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Hollywood Left Behind

Stephen Colbert’s truthiness will set you free.

Poor Daryl Hannah. For all of her trouble getting arrested in front of the White House on Aug. 30, she received nothing but a few tepid “Splash” references and was the butt of a joke in Washington’s newspaper of record. Doesn’t the former 1980s eye-candy star know that corn porn will beat angry mermaids every time?

It remains unclear whether Hannah managed to bring any more public awareness to her cause—stopping construction of an Alberta-to-Houston tar sand oil pipeline—than the non-celebrity protesters sitting on the sidewalk in front of the White House did. After snarking, “Hannah and her resisters … arrested for a good cause. Yawn,” the Washington Post couldn’t be troubled to tell us what tar sand is, much less why we should be wary of it.

In contrast, political satirist Stephen Colbert shows Hannah how it’s done. Colbert wants everyone to know how ludicrous he thinks so-called Super Political Action Committees (PACs) are, so he went to the Federal Election Commission June 30 and got the green light to start his own. After taping the tedious proceedings inside the FEC chambers, for use later on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” he emerged victorious in his Bill O’Reilly-inspired alter ego to a press conference outside. As fans held signs that said, “cash and checks only,” Colbert declared, “I don’t know about you, but I do not accept limits on my free speech. I do not accept the status quo. But I do accept Visa, Mastercard and American Express. Fifty dollars or less, please, then I do not need to keep a record.”

Colbert’s satire was inspired by recent Supreme Court rulings, including the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC, which paved the way for unlimited cash contributions to PACs from corporations, unions, and other organizations—thus was born the “Super PAC,” the hottest buzzword for wily campaign fundraising since the phrase “527 group” hit the scene in 2004.


“I believe that the Citizens United decision was the right one,” he told Politico  when filing the FEC papers for his PAC—Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.

“There should be unlimited corporate money, and I want some of it. I don’t want to be the one chump who doesn’t have any.”

He may be spoofing, but he’s not kidding. Using his wildly popular nightly cable program—which averages 1.5 million viewers a night and beats titans like Jay Leno among the 18 to 34 age demographic—he raised enough money to air two ads during the Ames Straw Poll in August. Taking direct aim at the pandering and the disproportionate resources poured into this quadrennial Midwestern event, the ad, funded and approved by Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, insists in a classic Colbert voiceover that it does better “cornography” than its competitors, including the pro-Rick Perry “Jobs for Iowa” Super PAC.

Colbert’s ad goes a step further and asks Iowa voters to write in Perry on the ballot (the Texas governor had not yet declared at the time) by spelling “Parry with an ‘A,’ that’s ‘A’ for America, with ‘A’ for Iowa.” The state GOP has so far refused to announce just how many voters did that—but the number of headlines generated by the ad, the bashing Colbert gave to a local television station that wouldn’t air it, and news that his PAC’s treasurer left to work for Perry have done more for Colbert’s crusade than any effort to generate outrage by say, Ben Affleck or Tim Robbins.

“Colbert is not just another comedian with barbed punch lines and a racy vocabulary. He is a guerrilla fighter, a master of the old-world art of irony,” offered writer Michael Scherer in 2006, shortly after Colbert’s nuclear takedown of President George W. Bush, to his face, at that year’s Washington Correspondents Dinner, the annual narcissistic convergence of Washington-Hollywood-Press elite.

“The depth of his attack caused bewilderment on the face of the president and some of the press, who, like myopic fish, are used to ignoring the water that sustains them. … Political Washington is accustomed to more direct attacks that follow the rules. We tend to like the bland buffoonery of Jay Leno or insider jokes that drop lots of names and enforce everyone’s clubby self-satisfaction.”

The pervasiveness of the new Colbert brand, and his seeming enchantment of a young audience that is totally done with supercilious talking heads, hypocrites, and Hollywood sanctimony, has politicians lining up to be the targets of his sweet vituperations nearly every night.

Clearly, conservative pols have the most to lose, but as Republicans like Ron Paul have found out easily enough in several painless on-air interviews, Colbert appreciates the “truthiness” in a public figure over the cheaper laughs he might get by caricaturing his or her positions. “I don’t know how to feel about you,” Colbert told Paul in 2007. “I am passionately ambivalent.”

In August, Colbert invited Republican pollster Frank Luntz onto his show to help shape the messaging for his new Super PAC. In the segment, Colbert exposes the cynicism of the game while fanning Luntz’s ego and promoting his consulting business. Call it guerilla irony, but both men got what they wanted from the exchange.

