May 27, 2006

Still more on Colbert…

Michael Miner considers a spiked column by Charles Madigan about the recent Colbert comedy flap:

“Satire is dangerous because it assumes an audience is smart enough to know it’s satire, first, and not so egocentric that everything said is taken seriously,” Madigan wrote. “It’s not about getting a laugh so much as it is about getting a thought that leads to a laugh. That’s hard. There was no way Colbert could play that room, particularly when he turned his wit on journalism, basically describing it as a compliant scrivener eager to bow to power. Self-importance has a hard time being satirized.”

Too bad this column didn’t run. I like where this analysis appears to be going:

1. It correctly identifies the speech-act as satire. In the revised formula of the illocutionary act, F = a combination of assertives and declaratives. (p) = an observation of a state of affairs that the object of the satire might wish left unobserved or a proposition about the socio-political quality of a state of affairs involving the object of the satire. r includes 1) the disarming power of humor (not necessarily the ha-ha kind) as described by Aristotle and 2) the tropes and schemes employed to blur the boundaries between the assertives and the declaratives.

2. It correctly characterizes the intended effect of satire on an audience (perlocutionary effect).

3. It offers what I think is one good reason why Colbert’s routine fell flat (judging by the reactions of the audience): bad kairos. But who, really, was Colbert performing for? Yes, he was being paid to entertain the warm bodies in front of him. But I think it is a reasonable interpretation of his material (no different from his material on The Colbert Report) that his audience was the same as the audience for his show–certainly not many of those sitting in that ballroom. Was that bad kairos? It may have been bad manners.

I also found this an interesting bit from Miners’:

Is the Internet ruled by a law that reaction drives out reflection? That might explain why Stephen Colbert’s speech at the White House correspondents dinner was pretty much ignored by the print media: bloggers said so much so quickly that newspaper pundits asked themselves, what’s the point? Charles Madigan has a weekly column in the Tribune and intended to say his piece on May 16. But by then Colbert was ancient history, and Madigan spiked what he’d written.

I would argue that a media situation gets old once there’s nothing interesting left to say about it (which means almost nothing gets old for an academic–but that’s not necessarily a comment on the quality and contents of “interesting”). If the blogosphere ages the news quickly, then, perhaps, Madigan should be writing a blog.

And the reaction-reflection dichotomy is a canard.


September 25, 2010

Situation and Kairos: A Quick Lesson

Here’s what happens when you get it wrong:

Thanks to long-time Rhetorica reader Sven for calling my attention to this “performance” in the comments to my previous post. I wasn’t planning to pay any attention to this at all, but Sven knows I have a soft spot for kairotic train wrecks šŸ™‚

Click here for my commentary (3 posts) on Stephen Colbert’s appearanceĀ at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2006. For the most part, I think his performance there worked, i.e. he achieves his rhetorical intentions as I understand them.

The Colbert schtick didn’t quite work (there’s anĀ understatement) in a formal, Congressional hearing room. But the key to understanding this train wreck is what the audience represents for Colbert– how he uses them.

His powerful performance at the 2006 dinner relied on merciless satire of the very people sitting in front of him. They were not the audience. They were the fodder. Colbert was performing for people watching on television — aka. citizens of a democratic republic.

Yesterday, power was the audience and policy was the issue. Bringing Stephen Colbert the character to the hearing was simply bad kairos.

May 11, 2009

Who Cares?

So they held the White House Correspondents Dinner over the weekend.

Any news organization that allows its reporters, anchors, and editors attend this thing ought to face some serious questions about ethics. Such fraternization with important and powerful politicians should be completely off limits to members of the press for rather obvious reasons. You can read about them in any introductory journalism textbook.

I’ll spell out one just in case: “Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.”

Sometimes, however, wonderful things can happen (because it seems some politicians and journalists are satirically illiterate enough not to understand what you get when you hire Stephen Colbert), such as the moments that occur about 7 minutes into the following video from the 2006 dinner:

May 2, 2006

Bad kairos?…

So, what do you when given the opportunity to speak before the media and political elite?

That depends upon what it is you hope to accomplish.

What did Stephen Colbert hope to accomplish? What did the organizers of the White House Correspondents Association dinner hope to accomplish?

Why does such an event exist in the first place? What message does the event itself send? Is it worth considering?

Bad kairos all around?

(Too many questions?)

Hmmmmm… didn’t many of us applaud when Jon Stewart gave the smack down to Begala and Carlson on the atrocious talking-head flame-fest known as Crossfire? He was supposed to be funny, and he ended up being something else.

Now, taking down two hacks in their own television house of cards is not such a big deal etiquette-wise. But opening a can of whoop-ass on the president, the news media, and politicians in general at a formal (elitist) dinner in which little sugar and pablum are the norm?

I don’t think Colbert was trying to be funny in the knee-slapping sense. Watch the video carefully. Do you see a man at all concerned with the stony faces and the silence broken only by nervous twitters? He wasn’t “dying” up there. He was doing a number on them.

Consider this from Lisa de Moraes’ TV column:

Comedy Central’s faux news show host Stephen Colbert stupidly delivered a stingingly satirical speech about President Bush and those who cover him at Saturday’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner because “he was under the impression they had hired him to do the thing he does on TV every night,” Jon Stewart quipped last night on his “Daily Show.”

The lines are blurring rather badly here between entertainment and opinion journalism. But then we knew that because The Daily Show long ago became the best media criticism on television. So why did they hire Colbert? What was the expectation? –considering the content of his show and the persona he created to drive it. A comedian such as Jay Leno is every bit as much a persona created for television, but in that character Leno is a mere teller of culturally and politically safe jokes. Telling jokes is not what Colbert does. Being Colbert of satirical The Colbert Report is what Colbert does. Subtract the persona from that rhetorical situation and you have nothing at all.

I think Colbert took advantage of an opportunity. Bad kairos? Wait and see.

BTW, Paul and I will be discussing Colbert’s performance on Radio Rhetorica today. And I think we’ll also look into Edward Wasserman’s criticisms of the Pulitzer Prizes. Tune in today at 4:00 p.m. CDT. Just click the “on air” button in the sidebar. (This will be one of your last two chances to hear Radio Rhetorica for a while. I will not be doing the show next school year. But, Paul and I have plans to morph it into a streaming television show. Details in 2007.)