Monday, February 27, 2006

Skewer Me, Stephen!

Here's what I love about today's NY Times Week in Review section: The two leading stories nearly scared me to death and nearly made me laugh to death... nearly simultaneously. (go to

Over half the cover of today's Week in Review section is dominated by a terrifying illustration of two gargantuan, Golem-like creatures engaged in mortal combat, fingers digging into each others' faces. Their figures blend into a primitively-rendered map of the Middle East -- from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in the South to Turkey and Iran in the North. Guess which country the fighting Golems represent? The headline of the article is: What a Civil War Could Look Like.

The article, by Steven R. Weisman, won its front-page placement because of the ubiquity of the question being asked earlier this past week in the wake of the attack on the Shiite mosque in Samara: is Iraq on the brink of a civil war? Phrased any number of ways, this question opened up innumerable news broadcasts and was posed to pundits and politicians alike by concerned-looking television journalists. Naturally, it made its way onto several of this morning's highly-addictive Sunday morning political roundtables on television.

(Though I listened to the kaffee klatch chat that uber-cutiepie George Stephanapolous had assembled on This Week and tuned into CNN's Reliable Sources, I will admit to not having read Weisman's article yet, chiefly because the graphic nearly scared me to death and because I was moved to go to Ikea instead to buy a wall unit for Big Babe's room.)

If you look at that horrific image for more than five seconds, your adrenaline levels will start spiking and you'll be reaching for the nitro-glycerine pills, so I advise you to direct your gaze downward, past the paper's fold, where your equilibrium will be instantly restored by a reassuring photograph bearing the far-friendlier visage of political satire's reigning It-Boy -- Stephen Colbert.

Draped above this reassuring image (a clip from a recent broadcast when he is fake-interviewing Bill Parcell, Jr.) is the headline: Laugh, and the Voters Laugh With You, or at Least at You.

Colbert is huge. He's gargantuan. He's bigger than you-know-who. Rather than accept and enjoy this simple fact, however, journalists have been tripping over themselves recently trying to deconstruct his mystique, rendered all the more mystifying by the fact that he appears for only 30 minutes on a late-night slot...when many Baby Boomers are already en route to shluffy-land.

But there is no mystery in Colbert's monster fame. He is brilliant. He is fearless. He is original. He crafts his comedy out of a place that perceives our current political reality as utterly and dangerously screwed up. Through his shtick, he blows the whistle on hypocrisy, abuse of power, liars, idiots, egomaniacs and those who would opt for truthiness over truth. (Check out Marc Peyser's Newsweek article at:

The one mystery about Colbert is, however, why politicians continue to agree to be interviewed by him when they have fairly certain proof that they are going to end up looking like morons when the Colbert Report's editors finish editing the footage. Moreover, knowing Colbert's uber-liberal weltanschuang, why would Republicans submit to requests for interviews, i.e. public humiliation before millions of viewers?

Such questions dogged me, robbing my soul of peace. Therefore, it is with tremendous gratitude-- and no small measure of relief -- that I salute Sheryl Gay Stolberg, author of the aforementioned NY Times article, for finally solving this mystery. To quote Ms. Stolberg: the show reveals an essential truth about Washington: being humiliated on national television can be better than not being on national television at all.

Whoa. That's sounding suspiciously S&M and low-self-esteem to me. Like, if my boyfriend beats me, it's better than him ignoring me? Also, it kinda reminds me of a recent analysis I saw on CNN of the Kid Rock/Scott Stapp sex-in-a-trailer with four skanky women (eww, eww, eww!!!!) video, which predicted that the scandal could catapult his career in much the same way that Paris Hilton's One Night in Paris video did for her. (Actually, I was unaware that she had a career and that it was, in fact, catapulted by the tape, but I'll accept the argument.)

Or is it just the "no such thing as bad publicity" ethic at work?

Cataloguing some painful pranks Colbert has played on his political interviewees ( he asked Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Barney Frank about his "wife"; he asked Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) if "somebody bigger" put him up to the idea of proposing anti-bullying legislation; he got the explosive James R. Moran (D-VA) to fake-throw a punch at him; he got Eliot L. Engle (D-NY) to allow him to comb his thick mustache), Stolberg turns to Republican strategist Rich Galen to offer some Rashi 'n Tosefot* on why his party's politicians bend over for Colbert's whip.

Galen notes that it is the young, hip congressional aides who are convincing their bosses to stretch their appeal to "Generation Y." Also, to lose their stodgy, humorless affect. One young turk, David All, the 26-year-old press secretary of Jack Kingston (R-GA), organized a whole pr- fest around Kingston's embarrassing 15 seconds of fame.

Evidently, there is no better way to reach the young 'uns and have a stab at pretending to possess a sense of humor than by being skewered by Colbert.

I think I'll go online and try to track down that Kid Rock video.


*Yeshiva world shorthand for commentary. Rashi -- Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki -- was the famous 11th century French Biblical commentator; Tosefot are anonymous additional commentators. When used in the sentence, "Gimme the Rashi and Tosefot on that way-weird confrontation," it means, hey, dude, clue me in! What the #$% was that about????

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