Colbert Report under fire: Why? - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Colbert Report under fire: Why?

If you haven’t read or heard, Stephen Colbert is catching a bit of heat for a recent tweet tossed out there by The Colbert Report Twitter account (which Colbert does not control or participate in in any way). The tweet read as such:

I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.— The Colbert Report (@ColbertReport) March 27, 2014

If you’re unfamiliar with Colbert, his show or satire in general, this is probably offending you. Apparently, there are many people out there for whom that unfamiliarity is a reality, and those people started a #CancelColbert movement, which, thankfully, has been ripped apart for the dunce move that it is.

Stephen Colbert (Photo via Wikipedia)

Stephen Colbert
(Photo via Wikipedia)

This whole situation has many problems with it that invalidate the call to cancel The Colbert Report — the fact that it’s satire, the lack of contextualization, the ridiculousness of cancelling a show because of one comment, etc.

But my real issue with this whole thing isn’t with the people who don’t understand the context; in fact, the person who started all of this, an influential Twitter user and Asian-American rights activist named Suey Park seems very intelligent and well-informed. My issue is with this destructive trend of fighting the good guys.

Here’s what I mean by that:  Stephen Colbert is a comedian, satirist, philanthropist and advocate for progressive ideals. He’s on our side. He’s on Suey Park’s side. So why waste time and energy fighting someone who’s striving to preserve the same ideals you are? Why punch the person next to you at a pro-Obamacare rally when you’re both trying to take down insurance companies? It’s divisive and pointless. You start a battle and forget about the war. It’s exactly this style of argumentation that impedes progress.

Stephen Colbert is not an idiot. He is not a bigot. He is not the enemy, but the language of these anti-Report tweets frame it that way and that’s a red flag that says many of the #CancelColbert folks don’t actually want a conversation about the topic.

This is not to say we should never question the people who are seemingly “good guys.” Some people who purport to fight for certain causes end up being jackasses with questionable word choice (see:  Alec Baldwin). Just because you’re a Democrat doesn’t mean you have to believe that the President is flawless. Just because you think Jon Stewart is hilarious doesn’t mean he’s untouchable. Leaders should be questioned and comedians aren’t Teflon. No one’s perfect and everyone can be better.

Suey Park screen shot from one of her YouTube videos.

Suey Park screen shot from one of her YouTube videos.

But to call for the cancellation of a show, as Park and others are, does more harm than good. In Park’s ideal world, what would be the ideal outcome from this spat? The Colbert Report being taken off air? That end result would be counterproductive, and in a strict utilitarian sense, a giant loss.

It’s not that different from pro-life advocates boycotting Planned Parenthood for providing abortions. That boycott dismisses the 97 percent of non-abortion related activities that are beneficial and necessary to women everywhere. It’s firing the entire staff because one guy named Chaz accidentally sets the smoke alarm off on a monthly basis when he makes his grilled cheese.

In fact, it’s even more ridiculous, because The Colbert Report’s intention was in line with ideals in which Park believes. It was meant to shine a light on Washington NFL franchise owner Daniel Snyder’s clunky smoke and mirrors-style defense of his team’s name. Instead of changing the name from the offensive racial slur, he’s creating the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation to benefit Native Americans.

Colbert was calling out this attempt at reconciliation without brand change when he made his Ching-Chong comment. (It is crazy that a team called the “Redskins” exists, when you think about it — can you imagine going to a home game for the Nevada Darkies? Please.)

I understand I’m saying all of this from a privileged position — I’m a white guy with a haircut and a platform. Asian-Americans have been marginalized for years, and I respect this movement as being in the throes of growing pains for a community fighting for what it deserves. It wasn’t too long ago that Mickey Rooney was cartoonishly offensive in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But that doesn’t clear Park and her fellow #CancelColbert followers from missing the point and ignoring intentionality.

They’re fighting one of the true good guys out there while people get away with actual unacceptable behavior. Actually, they’re fighting the good guys alongside unlikely bedfellows.

Screen shot from a Youtube video of Sean Hannity featuring Michelle Malkin

Screen shot from a Youtube video of Sean Hannity featuring Michelle Malkin

Michelle Malkin, a Fox News commentator, outspoken conservative and human being who uses a #godblessamerica hashtag unironically, has been the other champion of #CancelColbert. Yes, Park has sided with an Asian-American personality who put her stamp of approval on World War II internment camps for U.S. citizens of Japanese descent as well as legal residents of Japanese descent. Click Here.

Malkin and Colbert are polar opposites. Malkin is the personality that The Colbert Report routinely lampoons and now Park and others are taking the side of regress, not progress; of uncontextualized Twitter rage, not comprehension of comedy.

Even if you’re upset about treatment of Asian-Americans (and you have just cause to be in many circumstances), do something active about it. Quit preaching to the choir via Twitter and go change minds that need to be changed. Twitter is easy. You get outraged and shout to the world and you support a cause with 10 seconds of effort. It’s armchair activism at its most impotent.