Not everyone emerges so unscathed, and most of Colbert’s nightly monologues are fashioned to skewer right-wing orthodoxy. But conservatives know there are fools and fakes and easy caricatures in every movement, and they can enjoy seeing Colbert weed theirs out.

“While he’s liberal, conservatives can laugh easily with him or at him, too,” said Larry Sabato, a politics professor at the University of Virginia and familiar TV analyst. “There is plenty to poke fun at,” he told TAC, “and it is always helpful to have people point out the naked emperors in our midst.”

Colbert brought this to the table, in character, when he testified in front of a House subcommittee on the issue of migrant farm workers last year. “This is America. I don’t want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, then sliced by a Guatemalan, and served by a Venezuelan in a spa, where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian. Because my great-grandfather did not travel across 4,000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean to see this country overrun by immigrants,” he charged, blowing past prepared remarks he had circulated to the press and the committee.

Colbert didn’t reserve his sarcasm for Republican proponents of tougher immigration laws, like his obvious bête noire, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), but also turned it on Democrats who thought they’d get the ballyhooed “Colbert bump” from his appearance in the hearing room.

“My name is Stephen Colbert and I’m an American citizen. It is an honor and a privilege to be here today. Congresswoman [Zoe] Lofgren asked me to share my vast experience spending one day as a migrant farm worker,” he deadpanned. “I trust that following my testimony, both sides will work together on this issue in the best interest of America, as you always do…”

“They went up against one of the most brilliant minds anywhere and they did not know what to do with him,” recalled Pete Dominick, a Sirius XM Radio host and comedian who recently resumed his nightly warm-up act for “The Colbert Report.”

October 2011 Issue [1]“The thing about Stephen Colbert—and I think people see this—is he really does love America” and is trying to cure democracy by purging the poison in the system, Dominick told TAC. While Hollywood activists like Brad Pitt and George Clooney take the traditional route with safe causes like New Orleans reconstruction, AIDS, and African famine, Colbert attacks the heart of the matter like an antibody, saying and doing things that sets the establishment’s teeth on edge.

Colbert is “a comedian with a keen ethical compass who plays a blowhard with no ethical compass and hopes the audience gets the difference,” wrote Christopher Borelli in the Chicago Tribune. Colbert’s Catholic faith, talked about openly in rare out-of-character interviews, likely grounds the moral center of this outwardly cynical act. Since 2007, he’s used the “bump” to raise some $3.5 million in mostly modest viewer donations for charitable causes like assisting wounded veterans, the Tribune reported in July.

The organizers of the tar sand pipeline protest probably couldn’t say the same about Daryl Hannah, nor could the teachers’ unions lavish equal praise on Matt Damon, who spoke at their march on Washington in July.

“Not only is it true that [Hollywood actors] no longer have the influence of activists, but they no longer have much influence at the box office, either,” said Dominick, who suggested the era of the Hollywood megaphone—political or otherwise—was dying a slow death. But Colbert has only just begun.

“At this point now there is no stopping Colbert,” said Dominick. “He has a following and it’s crazy.”

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance reporter and a columnist for Antiwar.com.

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10 Comments (Open | Close)

10 Comments To "Hollywood Left Behind"

#1 Comment By KXB On October 10, 2011 @ 11:19 am

Don’t forget his skewering of Sen Jon Kyl’s phrase of the year “Not meant to be a factual statement.” Colbert turned that into a Twitter thread, and invited his fans to make absurd statements about Kyl, with the disclaimer that it was not a factual statement.

#2 Comment By Rossbach On October 10, 2011 @ 1:42 pm

Stephen Colbert is a very funny guy but, like most Hollywood types, he is just another limousine liberal who can be expected to tow the party line on the illegal immigration issue. Open-borders politicians are fond of trotting out the clowns whenever they feel desperate. Since they cannot rely on fact or logic to defend their errant nonsense, they use ridicule (one of Saul Alinsky’s favorite tricks). The American poeple are wise to this scam. The tricksters might be gaining laughs but they are losing votes.

#3 Comment By KXB On October 10, 2011 @ 3:40 pm

At least Colbert does not pretend to be against illegal immigration, while toeing the line for cheap labor that corporation want – which is what the Republicans do. It’s easier to beat up on an illegal working 16 hour days in a poultry plant – but going after Perdue Chicken or Tyson Chicken is too risky.

