[11 November 2007]
Stephen Colbert, or more accurately his right wing alter ego developed on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, has released “his” first book, I Am America (And So Can You!). Unfortunately, Colbert’s brand of satire is better suited for half-hour episodes of the Colbert Report than 230 pages of cringe-inspiring satire.
As consistently amusing as the Colbert Report is, I Am America (And So Can You!) beats the joke into the ground, digs it up, has it taxidermied, and then takes it out and shoots it. Sure, Colbert and his writing staff come up with plenty of hilarious assertions: Senior citizens do kind of look like lizards, and, yeah, it would be sexy if a woman ordered a side of bacon on the first date. But it gets old.
The best moments of the Colbert Report occur when the real Colbert winks through his hyper-conservative nut job alter ego. Stephen Colbert, the television personality, is postmodernism at its best: a straight-faced dunderhead replete with a “nation” of “follows” mitigated by a shared joke. However, a wink is far more difficult to convey textually than on camera and though Colbert and his writers do their best with marginalia and footnotes, it doesn’t always translate.
“The Word” is a regular segment on the the Colbert Report during which Colbert defines a term while bullet-points appear on screen that betray his espoused conservatism, or at least his reliability. For example, when Colbert identified his head as the location of his kidneys the screen flashed, “Stephen was home-schooled”. The sneaky antagonism of Colbert’s insufferable character is what makes him palatable, it reminds us that the shortsighted conservatism is the joke.
This reminder isn’t replicated in I Am America (And So Can You!) because the marginalia and footnotes are written in Colbert’s voice. When discussing “cachet” in the text, a red note in the margin reads “Note: The ‘t’ is silent. Classy.” Funny but without the antagonism, it becomes Colbert-overload and the reader is deprived of much-needed respites from discussions on the “de-ballification of the American petscape” and which media outlets are killing our children.
Unlike America (the Book), The Daily Show with Jon Stewart‘s mock-u-script, I Am America (And So Can You!) lacks a tangible message. Where America subtly lampoons both the US government’s inefficiency and the media’s pallid portrayal of it, Colbert’s book takes swipes at self-important political pundits and professional assholes like Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter. However, Colbert’s subversion is neutered by the intentional polarity of such figures in the first place. No one that takes Ann Coulter seriously (shudder) would ever be amused, let alone influenced, by Colbert.
Nevertheless, I Am America (And So Can You!) has no shortage of memorable bits. Colbert suggests that Charles Darwin developed the theory of natural selection to justify waking up next to a monkey after a Spring Break bender on the Galapagos Islands. A flow chart helps readers determine if any of the men in their lives are gay (“Is he currently blowing you?”). Quakers: they only produced two things that Colbert likes: oatmeal and Richard Nixon.
Perhaps the best way to enjoy I Am America (And So Can You!) is to take a note from some particularly devout Bible enthusiasts and open the book each morning to a random page and let that be your deep thought for the day. Today I will contemplate Colbert’s vision for a race free future: a film still from Invisible Man and a reminder that Colbert doesn’t see color, but he does see luster and “people with a semi-gloss finish are lazy.” That’s about enough faux punditry for one day.