Thursday, September 30, 2010

Stephen Colbert, Jonah Goldberg & The Politics of Irony

Colbert blurs lines between fiction & reality in testimony

When comedic pundit Stephen Colbert testified before the US Congressional Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship and Border Security, he provided everything that one expects of a typical Colbert performance.

In the words of National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg, "he pretends to be what many liberals claim Bill O’Reilly is. That’s the joke. Get it?"

It isn't necessarily that simple.

"The real upshot of Colbert’s shtick is that he’s mocking people who disagree with him -- or with the left-wing base of the Democratic party -- on the complicated issue of immigration," Goldberg continues.

"Colbert’s testimony reduced the topic to a black-and-white issue in which people on the other side are fools or bigots worthy of cheap mockery," Goldberg writes. "I thought the whole point of Colbert was to stand against that sort of thing by making fun of it, not by doing it. Are our politics really improved by making congressional hearings even more of a joke? Were they truthiness-deficient?"

Not all of Goldberg's complaints are necessarily well-founded. Carol Swain, professor of law and political science at Vanderbilt University, is right to have noted that illegal immigration depresses wages and lends itself to deteriorating working conditions.

Then again, Colbert didn't testify in favour of illegal immigration. He testified in favour of legal immigration, suggesting that the US government should act to facilitate legal immigration by making it easier to acquire a work visa. All in all, a sensible proposal.

This doesn't, however, answer the question of whether or not it should have been considered permissable for Colbert to testify in-character before a Congressional subcommittee. Certainly, Colbert's fans expect certain things of him -- then again, so did the Representatives who called him to offer testimony.

They expected Stephen Colbert to testify in good faith. He demonstrably did not. Unfortunately, this may harm the credibility of his testimony -- although in all honesty, it shouldn't.

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