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Since its debut in October of 2005, The Colbert Report has gone on to be nominated for seven Primetime Emmy Awards, two Television Critics Association Awards, and two Satellite Awards. Its host, Stephan Colbert, is a former correspondent of The Daily Show with John Stewart and describes the caricature of the modern political pundits he plays as “a well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot”. The comedy series attracts an audience of two million viewers a night, and continues to grow in popularity[2],[3].

In her article, “Bakhtin, Colbert, and the Center of Discourse: Is There No ‘‘Truthiness’’ in Humor?”, Priscilla Marie Meddaugh argues that The Colbert Show and those of its ilk are “a potent agent in bearing witness to shortcomings of the political realm” and that The Report “operates as a critic of the press, as well as a unique site of media literacy education” [4].

Critiquing the government and the mainstream press while also reaching out to an increasingly disaffected constituency, specifically the younger generation, are key functions of The Colbert Report. Proponents of “soft news” or “infotainment” argue that shows like The Colbert Report appeal to younger audiences[5] via nontraditional venues[6], which could be an important factor in the political arena as young voters have traditionally been the lowest demographic to turn out on Election Day [7],[8].

Taking the most recent episode of The Colbert Report, October 3rd – Kenny Rogers, as evidence, it is easy to pick put the three elements discussed above.

First of all, the critique of government and political officials themselves. This idea is perhaps most clearly seen when Colbert pitches Romney’s supposedly new campaign slogan: Vote For Me, You Parasites. The humor of “soft news” both brings to light and downplays the significance of sentiments such as this. The accusation that Romney believes nearly half of the nation will never vote for him because they are already dependent on the government emerged after last week’s 47% video release and posed a very real threat to the Republican presidential campaign.

Although “hard news” critiques the government as well, some suggest that the role of journalist has transformed from ‘‘watch dog’’ to ‘‘lap dog’’ of government and big business [1] which “can result in absurd performances which journalists dutifully reproduce official pronouncements that distorts or hide pertinent information’’[2].

The second part of The Colbert Report’s role in the political arena is that of watchdog for the supposed watchdogs. Critiquing institutionalized press constituted the majority of Colbert’s “news” portion of Wednesday’s show. In The Report, Colbert brought the question everyone seemed to be asking in light of the night’s presidential debate: Do debates matter? After playing clip after clip of various news outlets responding to the question in every possible manner, Colbert brought down the gavel on the matter: “We pundits don’t know if debates matter. But we do know that debates over whether debates matter…matter”[9]. Again, humor reflecting truth draws attention to what should be societal concerns. Is it strange that we do not know if one of the cornerstone functions which make up our presidential race does…anything? Informs the public? Encourages public discourse or participation? Clarifies issues and increases governmental transparency? And yet we devote so much time debating about the debates…to what end?

And lastly, The Colbert Report “positions audiences as insiders, in contrast to their traditional roles as outsiders of official discourse and authorized modes of communication”[10]The Report involves people in a way that institutionalized press tends to ostracize people by keeping the discourse of “hard news” separate and somehow, above, that of the everyday American. Traditional news organizations, in reporting ‘‘just the facts,’’ assume a center, or authority, of discourse, grounded in the ideals of objectivity. The seeming neutrality of news products elevates such discourses, exempting these messages*and whatever influences imbued from producers of these discourses*from critical examination (Gray, 2006, p. 97).In The Report, Colbert critiques George Will, a Washington Post Opinion Writer who claimed in a recent article that the reason Obama was going to be reelected was because Americans were scared to condemn their first African-American president as a failure[11]. Although Colbert goes through a hilarious and fallacy-ridden breakdown of George Will’s argument, including the mock-assertions that “our system is rigged in favor of African-Americans” and that George Will himself was black, Colbert ends up with a plea he addresses to his audience: “Fire this man!”

I believe Meddaugh’s article was a good introduction to question of the validity of “soft news” in the form of The Colbert Report. Acting as a satirical critic of both the government and the press while reaching directly out to the public at large lends legitimacy to this field of controversial new media. In coming weeks I hope to explore this debate further though and expand upon these initial impressions while hopefully following The Colbert Report into the final legs of the presidential election.

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[2] Azote, A. (2005). Truthiness factor: ‘Colbert’ kicks up. Media Life. Retrieved from http://

http://www.medialifemagazine.com

[3] Baym, G. (2007). Representation and the politics of play: Stephen Colbert’s ‘‘Better Know a

District.’’ Political Communication, 24, 359_376.

[4] http://vb3lk7eb4t.search.serialssolutions.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info%3Aofi%2Fenc%3AUTF-8&rfr_id=info:sid/summon.serialssolutions.com&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:journal&rft.genre=article&rft.atitle=Bakhtin%2C+Colbert%2C+and+the+center+of+discourse%3A+is+there+no+%22truthiness%22+in+humor%3F%28New+York+Magazine%29%28Colbert+Stephen%29&rft.jtitle=Critical+Studies+in+Media+Communication&rft.au=Meddaugh%2C+Priscilla+Marie&rft.date=2010-10-01&rft.pub=Routledge&rft.issn=1529-5036&rft.volume=27&rft.issue=4&rft.spage=376&rft.externalDBID=n%2Fa&rft.externalDocID=249167223

[5] Garofoli, J. (2008). Political ads hit MTV, Comedy Central. San Francisco Chronicle. a1.

[6] Feldman, L. (2005). The news about comedy: Young audiences, the Daily Show, and evolving notions

about journalism. Paper presented at annual meeting of the International Communication

Association, New York.

[7] Jasperson, A., & Yun, H. (2007). Political advertising effects and America’s racially diverse newest

voting generation. American Behavioral Scientist, 50, 1112_1123.

[8] O’Toole, T., Lister, M., Marsh, D., Jones, S., & McDonagh, A. (2003). Tuning out or left out?

Participation and non-participation among young people. Contemporary Politics, 9, 45_61.

[9] http://www.colbertnation.com/full-episodes/wed-october-3-2012-kenny-rogers

[10]  http://vb3lk7eb4t.search.serialssolutions.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info%3Aofi%2Fenc%3AUTF-8&rfr_id=info:sid/summon.serialssolutions.com&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:journal&rft.genre=article&rft.atitle=Bakhtin%2C+Colbert%2C+and+the+center+of+discourse%3A+is+there+no+%22truthiness%22+in+humor%3F%28New+York+Magazine%29%28Colbert+Stephen%29&rft.jtitle=Critical+Studies+in+Media+Communication&rft.au=Meddaugh%2C+Priscilla+Marie&rft.date=2010-10-01&rft.pub=Routledge&rft.issn=1529-5036&rft.volume=27&rft.issue=4&rft.spage=376&rft.externalDBID=n%2Fa&rft.externalDocID=249167223

[11] http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/george-will-romney-running-out-of-clock/2012/10/01/55922ea4-0bec-11e2-bb5e-492c0d30bff6_story.html


[1] Feldman, L. (2005). The news about comedy: Young audiences, the Daily Show, and evolving notions

about journalism. Paper presented at annual meeting of the International Communication

Association, New York.

[2] Borden, S., & Tew, C. (2007). The role of journalist and the performance of journalism: Ethical

lessons from ‘‘fake’’ news (Seriously). Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 22, 300_314.

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