Monday, May 01, 2006

Studius interruptus

Still toiling away.

Here's something you don't see every day. This weekend was the White House Correspondents' Dinner, a yearly chance for the people who report on the President to have a night in the spotlight. The President was in attendance, and had warmed up the crowd with a comical portrayal of himself with an impersonator as his inner monologue.

Then Stephen Colbert took the podium. There is no way to do justice to what happened. In character (Colbert plays a right-wing loudmouth booster of the President on TV), Colbert spent the next thirty minutes savaging the incompetent President and the ineffectual media with unsurpassable satire. Somehow he figured out that his Bill O'Reilly persona would permit him to talk about every taboo subject in our political culture: the "liberal bias" of the facts, the civil war in Iraq, VP Cheney shooting someone in the face, the Valerie Plame scandal, the NSA wiretapping scandal, Bush's unpopularity, Bush's tendency to use disaster scenes as PR moments, Bush's stubbornness in the face of his own policy failures, and finally, an extremely long video where Stephen as Press Secretary tries to escape from Helen Thomas, who persists in asking why we actually went to Iraq.

President Bush was sitting about ten feet away the whole time, the ultimate captive audience. Reports are mixed as to whether Bush was able to feel the comedy. I saw a picture of a tight-lipped Bush, but I've been unable to find it again.

You will see different opinions about whether or not Colbert's comedy was successful, mostly based on people's ability or inability to hear laughter from the television audience. A theory has been propounded that Colbert's actual audience was not in the dining area. The way I think of it, if you are comfortable with your foibles, you can appreciate satire even if it's directed at you. When you don't laugh, the satire exposes you, not the comic skewering you.

I didn't just think it was funny. Colbert was on another level, just by repeating right-wing tropes in mixed company. And the man on the receiving end was the most powerful man in the world, who has been rightly and widely castigated across the political spectrum for remaining in a bubble filled with people who tell him what he wants to hear. To watch the man who doesn't admit he makes mistakes spend a half hour being criticized for some of his most obvious mistakes was just priceless.

Video, Part 1
Video, Part 2
Video, Part 3

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