Thursday, February 28, 2008

One book review by Alison Ross

He is America and So Can We
by Alison Ross

To my utter dismay, I am unable to routinely behold the delicious dish that is Stephen Colbert. Of course, it's his dagger-like intellect and rapier wit that I'm enamored with – I swear. But seriously, I realize that YouTube and the Comedy Central website probably contain links to viewings of Colbert's show, so perhaps I should blame myself for not catching the show more often, rather than faulting my lack of cable TV for the negligence.

Anyway, I do wish I could watch Colbert's show more regularly, because that and The Daily Show are nearly worth the price of cable alone. I say nearly, because for me, ultimately cable does not merit the cost. TV is mostly a trash-laden landfill with a few shimmering gems buried beneath the accumulated debris. The Colbert Report and The Daily Show are two of those shimmering gems, who derive their luster from their hilariously malevolent mockery of the nightly news and political pathologies.

The proverbial cherry on the ice cream, of course, is that The Daily Show's Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are both devilishly handsome. Especially Colbert. But excuse my estrogen-fueled digression. This is, after all, a Serious Book Review about a Very Serious Book.


(Don't you love when nostalgia-addled old-timers drop cavalier references to the bygone halcyon days of Saturday Night Live, thereby alienating the international portion of her audience, and alerting others to the gaping black hole of where her hipness once resided?)

Anyway, Colbert's virile pulchritude aside, the man really is a comic genius. He lampoons extreme right-wingers with such pointed accuracy that one wonders if it is just schtick. In other words, is Colbert really a megalomaniacal rabid Republican – or does he just play one on TV?

Naturally, it's the latter. Or, at least we hope so – because otherwise, we're in big trouble. We don't need any more Bill O'Reilly
clones peddling Faux News to an already-intellectually-impaired populace.

So yeah – Colbert's book. I didn't forget about that.

The book, of course, is a literary incarnation of the show. As such, it works brilliantly, but I do wonder: if someone has never seen The Colbert Report, would they "get" the book? Actually, I think they would, and it might even act as an incentive to see the show.

As expected, "I Am America and So Can You" is filled to the brim with inane marginalia commentary and Colbert aggrandizing himself in true pundit style. But the axis of the book revolves around outlandish diatribes against gays, blacks, women, atheists, illegal immigrants, animal rights, environmentalists, Hollywood, scientists – any group or cause that he perceives to be poisonously antithetical to traditional values. And Colbert is always employing the typical muddled befuddled circular "logic" of neo-cons to make his points. All the while, of course, slyly winking at the omnisciently progressive readers.

Neo-cons parody themselves, to be sure – and Colbert's satirical persona merely gives comical substance to their unfathomably provincial worldview. Nonetheless, I have worried from time to time if Colbert's satire really does anything to weaken the resolve of neo-con followers – after all, satire is meant to subvert societal mores through crafting outrageously and darkly funny scenarios. And while Colbert's show and book are definitely outrageously funny, I wonder if they are acerbic enough to truly strike at the black heart of the neo-con movement. For we don't just need to mock the movement, but craftily change it, so that a broader, more compassionate worldview can emerge. Does Colbert achieve this? Is that even his aim? These are questions that I suppose fit more within the realm of the rhetorical; still, I do ruminate from time to time over them. Entertainment for entertainment's sake is fine, but I suspect that Colbert (and Stewart, for that matter) have grander goals in mind, and would scoff at claims that they unwittingly reinforce the theocratic/plutocratic right-wing agenda.

Quotes from the book:

On the righteousness of the class system:

"Now some people might say it's callous not giving food stamps to poor people. They would say it's just another example of class warfare. Well, there is no class war in this country. The Upper class has such a tactical advantage that if the Lower class makes a sudden move we'll have a class massacre."

On the evils of homosexuality:

"It's Amen – not 'Ah, men' "

On the glory of anti-intellectualism:

"I am no fan of books. I want you to know that this is the first book I've ever written, and I hope it's the first book you've ever read. Don't make a habit of it."

On Hollyweird:

Sean Penn, Barbra Streisand, Tim Robbins and Kirsten Dunst are "the four horsemen of the Apoca-Left"

On standing by your man:

"I stand by this man [Bush] because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares."

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