Mr. Colbert, You Can Shut Up Now

Hey peeps.

So I watched the video of Stephen Colbert testifying on Capitol Hill about immigration and AgJobs. More than once. I didn’t find it funny. You know what it felt like? A high school student doing a presentation in front of a class where they’re aiming for a good grade from the teacher, as well as snarky laughs from their classmates at the same time.

Listen, I’m not saying that you can’t be funny about immigration and AgJobs. If there’s anything that I’ve learned in Mexico it’s that you either laugh or cry about the tragic stuff in life. And laughing always wins in the end.  So nothing is sacred in my life. I’ve made more than my fair share of immigration jokes, as has my husband Picasso. Christ, he and I made deportation jokes as we were waiting to be interviewed by what ended up being a deportation officer in Chicago. Gallows humor and all that.

But what are people applauding with Colbert’s testimony on Capitol Hill? The fact that a white man picked some beans and corn? His word play?

What did Colbert really do today besides let U.S. citizens who are not directly  affected by immigration issues off the hook? U.S. citizens, particularly white citizens,  can finally laugh about the fart in the room, i.e. the tragically broken immigration system in the U.S.

Because (insert sarcastic voice here) I know that it’s so hard for them. They want to help, but their hands are tied. So Steven Colbert brings “much-needed” humor to the situation. They re-post the video, to show that they’re “pro-immigration reform.”

Muchisimas gracias.

You know, I was a professional comedy improviser way back in the day. Comedy Improv Rule #1: Make your partner look good. Comedy Improv Rule #2: Commit to the scene and your character 100%.

Colbert did neither in his testimony. The United Farm Workers (UFW) being his partner, of course. And by extension, Arturo Rodríguez, president of the UFW. And what was Colbert’s role? Concerned humanitarian? Comic commentator with a cause?

Or was it as a high school student winking his way through an oral presentation in front of the class?

For every person in the U.S. who isn’t directly affected by immigration issues and re-posts that video while applauding Colbert, I feel that it’s the equivalent of when a white person says, “I don’t have a prejudiced bone in my body; as a matter of fact, I have lots of black friends!”

And his reference to gay Iowans as corn packers is reaching for the bottom of the humor barrel. Because (insert sarcastic voice here) when all else fails, throw in a gay joke!

His other reference to, “trying to get them to sing field songs” has definite associations with slavery. And when he says it, he’s looking for the laugh.

So this is the reality: Colbert’s testimony in front of Congress will go viral way before any DREAM Act videos do. I just have to look at my facebook news feed to prove that fact.

At the very end of the video, Colbert is asked why he’s interested in this issue. The first sentence to his answer:

I like talking about people who don’t have any power.

Interesting how he says “talking about” instead of “talking with

Mr. Colbert, learn to be a better ally.

First step? Think before you open your mouth.

Advertisements

35 thoughts on “Mr. Colbert, You Can Shut Up Now

  1. hello i am new to this but I like you left the U.S to be with my husband also but had to come back with one child and left two with him so it feels like our family is complete….I do feel that more can be done about this problem but what? I sit alone at night and do not sleep much because I MISS HIM!…….my children are seperated because of this thing deportation is the worst! I would not wish it on my worst enemy! I feel sometimes about going back but life in Jamaica is hard for an American citizen.(by the way I know I am way off the subject of Cobert) any thougths?

  2. I appreciate what you have to say, but if you have to tell me that you’re being sarcastic, you’re not being very creative. You might as well air quote.

  3. Hi G, I must admit I haven’t watched the video yet, but just hearing about it, it struck me as inappropriate. I don’t think Congress is the place for a comedic performance. Aren’t they supposed to be, I don’t know, working on passing laws and stuff? I find the whole thing puzzling. I’m so glad you wrote about it, because your perspective is one we don’t hear much in the mainstream media. So keep writing, sister 🙂

    Julie

  4. Thanks for keeping the focus on the key points. There’s more at stake here than a Mexican issue or an American issue. No matter the origin, documented or undocumented, the treatment of farm workers in this country is a disgrace. And don’t forget the workers in the poultry, beef, and pork plants.