#4 Comment By Kim Margosein On October 10, 2011 @ 5:19 pm

America, we have our Ali G.

#5 Comment By Tim M On October 10, 2011 @ 10:36 pm

“and is trying to cure democracy”

Democracy is terminal, it can’t be cured nor should we try to cure it because we weren’t started as a democracy. And he’s a classic NIMBY lefty, those low skilled, low IQ illegal immigrant workers are great when you dont live around them or send your kids to the school their kids go to. I also bet his ancestors came here legally.

But he’s a funny guy, his roast of shrub years ago was one of the ballsiest and most brilliant comedic performances I’ve ever seen. He was also great on “Strangers With Candy”. It’s just that I take his political views about as seriously as Joe the Plumbers.

#6 Comment By J Harlan On October 11, 2011 @ 3:07 pm

“Tar Sand” can’t be pumped. Oil from the oil sands is what will go through the pipeline from the closest (regardless of what Brits tell themselves) U.S. ally.

No oil spills at sea. No money going to tin pot dictators in the Middle East, Venezuela or Russia. No money going to madrassas. No money for AKs, RPGs or Migs. No cash for Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah or AQ.

Heavy industry isn’t pretty and the oil sand mining in Alberta is an ugly business….until the oil companies restore the land and plant new forests- which they do continually.

Good plan Ms Hannah. Shut down the oil sands. Crush the Canadian economy. Raise the price of oil by $30 per barrel, cause a world wide recession and funnel all the proceeds to the Iranians, Saudis and Russians.

#7 Comment By Mike W On October 11, 2011 @ 4:00 pm

Colbert’s big problem for me is that he is not very funny. His humor is forced and not especially clever. Of course he is a leftist and is routinely skewering conservatives.

His illegal immigration lovefest was disgusting. The congressmen embarrassed themselves by even letting this clown talk at the hearing.

Why is the TAC running such a positive piece on a leftist (sort of) entertainer?

#8 Comment By brandon adamson On October 12, 2011 @ 10:53 am

Mike W,

Amconmag isn’t the same magazine it used to be. When Ron Unz took it over a few years ago, it stealthily morphed into an advocate of open borders and mass immigration(while thankfully still maintaining some of the old restrictionist writers.)

#9 Comment By John Gruskos On October 12, 2011 @ 7:46 pm

“my great-grandfather did not travel across 4,000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean to see this country overrun by immigrants”

So Colbert’s big argument in favor of open borders is “my ancestors and yours were immigrants, therefore we have no moral right to restrict immigration today”.

This particular line of thought deserves to be thoroughly demolished.

The way I see it, old stock Americans built this country at immense cost. The Pilgrims lost half their number that first winter, Virginia and New England were both almost completely wiped out in 17th century indian wars, pioneers on the frontier risked, and often suffered, massacre and unspeakable torture in their quest to transform the wilderness into American civilization, the Continental Army fought for 8 long years without reliable pay or supplies, 600,000 died in the civil war and painful compromises were made to end reconstruction in order to make this experiment work. Even before the settling of America, the English, Scottish and Dutch ancestors of the colonial population paid an immense cost to establish Protestant religion and Constitutional government in their homelands, thus laying the foundations for American civilization.

All the really hard work was done before 1880, at which point this civilization was unquestionably the property of the old stock Americans whose ancestors had purchased its existance at the cost of an ocean of blood, sweat and tears.

Under no moral obligation to do so, the Americans graciously allowed my Polish ancestors to settle here in the 1880s. Thus, my family didn’t have to live through WWI, WW2, Nazi occupation and Communism. Instead, we got to enjoy peace, prosperity and freedom in America. This imposes upon us an immense debt of gratitude towards old stock Americans. We are therefore under a moral obligation to support an immigration policy which which will most benefit old stock Americans – in other words, an immigration moratorium.

Unfortunately, not all descendants of post-1880 immigrants share my feelings of gratitude and high regard for old stock Americans. Many, particularly those in the entertainment industry, are full of extreme (and unwarranted) fear and loathing of old stock Americans, particularly the working class.

#10 Comment By Donxon On October 16, 2011 @ 12:13 am

The problem is not immigration, it is welfare. Someone wants to come here and work hard in hopes of improving their life, fine with me. Get rid of the safety-net and the free-loaders will stay home. Poor Americans whine about immigrants because they can’t compete with them. Cry me a river.