On July 9, Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi composed a puff piece to honor Stephen Colbert, “fake news” commentator and satirical fake conservative. It turns out Colbert is becoming an “obsession in academia,” with a new collegiate submersion in “Truthinessology.”
Let us agree that he can be very funny. Let’s also agree that his satire being taken seriously by academia says something about the state of academia.
It also says something about those in the press who agree. Farhi winked in his story that this obsession is a problem, but then unfurled a long list of academic tributes. Parents are now paying tens of thousands of dollars each year for their children to skateboard around boring old Aristotle and Locke and instead immerse themselves in the study of smirking liberal TV wise-crackers.
Colbert, we are told, is a television icon already, like CBS legend Edward R. Murrow. This would be more upsetting if Murrow weren’t in reality one partisan hack in a long line of truth-mangling CBS News partisan hacks.
Professor Geoffrey Baym proclaimed, “I’m sure there are still a lot more books out there on CBS News and Edward R. Murrow, but you could argue that the emergence of satire news at this level is an important phenomenon that I don’t think we still completely understand.” Baym wrote a book titled “From Cronkite to Colbert: The Evolution of Broadcast News.”
Maybe we don’t understand because it’s nonsensical. I get it that liberals believe in evolution, but do they really think journalism is growing more profound by transforming from long-form documentaries on migrant workers to Colbert’s self-promotional, punchline-packed congressional testimony on migrant workers?
Apparently, they do.
This is Baym’s dustcover Colbert-smooching: “’From Cronkite to Colbert’ makes the case that rather than fake news, those shows should be understood as a new kind of journalism, one that has the potential to save the news and reinvigorate the conversation of democracy in today’s society.”
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Translation: We had to destroy the news in order to save it.
Baym noted that there are “still a lot more books” on Murrow and CBS, but Amazon will quickly assemble for its consumers a wagonload of fake-news flattery oozing out of supposedly sober academe:
- “The Stewart/Colbert Effect: Essays on the Real Impacts of Fake News” (with Jon Stewart and Colbert on the cover);
- “And Nothing but the Truthiness: The Rise (and Further Rise) of Stephen Colbert” (Colbert on the cover);
- “The Daily Show and Rhetoric: Arguments, Issues, and Strategies” (Stewart on the cover)
- “Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era” (Colbert on the cover);
- “Entertaining Politics: Satiric Television and Political Engagement” (Stewart and Barack Obama on the cover).
This is a partial list (one mostly different from a Post list of treatises). Farhi reported, “The college crowd says Colbert is worthy of study because his single-character political satire is unique in the annals of television. His character, an egomaniacal right-wing gasbag, connects him to a long Western satirical tradition going all the way back to the Roman poet Horace and the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles.”
Obviously, these educators wouldn’t insult the ancient Romans and Greeks to make comparisons to a conservative topical comedian like Dennis Miller. Professor Don Waisanen analyzed Miller after his turn to the right and lamented that he was “disoriented” and his humor was destined to “neuter socio-political action.”
Professors, being professorial, add gravitas to the unbearable lightness of their comedic heroes by applying jargon, explaining that Colbert and Stewart ably employ “parodic polyglossia,” “satirical specificity” and “contextual clash” to evoke both laughter and social change.
Farhi even found one super-fan: Penn State Professor Sophia McClennen. McClennen compares Colbert to Ben Franklin and Mark Twain as one of the greatest satirists in our nation’s entire 236-year history and argues that “our democracy is in a tough spot now, when corporations are exercising increasing power over government, and that Colbert captures this moment as they did.“
I bet even Colbert laughed at that.
As much as liberals claim to treasure irony, McClennen didn’t grasp that Colbert is “exercising increasing power over government” through a large media corporation called Viacom. This corporation’s greedy devotion to the bottom line led them to spit on those obsessed academics who watch Colbert and Stewart via satellite on DirecTV. Viacom not only cut off 20 million subscribers to DirecTV after a failed attempt to wring an estimated $1 billion in additional carriage fees, but they removed online streaming of full episodes on the Comedy Central website.
After all, applying “parodic polyglossia” to promote progressive politics is only worthwhile if a corporation is maximizing their profits. That is certainly a “contextual clash” the academics were not expecting.