Last week, after President Obama gave his highly-mockable “Mission Accomplished” speech announcing that 7.1 million Americans had selected an Obamacare plan, Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert hit the airwaves. He did mock. But instead of mocking Obama’s laughably manipulated 7.1 million number, he did his usual routine: pretending to be a cluelessly cruel right-winger, Colbert spat, “I wish I could come to you with some good news, but the worst imaginable thing has happened: Millions of Americans are going to get healthcare.”
This routine, in which Colbert plays at conservatism in order to portray it as unendingly ugly, should be labeled for what it is: vile political blackface. When Colbert plays “Colbert,” it’s not mere mockery or satire or spoof. It’s something far nastier.
Blackface, which has an ugly history dating back to at least the fifteenth century according to historian John Strausbaugh, was used to portray demeaning and horrifying stereotypes of blacks. Such stereotypical imitation has not been limited to blacks, of course; actors tasked with playing stereotypical Jew Shylock often donned a fake nose and red wig, as did actors who were supposed to play Barabas in The Jew of Malta. Such stereotypical potrayals create a false sense of blacks, or Jews, or whomever becomes the target of such nastiness.
And this is precisely what Colbert does with regard to politics: he engages in Conservativeface. He needs no makeup or bulbous appendage to play a conservative – after all, conservatives come in every shape and size. Instead, he acts as though he is a conservative – an idiotic, racist, sexist, bigoted, brutal conservative. He out-Archie Bunkers Archie Bunker. His audience laughs and scoffs at brutal religious “Colbert” who wishes to persecute gays; they chortle at evil sexist “Colbert” who thinks men are victims of sexism. This is the purpose of Colbert’s routine. His show is about pure hatred for conservatives in the same way that blackface was about pure hatred of blacks. In order to justify their racism, racists had to create a false perception of blacks; in the same way, Colbert and his audience can justify their racism only by creating a false perception of conservatives.
This is why Colbert is such an effective weapon for the left. Unlike Stewart, whose mockery is no different in kind from Greg Gutfeld’s on the other side, Colbert’s shtick is of a different sort: it’s based on creation of a character who doesn’t exist, but the audience is supposed to believe does exist in type. “Colbert” may not be real, but his audience thinks that Colbert’s Conservativeface resembles reality closely enough to suffice as a stand-in for conservatism. Which means that when they do encounter conservatism, they’re firmly convinced they’re looking at “Colbert-ism” in disguise.
It is nearly impossible to watch an episode of The Colbert Report without coming away with a viscerally negative response to conservatives. That’s because if conservatives were all like “Colbert,” they would be worthy of such a response. Colbert’s routine is designed to convince millions of Americans, especially young people, that the real fakery comes from genuine conservatives, who are all as morally ignorant and repulsive on the inside as Colbert’s character is on the surface.
CBS knows that. That’s likely why they aren’t bringing “Colbert” along with Colbert – it’s too offputting, too niche. Instead, they’ll hope that Colbert without the political blackface can be just as entertaining. The problem is this: will 50% of CBS’ audience simply go amnesiac on Colbert’s career-making hate?