    1. Hey A, yes-the treatment of farm workers in the U.S. is a disgrace, hands down. And the workers in the plants as well. And I agree-I do feel that there’s more at stake here than a Mexican issue or a U.S. issue. I’m just wondering when peeps are going to wake up and see that. May it be sooner rather than when it’s too late. Thanks for your comments. Saludos, G

  5. I posted the Colbert video link on my Facebook page. Mea culpa. Though I did not post a positive (or negative) comment validating (or criticising). I promise not to feel too smug/relieved abt that, tho. I also confess to not watching the thing the whole way through. It was just one of those Facebook things of putting an interesting link into circulation.

    I don’t usually get into the immigration debate. Not least, 1. it’s not my country, and 2. I don’t feel the cause in the same way (even if I find the xenophobia disturbing), and 3. I have my own beefs with US immigration, namely that as a gay man I am completely invisible to its system, whatever privilege of class, nationality, or skin colour I apparently otherwise enjoy.

    I’m never comfortable with accusations of privilege, though, and try to avoid them in my own dialogue. They can feel quite finger-pointy, even sneering; my privilege is bigger/smaller than yours, etc., and the whole world ends up blind, lame, and we all have this icky tension lurking between ourselves, divided from one another on things where we are largely in alliance.

    But yes, this critique of apparent condescension is valid (especially the bit about talking about/with).

    I felt though this testimony made an important issue more visible. As someone says, he’s an ally (like the earnest straight girlfriend who wanted to introduce me to her only other gay friend; even if I knew we’d have little in common, I gritted my teeth and smiled – not sure that analogy applies entirely, but allies are allies).

    And representation is important. Even if it’s just Bono or Bob Geldof hugging a little bony African with flies in the corners of his eyes, before jetting back to some First World capital, it might just raise awareness and through simple human appeal move things a step or two forward. Tiny steps, tiny steps.

    The Colbert piece too lampoons anti-immigrant rhetoric. It does, though, make me think abt another issue: the function of humour. By laughing at Sarah Palin and the Tea Partiers (and heaven knows we need to as well), are we inadvertently letting them off the hook? Does humour work as a safety valve, dissipating collective energy that could actually change things in a more substantial way? I really do value comedy. I love comedy, and my favourite pieces of writing and performance usually involve a comic dimension. And I know that effective satire can bring things down (Tina Fey as Sarah Palin must’ve helped Obama’s campaign no end). But sometimes I wonder … we laugh something off, and then what? The humourless (the Glenn Becks, the Bill O’Reillys, the Ann Coulters) often seem more powerful, more resilient, more strongly equipped to fight this struggle.

    And then too I stumbled across this, for example, yesterday, and it struck me as – well, I have to pause and think.
    http://www.theonion.com/articles/mexico-killed-in-drug-deal,18109/
    It’s in very bad taste? Is that my conclusion? I can live with things in very bad taste, usually, if they’re making other points, and not just laughing AT something or someone. Still not sure abt this one …

    However, The Onion made laugh no end with its claim that 1 in 5 Americans think Obama is a cactus. Coverage and tone in something as wide-ranging at The Onion is going to be uneven.

    Anyway, Giselle, keep your critiques coming. We can agree to disagree (the disagreement is hardly as wide as it might be with other parties, Tea Parties, after all). And tiny steps, corrected by such critiques (when gracefully and maybe even humorously presented) may lead to that future we want.

    1. Hey A. First of all, thank you for taking the time to post here. I appreciate it.

      I do feel that your being uncomfortable about, “accusations of privilege” is, and I say this with respect and care, your deal. I’m not talking about pointing fingers when I talk about privilege. I’m talking about pointing the finger back at ourselves. I’m talking about how Colbert should’ve reflected upon the fact that if him giving a testimony on Capitol Hill in character was really best way that he can use his privileges to be a better ally for migrant workers in the U.S. I’m not talking about sneering. I’m talking about understanding on an intimate level where our places of privilege and lack of privilege are. That is what leads to better requests for allies, and naturally, more robust allies.

      I do not feel that “allies are allies.” The road to hell is paved to good intentions. If a person is truly going to be an ally in the places where I lack privilege, I ideally am going to be exact and precise about what I do and do not need from them. People fuck up as allies. I fuck up in my ally work. But if I don’t say anything when someone does an ally fuck-up and if no one lets me know when I fuck up as an ally, then I feel that there isn’t hope for true social change. When a discussion about privilege is done authentically, it makes a difference. Sometimes it’s crazily painful and raw. But other times it’s wonderfully healing.

