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Colbert's tweets were taken out of context

By Victoria Kallsen
On April 8, 2014

The campaign to #CancelColbert brings to light the question of intent: Does it matter that Colbert said the joke in an attempt to satirize racist comments, or should he be burned at the stake for his liberal hypocrisy? I posit that a person's aim is of value while noting that such events are worthy of constructive criticism and further discussion. Indeed, without such an assumption, the entire point of "The Colbert Report" is in jeopardy. Often moments such as the unfortunately out of context tweet from the official show's Twitter account lead to a heavy volume of witch hunting from social media activists. Colbert's problem isn't racism but rather an exposition of the limits of Twitter and perhaps the need for the end of "hashtag activism."
By not acknowledging one's intent in the matter, one shuts the door for further discussion of the offense and disavows any progress to be made. What then was Colbert's point in the aforementioned "The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever" ploy? It was originally "created" in order to satirize "The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation" founded by the football team's owner, Daniel Snyder, in order to cover his ass regarding his refusal to change the team's name. As Colbert noted, while a lot of attention has been given to his fictional foundation, few have stepped forward to criticize the organization that actually exists.
As I previously stated, ignoring the intent of Stephen Colbert would defeat the purpose of his show: to make light of political pundit shows particularly those with a conservative bias. In many ways, it is a unaffectionate parody of "The O'Reilly Factor" and its derivatives. In fact, Stephen Colbert is acting as "Stephen Colbert," the character. Colbert described his character to the New York Times in 2005 when he graduated from correspondent status on "The Daily Show," as a "well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot."
Instead of immediately lambasting Colbert, a larger discussion needs to happen. With an online culture quick to assume the worst, education on whether Colbert's satire went too far went out the window. Rather than assume Colbert could be reasoned with or be willing to engage in a dialogue about the nature of satire vs racism, social media activists leaped to immediate cancellation of "The Colbert Report" without contemplating the overall message or goal of that statement. In doing so, conversation on the actual issue has been mostly ignored.
While this truly isn't an example of satire gone bad or Colbert's hidden racism. It's actually a better representation of the limits of online activism particularly on Twitter. Colbert's show had aired on Comedy Central four times, been available on the Comedy Central website and Hulu, with a Facebook post going out with the full quote. All of this happened before the tweet was published by a web editor unaffiliated with Stephen Colbert on an account he has no direct control over. No one had demanded his cancellation before that tweet was sent.
As Colbert noted on his show last week, "Who would have thought a means of communication limited to a 140 characters would ever create misunderstandings?" Perhaps the question here is whether Twitter is the place for these battles to be fought? As "The New Yorker" wrote, Twitter favors "volume, frequency, and fervor rather than nuance, complexity, and persuasion." Neither side is getting what they want out of the picture. Colbert doesn't get to articulate the full joke and Suey Park, the "hashtavist" (hash tag activist) who started it all, only needs to say "The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals has decided to call for #CancelColbert. Trend it." In doing so, we know nothing of her reasoning for the leap and why exactly the joke offended her.
Because we immediately vilified Colbert's satirical intention, this conversation didn't happen. I'd conclude from this incident rather that Twitter has proven itself to be ineffective platform of social justice. In the end, a hashtag movement only generates attention for a few days at most and leads to few productive conversations. Both sides, Colbert defenders and detractors are left without much progress for either side, and instead of hashtag activism raised up a mob of tweeters with no more direction than what a 140 characters could generate.
 


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