The Culture Beat

April 19, 2009

Telling One Colbert From Another

Filed under: Faith Issues,Television — Alex @ 8:51 pm

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I doubt I’m the only one who has gone back and forth on what I think of Stephen Colbert, the brilliant political satirist and well-known star of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central. I assumed that, like The Daily Show, from which it was spun off in fall of 2005, it leaned toward politically liberal ideology as it’s host, playing a right-wing cable news show host (think Bill O’Reilly), and thus I had little interest in seeing my conservative positions regularly attacked.

However, the Report‘s huge success was hard to avoid. Colbert’s deeply witty schtick and sharp parody of politics and punditry created much buzz, and everyone could laugh at his coining of terms like “truthiness” to describe certain kinds of political rhetoric. Last year I decided to give in and give the show a try and was delighted when Colbert’s wide-ranging topics included gags drawing from pop culture and a deep sense of the ridiculous in politics and society generally. Yes, he used his faux-conservative persona to make ironic digs at Republicans and I was particularly appalled at his apparently vicious mocking of Pope Benedict and the Catholic church, since I’d heard he was himself Catholic. Assuming he was another bitter lapsed Catholic, I eventually had enough, despite the cleverness, and stopped watching.
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But this week, a friend sent out a link to a Holy Week show segment where Colbert had interviewed the episode’s guest liberal theologian Bart Ehrman. I had seen an earlier exchange between the two where Colbert had completely demolished Ehrman’s doubt-filled arguments while displaying an apparently unironic committment to orthodox Christian beliefs. The new segment (pictured left) similarly displayed Colbert’s knowledge of scripture and classical church teachings and again he eviscerated the liberal professor’s fatuous arguments against the divinity of Christ.

I had a crisis of confusion, a brain sprain of cognitive dissonance and eventually came to realize that Colbert was a playing at spoofing right-wing ranters, while sticking up for what mattered most, defense of the ancient faith. He’s treated enough priests, preachers and conservative pundits respectfully enough to see he has no brief against Christianity and traditional values, but you’ve got to see through his extremely dry schtick to recognize the balancing act. In fact, he’s an active member of a Catholic church where he teaches Sunday school. Here’s a link where he quickly and humorously affirms the faith while looking askance at those with vaguely stated beliefs. And it helps to have a thick skin politically when he does jab at Republican positions he disagrees with.

So, now I’ve put “Dr. Colbert” back on my DVR programming rotation and think I’m better prepared to detect the truth from truthiness on the Report.

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1 Comment »

  1. Like him or not, it is hard to ignore Colbert’s satirical brillance behind is political puns and pop culture expos√©. I too have also found myself going back and forth in regards to my opinion of the Colbert Report…but always end up going back to the show. In the end I think that only Steven Colbert knows where his beliefs and opinions lie, and the plexity surrounding them is what attracts to the show liberals/conservatives and men/women alike. His quick wit and master of sarcasm and confusion, also make him a skilled rhetorician whos ability to control a conversation is unrivaled by any TV host, personality, or politician i have ever seen.

    Comment by Colbert for President? — April 26, 2009 @ 9:24 pm | Reply


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