      I also value comedy. However, I feel that Colbert was wrong act, wrong audience, wrong venue. The Onion article? It is shocking, but it isn’t being printed in the New York Times on the first page. There aren’t any mixed message about why they’re printing it. In my opinion, it’s a satirical piece in a publication known for its satire. It’s gallows humor that is on-target and on-message to a defined audience.

      OK, A. The conversation will continue…:) Saludos, G

  6. Still processing my disdain for this spectacle. My distaste for it has nothing to do with Colbert, but rather the decision to use him as the messenger. He did his act as he always does, no surprises from him. The judgment error lies with those that selected him for the task. We should not confuse celebrity with accomplishment: many may view the clips, but it does not alter policy.

    It is not true that no one else of “his status” shares his position. Certainly there are many wealthy, well connected Latinos that share his opinions. It is also true that many whites do as well — see the Phx Suns ownership and some players (Kerr and Nash in particular) for examples. He is not special, but certainly more cool in pop culture.

    Latinos and immigrants do not have the luxury of using Congressional time for humor. The DREAM act died in Congress two days before Colbert testified, there has been no Congressional action on immigration reform, and many Latinos remain wrongly detained, harassed or worse. I cannot imagine a women’s rights, gay rights, black rights, or any other sort of disenfranchised group using a comedian to convey their message to Congress during a fragile time of very weak political support. I’ve read references drawing parallels to Elmo and Clint Eastwood Congressional appearances; not the same thing. In those cases the flimsy celeb testimony was not on behalf of vulnerable and targeted groups , an important distinction.

    Democrats in Congress got away with feeling good about themselves without doing a single thing for immigrants or Latinos. Calling out people as racist is not advocacy, policy change is advocacy. Lots of Dems in Congress would say they agree with Colbert, but sitting back and laughing detracts from the fact that they have not used their authority to alter policy. Is this their best offer? They got off the hook big time.

    Some sit back and enjoy feeling allied with a celeb, inside on the satirical performance, feeling clever and having a good hearty laugh. The joke is on them, all the anti-immigrant policies still stand and Congress does nothing. Anti-immigrant types get the last laugh. Joke is on us.

    1. Spike, thanks for following up with this post. I’ve been reflecting a lot on the issue as well. I completely agree with the whole idea of using Colbert as the messenger. But it is not possible to look at how race/class/sexuality/gender all intersect here. The mere fact that Colbert decided to do his testimony “in character” speaks to how all of his privileges came so strongly into play. And I say boo on the UFW for being so desperate to get any type of media play that they they won’t point out the fact that the emperor has no clothes. And the democrats? Shame on them. Period! Gracias for continuing the conversation, TDW

  7. I always love getting your perspective, G. I don’t think Colbert is brave, but I also don’t see anyone else with his status talking about immigration issues. Should he be applauded for one day in the fields? No, but to me it looks like he’s trying to be an ally. Maybe he hasn’t done the deep internal work that so many advocates have, but he’s trying to use his celebrity for good. I think a lot of people have trouble differentiating between Colbert the person and Colbert the persona, and perhaps his testimony would have been more effective had it not been in character. For what it’s worth, I found it most affecting when he broke character at the end during the Q&A. I do think he’s a fantastic cultural critic and satirist, because as you point out, with all the suffering in the world, we need to laugh about it. I understand that his attempt appears clumsy to a lot of people, but I have to believe that something is better than nothing and perhaps a few more people will learn about the UFW. Maybe this is the beginning of his advocacy work. Time will tell.

    1. S, I completely do hear what you’re saying, i.e., using their status to get the immigration issue out there. But so then we in the immigration movement take the crumbs of a Colbert testimony, because there simply isn’t more out there? I really would rather have Colbert donate money and people power than do what he did yesterday. Take the time to get to know the migrants. That takes more than a day in the fields. That is community organizing. His testimony is literally already yesterday’s news. I think that it is sad that there’s no one at UFW showing him how to be a better ally; perhaps they’re dazzled by his celebrity. And why did Colbert decide to do the testimony in character? And why did he break at the end? Alright babe, I appreciate the dialogue! Big Hug, G

  8. Just watched it and I have to agree with you, Giselle. I’m disappointed. I think he could of contributed much more by presenting a more serious testimony that would have given the topic the respect that it needs and deserves.

