02 April 2014

Post-mortem of the #CancelColbert situation:

I very rarely get exercised about things as they happen nowadays.  My whole presence on the Internet is predicated on trying to analyze things after-the-fact, to try to come up with new ways of looking at old movies, or fanfiction that has been published before.  After all, writing a too-late review means that there's something to try to add to the discussion that happened months/years/decades ago...

In some ways though, I'm more than happy to write about an issue related to Twitter that happened only six days ago.  This is the Internet, and as far as the Internet is concerned the issue is pretty much over.  It's Twitter after all.

The issue in question is the #CancelColbert tag that was propagated over the weekend by quite a few Internet activists.  I read about this story from more than a few angles, and I might suggest reading the Wikipedia page of the originator of this line of tweets, Suey Park, in order to get some of the story behind her and what she does to bring issues to the attention of others.  The link section has some articles, though if you're reading this more than a couple months in the future they may already be down.

There is an alternate point of view to the articles as well, which are fairly sympathetic to Suey Park's point of view.  Another person on Twitter posted about Suey Park's past tendencies and Tweets, and the article can be found by through going to her blog, Joslyn Steven's Opt Out.

The issue can be summed up rather quickly.  On The Colbert Report, Wednesday March 26, Stephen Colbert reported on the Washington Redskins (football team) owner Dan Snyder.  The Redskins were named the Redskins in the 30s by their owner back then.  In this more enlightened day and age, the Redskins have obviously never changed their team nickname, despite at least some pressure to do so.  Snyder very recently set up The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation in order to provide financial support to Native Americans.  Colbert told a joke on his show which compared this act to setting up the "Ching-Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever".  In the show, he also topped it off by doing his impression of a man trying to be as racist against Asians as possible.

The show on Wednesday didn't cause the ruckus... a follow-up tweet on Thursday Night that included the following did: "I am willing to show #Asian community I care introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever".  At this point, the #FireColbert tag was instigated by Suey Park, posting on Twitter by retweeting this tweet and telling her followers to "trend it".

The aftermath of the situation included Colbert disavowing the tweet, which was honest... it originated from a Comedy Central staffer, as the tweet was an official "show account" rather than Colbert's personal account.  Colbert took to the air on Monday to address the situation, saying that he bore no responsibility for the tweet, and the "show account" was quickly removed.

So.... why am I here then?  What dog do I have in the fight?  Well, my largest issue in this matter is this; I have watched The Colbert Report and I enjoy Stephen Colbert's work as well as his writers -- the list of whom can be found at Wikipedia here, they really deserve a lot of credit for Stephen's ability to tell good jokes consistently.

I have never heard of Suey Park prior to this, and while some of the research on her was not positive (such as what was posted by Joslyn Stevens), when I viewed her Twitter account, she was using her bandwidth to try to raise money for charity rather than making any money from all of this.  She also did endure a bit of a backlash from people who were not the most respectful in tone.

It's not as if there's a clear-cut "bad guy" in this.  Stephen Colbert tried to illustrate how ridiculous Dan Snyder's attempt at healing is when he's not willing to do more than token efforts.  Suey Park tried to illustrate how racism is sadly pervasive, because the joke that Stephen Colbert used has been utilized in the past to demean others.  And after all of this, Dan Snyder manages to get off the hook for his own tone-deafness, while Colbert is obligated to try to defend himself.

What can someone do to try to reconcile their thoughts and feelings about this?  Well, it's to realize that not everyone will be right 100% of the time, no matter what.  (I'm sure you've noticed that of me and my typos over the years.)  My thought is that Suey Park should use more of her bandwidth to explore ways that she can call out people who are directly benefitting from racism.  Stephen Colbert's racism amounted to one joke out of the... near to how many thousands that he's told on the show.  He is not making a single dime from the "Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation"... meanwhile, Snyder is raking in quite a bit of money from all sorts of shirts, mugs, and other memorabilia emblazoned with a racist caricature, and refuses to change this.  There's got to be some sort of level where the pervasive, money-grubbing, profit-seeking racism gets seen as a far larger issue than the joke that serves to HIGHLIGHT the money-grubbing, profit-seeking racism.

By the same token though, satire doesn't get to be utilized as a complete get-out-of-jail-free shield.  Of course Colbert was trying to highlight how tone-deaf Snyder's move was, but it's not as if this joke was the ONLY joke that could be told in this situation.  There's a full room of writers in the back, and there's times that they have to realize that yes, even the cringe-inducing jokes that elicit a weak chuckle might not need to be said.  Worse yet was Stephen Colbert's reaction to this.  Yes, he did not tweet it, but he absolutely did say it.  Yes, it was out of context... but that's what needs to be addressed.

Overall, I feel that the worst offender in this situation is Twitter in general as well as the news media that reports about Twitter.  There's too little actual reporting about what goes on in this country, ways that people gain their money either illegally or immorally... but we can absolutely stop our 24/7 coverage of the Malaysian Airlines crisis in order to cover this... non-news.  There's no context on Twitter because it's the very nature of Twitter.  This post is not 140 characters for a reason.  There's shades of gray that can't be drawn in only 140 characters.  Those shades of gray are absolutely vital to this issue, but they are completely absent.

Just know, that in this world there's space for satirists to call out the abuses of others AND there's space in this world for the viewers of this world to call out the satirists when one too many lines are crossed.  We need the Colberts to work on the big issues of the day.  We want the efforts of Suey Park and others to shine a light on our discourse, even if we think it is unnecessary or incorrect, so that we can reevalute if the joke is worth it, or if there's ways that we can try to help everyone, not just the people who "get the joke".

At least, that's my 7,086 characters.

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