By this point we’re all familiar with the PC Wars, and we’re probably pretty sick of them, too, even before #CancelColbert. It’s been the same song and dance for about 20 years now: Someone says something, someone else gets offended etc.
The secondary aspects of them are even more tiresome. You get those who defend being “anti-PC,” often using it as nothing but an excuse to be racist, sexist, an asshole, or all of the above. Meanwhile, the position of about 95 percent of people in America is that they’re completely against political correctness until the minute someone says something offensive about something they care about, at which point they’re offended and something must be done.
Which is why Thursday night’s #CancelColbert furor struck me as so unusual. It may even mark a tipping point.
In case you missed it, some background: Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, on Wednesday night’s episode, ran a segment mocking the very laughable, patronizing and racist “Original Americans” campaign, recently launched by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder in order to take some of the heat off himself for refusing to change the team’s very racist nickname. Here’s the Colbert segment, which was very clearly anti-racist, anti-Snyder, and mocking of the “Original Americans” effort:
The segment included this paragraph (transcribed by blogger Dan Stienberg):
“Folks, this move by Dan Snyder inspires me, because my show has frequently come under attack for having a so-called offensive mascot, my beloved character Ching Chong Ding Dong….Offensive or not — NOT — Ching Chong is part of the unique heritage of the Colbert Nation that cannot change. But I’m willing to show the Asian community that I care by introducing the Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitive to Orientals or Whatever….I owe all this sensitivity to Redskins owner Dan Snyder. So Asians, send your thank-you letters to him, not me.”
On Thursday, the @ColbertReport Twitter account tweeted out a version of the “Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation” joke. And then all hell broke loose, with the hashtag #CancelColbert soon emerging, along with various calls that Colbert couldn’t’ “hide behind satire” when tweeting something so racist. The campaign was originated by Suey Park, a well-known Twitter activist who helped pioneer something called hashtag activism.
And look, the tweet DOES sound offensive- that is, if you’ve never heard of Stephen Colbert, don’t know what he does, and aren’t aware of any of the context. But in the context, it’s very clearly meant as anti-racist satire. The target, with 100 percent clarity, is Daniel Snyder, and not Asian people. Therefore, calling for Colbert to lose his job and show is unfair at best and completely friggin’ ridiculous at worst.
Where it really lost me was when the #CancelColbert campaign was endorsed by Michelle Malkin, the conservative pundit, and that support was accepted. It’s clearly an enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend sort of thing, as Malkin has been vocally anti-Colbert for years. But you know what? Malkin once wrote a book called “In Defense of Internment: The Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and the War on Terror.” The notion, with decades of hindsight, that it was right for innocent Japanese-Americans to be put into internment camps, is considerably more insulting and indefensible than Colbert’s tweet and indeed, anything I’ve ever heard Colbert say, in or out of character.
(Now, Team Colbert didn’t exactly handle everything perfectly from a social media savvy standpoint. The original tweet was at one point deleted without explanation. Then the @ColbertReport account, which has over a million followers and is verified, claimed to have nothing to do with Colbert or the show. Then, Colbert himself, tweeting from his personal @Stephenathome account, distanced himself from the tweet. The @ColbertReport account tweeted Friday morning that the account is run by Comedy Central and not Colbert himself or anyone directly associated with the show.
Also, I’m told, some have directed various threats at Park and others involved with this, which I condemn in the strongest terms possible.
I’m of the belief that when people are offended- especially when it’s something of a racial nature- they usually have a point, simply because people of the group are a better judge of what’s offensive than those outside the group. I don’t normally make it a habit of telling people that they shouldn’t be offended. But this particular case is such a stretch that I just can’t sign on to it.
What I see as strange here is that I’m normally on the other side of these things. I was totally with the feminists and against Daniel Tosh. On the rape joke controversy, I was on Team Lindy West and not on Team Jim Norton. It bothers me immensely that opponents of President Obama seemingly can’t go a day without dropping a racial slur or racist email about him. When radio hosts get fired for racist comments, I don’t decry the PC Police or worry about the First Amendment implications.
I’m extremely wary of “anti-PC” sentiment because, once again, the vast majority of the time it’s just a cover for assholes to be assholes. I don’t for a moment subscribe to the notion that comedians should get a free pass from any and all criticism or consequences just because they’re comedians. There’s even a podcast that I sometimes appear on where I’m known as the PC guy.
But #CancelColbert is completely wrong, and based on either an ignorant or willful misunderstanding of who Colbert is and what he does. And it’s considerably unlikely to succeed, as Comedy Central has announced no plans to cancel the show.
You know what I’m looking forward to? How Colbert addresses this on his show.