In recent weeks, the debate surrounding the #CancelColbert Twitter campaign spawned a nasty case of virtual gridlock.
The conflict arose on March 27, when the official Twitter account for “The Colbert Report” tweeted the second half of a joke mocking Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins. In response to the controversy of his football team’s racist name, Snyder started The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation in order to “provide meaningful and measurable recources” for Native Americans, according to the foundation’s website. The @Colbert Report’s tweet, since deleted, said: “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the ‘Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.’” The tweet referenced a segment from an episode of “The Colbert Report.”
After the tweet was published, Twitter activist Suey Park began a campaign titled “#CancelColbert” to condemn the show’s staff. City on a Hill Press offers two takes on the debate in an attempt to explore multiple facets of the issue.
Stephen Colbert had it coming.
While fans of his show may have long fawned over his excessive satire and self-congratulatory antics, it is time for them to recognize that his “Colbert” persona is a thinly veiled excuse for perpetuating harmful stereotypes and problematic images.
Twitter isn’t necessarily the space to compose complex arguments and cultivate in-depth coverage of a particular event — even though it often proposes to do just that — and 140 characters says far less than a 3,000 word article, or a 50-page thesis. Nonetheless, it does provide a platform for Americans to vocalize their varied opinions and it can unite people together in ongoing political conversations. In this case, Suey Park’s campaign made visible a community whose frustrations with being consistently misrepresented came across loud and clear.
Park may be an especially outraged member of that community, but it’s her passion for resisting the media’s racial hegemony — or the ways the media have constructed how society conceives of race — that emerged into the public consciousness during her campaign. I, for one, have had my entire perception of “The Colbert Report” changed since #CancelColbert.
As a long-time fan of Stephen Colbert, I often looked to him for guidance through the sludge of mainstream news coverage. The show conveniently provides alternative views on current events and political issues. Now, seeing the hurtful and irresponsible way Colbert and his staff handled this joke led me to realize that his project merely uses the term “satire” to skirt around dealing with serious repercussions.
People rushed to his defense, claiming that his satire is intended to call out the very racism he pretends to display. Yet defenders of his “satire” do not realize that perpetuating racially insensitive images — no matter how self-consciously — contributes to an ongoing system that subtly works to subjugate people of color.
Colbert, in his response to Park, simply played the event as another joke. Instead of attempting to take the Twitter reactions seriously, he dismissed Park as the loser in the campaign. Going on a tirade about how he survived the campaign and his show hasn’t been canceled, Colbert called himself “the most powerful man in the world.”
Although he made a brief comment condemning those people attacking and threatening Park with death threats, violence and misogynistic reactions, it was buried in a sarcastic self-congratulatory rant. At a pivotal moment in the monologue when Colbert could have entered into a real conversation, Colbert upheld his racist shtick and disavowed his wrongdoings. He continued to prove his and his staff’s ignorant approach to racial discourse.
Historically, Asian American women have often been depicted as demure, fragile, quiet and subservient to (typically white) men. To see an Asian American woman deconstruct these embedded racial narratives is to see an important sea change begin to occur — even if it’s taking place in the Twittersphere and not on television. With such a large group of supporters echoing Park’s outrage, it’s clear that there are many people who want to see some significant change in the media’s racial hegemony. People are sick of the way race has historically been constructed in the media, and they’re proving they have the platform to make small inroads in the unending pathway of progress.
Colbert may for now be convinced he is the most powerful man in the world, but if campaigns like #CancelColbert continue to arise, there is hope that the insidious problems of the media’s racial hegemony will one day be dismantled. Park’s anger, her outrage, her passion — they fueled a dialogue that opened the floodgates for the public to recognize the repercussions of a racist joke.
In the age of Twitter, people move on quickly to the next big topic. Let’s not forget this one. Let’s learn from Park’s outrage and keep her anger alive. Let’s keep #CancelColbert trending.
Read the opposing stance here.