  9. I don’t know a whole lot about Stephen Colbert– I saw that in June he and the United Farm Workers of the Americas were publicizing the “Take our jobs initiative”. I didn’t find his testimony all that funny, but neither more offensive than the rest. And the mock right wing character….well, all I can say is he is using his fame to bring attention to an important issue, and he is less annoying and less offensive than most real right AND left wing public figures. However, what I thought most unfortunate was the lack of attention paid to real migrant farm workers whom actually live and know firsthand the hardships discussed by Ms. Chu and Mr. Colbert during the testimony.

    Here’s an article linked from the USF’s website about Colbert’s testimony:

    http://thinkprogress.org/2010/09/24/colbert-immigration-ufw/

    1. Hey R, thanks for your comments. What you said about the migrants is what’s at the heart of the matter. People are laughing at Colbert, finding him funny and all that. But are they really thinking about the migrants? Are they really talking about the issue? And where were they before? And while there are a great deal of annoying right wing and left wing characters, this video makes me crazy because of Colbert’s different levels of privilege and the complete lack of humbleness in the approach of speaking for those migrants, whether he is in character or not. Saludos, TDW

  10. Thanks so much for posting this. I am appalled at immigration “advocates” that invited him to put on this display. With advocates like these, there is no chance that Congress will ever take Latinos or immigration policy seriously.

    1. Amen, Spike! I saw an interview afterwards with the UFW President, and he was all excited because (to paraphrase) he said that now a whole lot of people had learned about this issue. The video is viral, sure. But who is really talking about the details? Who is really debating the ins and outs of the AgJobs proposal? And how did his presentation at all help us inch closer towards comprehensive immigration reform? Gracias for your comments!:) TDW

  11. I am half Mexican and am very sympathetic to the migrant worker’s plight but I must say that I disagree with you. I think it was very brave of Stephen Colbert to step out of the studio and away from an audience of adoring fans to do this. It has brought attention on an issue that would otherwise have gone unnoticed by most Americans. I am grateful for his help. So far, everyone on this site sounds very humorless and bitter. Que lástima.

    1. E, thank for your comments. My question would be how did he bring attention to this issue? Are people signing up to support the UFW? I haven’t seen a single person re-post ANYTHING about UFW. Is anyone re-posting links about the AgJobs legislation? Has the discussion amongst the general population of the U.S.A. moved past the video itself and on to the bigger picture? I’d also like to gently remind you of the fact that we can agree to disagree. I feel that critical analysis is very different from being humorless and bitter. Peace, TDW

  12. I disagree that Colbert’s testimony was an attempt to get people “off the hook.” I think that his attempt is to bring attention to the work of immigrants in the agriculture business. I know I never knew anything about the issue, and it has let me to look more closely. There also seems to be a misconception of his use of humor. I think he is really making fun of the people that claim immigrants are taking jobs from Americans. I do applaud Colbert for bringing more attention to this issue to those that aren’t “directly affected” but now how an opportunity to maybe do something in favor of migrant workers.

    1. Thank you for your comments, S. I do see this issue differently. And I honestly feel that the majority of people will re-post the video, and put something like, “I heart Stephen Colbert.” Then I feel that the majority of the people who re-posted the video will promptly forget it. As someone who is intimately and deeply involved with comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S., the fact that the majority of the people will look no further on this issue pains me on a profound level. If you feel that you will look at the issue more closely, then great. But after you look at the issue more closely, will you take action? I hope so. Thanks again for your comments, TDW

  13. Colbert is just another white liberal racist. The number of sincere, non-satirical racist jokes he’s run on his show would boggle the white liberal mind — if it deigned to pay attention to us POC.

    1. Well, at the very least, he’s not in touch with any of his privileges and is not familiar with hard-core ally work. What pains me more than his attitude/comments on that video is the fact that people are re-posting it and talking about how great he is. I also wonder how this video would’ve played out if a comic of color had attempted the same thing. Thanks for your comments. Saludos, TDW

  14. A google search of “colbert and white privilege” led me here, thankfully. I couldn’t believe I was alone in my feelings about this performance.
    Thank you for the blog.

Leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s