Political Theater

By essay

Stephen Colbert expanded the constraints of reality with the following testimony in a house committee on immigration.


As important as it is, actual policy making seems like long, complicated, boring business. It’s like watching someone wireframe an application. The details make the design, but scouring for relevant details just makes for a day at work, not anything most people want to do in their off-time. So we all rely on news media to sum it up for us.

But news media has increasingly become its own entertainment, presenting clips and quotes from sources both official and self-scripted to fit it’s own narrative. It’s reality TV, only with extremely high stakes. Policy-makers then have 2 choices — to take the “high road” and be voted off or stir up drama to get a part on the show.

So it’s exciting when someone changes the game completely. Most celebrities try to use their fame for good, but not their talent. After getting a part on the political stage via other means, they often end up being the uncharismatic, self-righteous heels they are in their off-hours. Colbert instead offers up his talent and many more people start hearing about the complexities of the immigrant labor issue.

Major media (mostly right wing, but not entirely), perhaps sensing a win, wasted time and money declaring what a waste of time and money this was. Colbert took approximately 6 minutes of a regularly scheduled meeting lasting over 2 hours. No press was wasted on the “legitimate” folks on the panel yet they rush over to Colbert at the end of the hearing suggesting he’s trivializing an important issue (see 2:07:26). Haterz gonna hate. Hence this clip shows the ENTIRE hearing. The rep who supposedly tried to throw him out seems pretty friendly with him and later rescinds the request. Republicans even try joking with him. Here is the full timecode list for everything Colbert related:

6:40: Chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) : brief introduction of Colbert
22:08: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) : quotes Colbert
24:55: Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) : recommends Colbert leave
34:10: Rep Dan Lungren (R-CA) : thanks Colbert for bringing attention to the issue
36:58: Lofgren : more intro of Colbert
56:29; Conyers : withdraws request that Colbert leave
: Colbert makes statement
: Conyers comments
1:09:40: Smith : repeats some of Colbert’s points and asks about Colbert’s field experiences
: Colbert responds and endorses 100% of GOP policies
1:15:50: Rep Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) : quotes Colbert
1:18:10: Lee: asks Colbert his thoughts about panelist Swain’s position
: Colbert responds
1:49:23: Rep. Steve King (R-IA) : asks Colbert about packing corn
: Colbert responds
1:56:40: Rep Judy Chu (D-CA) : mentions entertainers Republicans have invited to hearings and asks Colbert about working conditions when he worked in the fields
: Colbert responds
2:00:12 Chu asks Colbert why he’s interested in this issue
: Colbert responds
2:05:50: Lofgren : explains the panelists are volunteers and thanks them for coming

What strikes me most is the need to say important things in a way that’s heard. And, conversely, to pay attention to important things, even if they’re boring. Our fate depends on it. Politics will always be theater, but at least it can be good theater.

originally published at blog.beneluxe.net

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