Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king."

Much has been made in the blogosphere about Stephen Colbert's mixed performance over the weekend. Jon Stewart, defending his colleague on Monday night, asked if the press and the president were surprised that the man they hired to perform did what he usually does when he performs. Stewart also heaped scorn on the supposedly successful impersonation act -- plying the same jokes from years ago.

Troy Patterson of Slate defends Colbert, and Gets It:
The night's best reaction shots confirmed this. Here's a jiggling Justice Scalia giggling like a schoolgirl. Here's a military man not quite disciplined enough to stifle his grin at a crack—decent but not first-rate—on the Secretary of Defense: "See who we've got here tonight. Gen. Moseley, Air Force Chief of Staff. Gen. Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They still support Rumsfeld. Right, you guys aren't retired yet, right?" In the immediate wake of Colbert's most brutal line ("I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares."), the president of the United States wore, on his peeved lips, an expression that you usually see only in the instant before a bar fight. But half a minute later, when the topic turned to the First Marriage ("Obviously loves his wife, calls her his better half. And polls show America does, too"), the president had regained his composure and was the picture of jolliness. Not so the trio of Washington wives the camera next cut to. Their faces showed varying degrees of disgust, and it looked like all three of them were trying to hide under their shawls.

Who did they think they were getting, Mark Russell? (Actually, they may not have known who they were getting; the emcee was clueless enough, when introducing the headliner, to pronounce the final T in The Colbert Report. Square.) You hire a good political satirist, you get good political satire, which is necessarily dangerous. So, when the Washington Post's "Reliable Source" column speaks of the "consensus" that the routine "fell flat" and New York Daily News gossip—and "Reliable Source" alumnus—Lloyd Grove writes that Colbert "bombed badly," they are offering meaningless reportage. Pop Dadaist that he is, Colbert wasn't bombing so much as freaking his audience out for his own enjoyment.
This was performance art and satire. George W. Bush has done a woeful job leading this country since somewhere in 2002. The press corps has done a woeful job reporting on it.

Both sides deserve a little dinner time misery in their weekends.


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