Sometimes it’s hard to peel back the many layers of irony Stephen Colbert is currently working under and see his real intention. On individual issues, however, it’s easy enough to tell where he stands if you’re blessed with a basic sense of humor – a growing rarity in a political climate a few degrees below an all-out Quran burning bonanza.
But, beyond Colbert’s day-to-day opinions, which are often exactly the opposite of what he says, the rest of his behavior is harder to decode. After all, a personality cult is what it is no matter how sarcastically it was conceived.
Thanks to the Colbert Nation, he wields considerable power. In one instance, he used his fans to fabricate a surge in the African elephant population on Wikipedia. Other stunts involved his followers voting him in as the name of a bridge in Hungary, a treadmill on an international space station and a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor.
There is also the very real boost, termed the “Colbert Bump,” that comes to the politicians who visit his show. Clearly, no serious mischief has been committed, but these exploits serve as good examples of his influence.
Considering his clout, I grew a bit nervous over the last week when he and Jon Stewart both kept foreshadowing a secret, game-changing announcement. The connection we were supposed to make was with prophet-pundit Glenn Beck who recently tried to force history’s notice by holding a rally on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
The announcement on both shows turned out to be their support for the other’s rally; Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity and Colbert’s Keeping the Fear Alive March, both scheduled for Oct. 30 in Washington D.C.
Though Colbert’s fear-mongering and self-satisfied grandstandings are made infinitely better through his snarkiness, America has no need for any more false messiahs. Don’t get me wrong, I love his comedy, I’m just afraid the fans might take it the wrong way, obligating Colbert to lead us into holy war or nuclear conflict due to his near religious dedication to a joke.
But on the same token, some trust has to be placed in his mastery of sarcasm. One can see it in his show as he interviews Democrats, denouncing their view on the surface while expressing his own by negation; all the while setting up his guest for a big point.
In the best-case scenario, he’ll serve as a comic foil to Jon Stewart during the simultaneous rallies. His slightly exaggerated depiction of current politics would be essential to the message, since Stewart’s moderates cannot freely blast the status quo without falling into one extreme. A juxtaposition of the sane and the insane is likely the last way to tell the two apart in these confusing times.
I hope Colbert keeps the irony straight in his head and ensures all the negatives he preaches equal out to something positive. Otherwise, he’ll end up serving the side of hysteria as effectively as Bill O’Reilly, no matter what his intention.