Stephen Colbert is considered the alpha male of smarty pants. He delivers political satire with a mostly straight face on a nightly basis. He lampoons politicians and pundits, mostly on the right, with a heavy handed yet deft touch. He makes sport of conservative commentator hypocrisy and reporting inaccuracies. Even those that disagree with him admit that he has honed his craft to near perfection.
Stephen stepped into a deep vat of political turmoil this past week when Comedy Central posted a twitter feed mocking Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s attempt to reach out to Native American groups. Snyder has been the subject of controversy himself due to his steadfast refusal to consider changing the team name. The twitter feed in question announced Colbert’s creation of the Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever. The twitter post induced Suey Park, a young activist, to post #CancelColbert on twitter. At this point, twitter nation took on a life of its own and the controversy over Comedy Central’s tweet became a raging firestorm.
Commentators have noted that the Comedy Central tweet was not necessarily from Colbert or even the production team of his show. The tweet was quickly pulled down. Nevertheless, as most adults point out to their children on facebook, once something is posted on the internet it can’t be removed as if the post never occurred. Further, the post likely occurred with the knowledge and consent of either Colbert or someone connected with his production crew.
Apparently, Stephen Colbert received a twitter wedgie of his smarty pants by Park. She yanked those smarty pants so hard that even the comedian had to hurt. Perhaps Colbert is finding out the limits of mocking. He seems to have “over mocked” his target, Daniel Snyder, by pulling another minority group into the fray. The Comedy Central tweet was so over the top insensitive that parody was intended. Maybe the real lesson here is that the members of groups who are the subject of parody are afforded the right to set the parameters of the parody and mocking. Neither Colbert nor Comedy Central would have posted a similar tweet about an African-American foundation in which the N Word was featured. If they did post anything of the sort, the African-American community would slay them and rightly so.
The ability to mock and make sport of others is part of free speech and does help advance political discussion. Vilifying the other guy is standard political fare, particularly during campaign season when attack ads are in full bloom. Parody is a way of doing the same thing with a smile on your face. Colbert holds a doctorate in parody. Unfortunately for him, he is finding that parody has its limits when the group mentioned did not find the parody amusing.
While very few people besides Colbert’s frequent conservative targets really want his show cancelled, the controversy does shed light on the limits of mocking. Stephen Colbert and his smarty pants need to beware of mocking up the wrong tree. This causes a massive twitter wedgie. Even the ultimate alpha male smarty pants has to feel some pain now. Over mocking can be dangerous.
Opinion by William Costolo