In addition, this time, it’s terrifically misguided. You’re not doing anything positive by asking for the cancellation of a progressive comedy show and deriding its creators who want the same things you do.

You’re punching the person next to you when you’re both holding the same sign.





About the author

Bennett Rea

Bennett Rea is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles, CA. A survivalist with various primitive skills and a distrust of Snapchat, he's just trying to be a human in an increasingly technological world. He also works at an art gallery on one of the country's trendiest retail blocks and constantly battles the urge to flee for a cabin in the mountains filled with books and bourbon. Contact the author.
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3 Comments

  1. Tim Forkes
    Great_Timbini says:

    Colbert did a a “sort of” apology and he asked his Twitter followers to stop harassing Suey Park, but he didn’t actually apologize for the bit he did on his program, just the tweet from the show’s Twitter account. And of course much of it done with humor.

    It was racist and when I saw the bit it was a surprise. His satire crossed a line, but it begs the question: should satire have those lines?

    I will continue watching Colbert. He’s always entertaining.

    Reply
  2. Carl Woodward says:

    I agree with a lot of this, but I don’t think considerations about Colbert’s intentions are relevant. It was racist and offensive, period.

    That doesn’t change the strategic question: how can we respond to this in a way that best advances progressive priorities? Nothing about Colbert’s comment being racist dictates that calling for his show’s cancellation is the most productive response.

    Park herself has said that her goal in this campaign is to pressure Colbert to apologize. And even that is just a practical measure intended to marginalize and eradicate racism as much as we can.

    If that goal is our priority, it follows trivially that the conversation here should be about how best to achieve it. That’s a strategic conversation, not necessarily a moral one.

    Reply
  3. Joe Mack says:

    “I understand I’m saying all of this from a privileged position — I’m a white guy with a haircut and a platform. Asian-Americans have been marginalized for years, and I respect this movement as being in the throes of growing pains for a community fighting for what it deserves. It wasn’t too long ago that Mickey Rooney was cartoonishly offensive in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But that doesn’t clear Park and her fellow #CancelColbert followers from missing the point and ignoring intentionality.”

    *You* miss the point. You miss the point of “Ching Chong Chinaman” being thrown in the face of Asian children growing up in this country. You miss the point of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, of overt Chinese marginalization ever since there was a visible Chinese minority in this country. You miss the point of Angell Island being viewed as “the Ellis Island of the West” & whitewashed, even if anyone knows of it at all. You miss the point of continued anti-Asian racism being “okay”, as if Chinaman jokes are still acceptable in this day & age.

    Fighting for what it deserves? “It” is, to many, exactly ZILCH because many Asians have “made it”. So it’s impossible for anyone to be racist against Asians. Except that what we deserve is the same respect afforded to others… even if it’s okay not to respect Asians because we’re okay, economically.

    Racist crap about Asians is used every day, from the discussion about Beijing, or what endangered animals Asians are eating, or the incompetence of Malays, or the Chinese stealing our jobs and exporting their trash to this country. And now we get to be the joke for Colbert in one of the most offensive ways for him to make the joke, and it’s okay, right, bro? Our bad, we don’t get his comedy?

    Seriously. Mickey Rooney? Is that all that you think Asians have put up with over the years? The Ching Chong thing makes sense in the context of Rush Limbaugh’s nonsense. Using it here is a horrible stretch, and it is a total failure on so many other levels.

    We understand that Colbert is a satirist. You miss the point that through this satire, and your attitude of “Suck it up, stupid Chinaman”, you’re making the EXACT point of Dan Snyder. That the “Redskinned community” should suck it up, understand the broader picture, and go punch sand. We’ve been punching sand FOR YEARS, just like everyone else of color, bro! Sorry, I ain’t your Redskin.

    “You don’t get it, Chinamen”? You might as well be channeling Dan Snyder & the Redskins deal, bro. Or maybe you can bro-splain this “satire” you are talking about? Clearly, I’m too stupid to understand your American humor. Mee soo solly!

    The Ching-Chong joke was good on some levels, and fails utterly on so many others… and precisely because you & so many others have the opinion that Asians should get a sense of humor about themselves. Isn’t that what Dan Snyder is asking the “Redskins”?

    Oh, yeah, you say, “No, we don’t think racist like that”. Except that you do. Read what you wrote, and what so many others have written. You do think like that, and you yuck it up. You excuse it because “it’s a schtick”… “it’s comedy”. Well, me so solly, me do not understands your White humor. I think the joke is on you because your own racism is showing.

    So instead of the “Ching Chong” joke, how about this one: a white guy in Blackface, eating a bucket of chicken? Wouldn’t that be hilarious? Bro, I’m totally convinced now.

    Reply

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