign led by "hashtag activist" Suey Park, returned fire by exclaiming "the dark forces trying to silence my message of core conservative principals mixed with youth-friendly product placement have been thwarted".

The show started with an extended dream sequence: Colbert imagines a world in which The Colbert Report is cancelled. Flowers wilt. Cities lie in ruins. An iconic Native American sheds a tear. All set to Albinoni's Adagio in G minor, music that was famously used in the closing sequence of Oliver Stone's Platoon.

"We almost lost me," Colbert intones. "I'm never going to take me for granted ever again."

On the power of Twitter: "Who would have thought that a means of communication limited to 140 characters would ever create misunderstandings?"

On accusations that he's a racist: "I am not a racist. I don't even see race, not even my own. People tell me I'm white, and I believe them because I just devoted six minutes to explaining how I am not a racist."

He also gleefully noted the surge of coverage the #CancelColbert story provoked on television and in print.

That surge hasn't quite subsided yet, as the quick-response articles give way to longer "think pieces", such as the one by author Jay Caspian King in the New Yorker.

King wonders whether the media were duped by "the work of a master provocateur who held up a mirror up to the way that self-identifying liberals of all races respond to criticism from people that they assumed to be allies".

She speaks with Ms Park, who tells her: "There's no reason for me to act reasonable, because I won't be taken seriously anyway. So I might as well perform crazy to point out exactly what's expected from me."

King concludes:

If we take #CancelColbert at face value, we can easily dismiss it as shrill, misguided, and frivolous. But after speaking to Park about what she hoped to accomplish with all this (a paternalistic question if there ever was one), I wonder if we might be witnessing the development of a more compelling - and sometimes annoying and infuriating - form of protest, by a new group of Merry Pranksters, who are once again freaking out the squares in our always over-reacting, always polarized online public sphere.

As his performance Monday night demonstrated, Stephen Colbert is one of the masters of satirical humour. But has Suey Park taken the art to another level? Are we all just missing the joke?


Let Putin have Crimea - If the Crimeans want to secede from Ukraine and merge with Russia, writes University of Chicago Law prof Eric Posner, the West should let them do it. "Russia gains nothing from the annexation but an arid peninsula of no economic or military importance, and the distrust of its neighbours," he writes. "Putin's foolish move will be its own punishment."


The populist threat - The victory of the populist National Front in recent French elections indicates an unease that's growing Europe, write the editors of Spain's El Pais. "The best way of combating it is to address the anxieties in society and tackle the problems - unemployment, insecurity and integration - with realism and good sense," they write.


Was Morsi an autocrat? - Nine months after a military coup toppled him from power, the view that Mohammed Morsi was a dictator in the making seems to hardening, write Shadi Hamid and Meredith Wheeler of the Brookings Institution. That's not the case, however.

"Decades of transitions show that Morsi, while inept and majoritarian, was no more autocratic than a typical transitional leader and was more democratic than other leaders during societal transitions," they write.


Americans are coming to town - The Agreement on Enhanced Defence Cooperation, which will allow the US military to occupy bases in the Philippines, is "legalised invasion", writes the Philippine Inquirer's Nelson D Lavina.

"Weep for the motherland," he writes, "for having leaders whose foreign policy, written in stone, has been 'to follow the glistening wake of America' for more than a century now - blindly."