Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Reading Log: Steven Colbert Is America

I've actually got 6 other books piled up that I finished since my last Reading Log entry, some of which I finished before reading this one. However, this one's from the library and I want to get it back, so it's up first.

Your opinion of Steven Colbert's I Am America (And So Can You!) can be easily predicted by your opinion of his show. It's the exact same sort of deeply sarcastic material, just on paper instead of on the screen. Margin notes take the place of onscreen comments.

For my part, I used to be a faithful Colbert Report viewer. It was one of the last two TV shows I gave up, its sister program The Daily Show being the other. I had weaned myself almost fully from the boob tube, clinging only to that daily hour (45 minutes by fast-forwarding through the commercials), when one day I realized I just didn't care enough anymore to invest that almost-hour. (I still watch a few shows that I'll write about some other time.)

The constant left-wing politics bombardment of both shows didn't bother me. I don't mind someone disagreeing with me, as long as they don't try to lie about it. Neither Stewart nor Colbert make any secret of their liberal inclinations.

The only time I found it heavy-handed to the point of not being funny anymore was when the Colbert Report tried to make a catchphrase out of "Reality has a well-known liberal bias." The fact is, reality has no liberal bias whatsoever. The main difference between liberal and conservative policies is that while both may sound good in theory, conservative ideas are the ones that actually work in the real world. Idealism and utopianism are all well and good, but there comes a time when the dreamers need to step back and let the grownups actually run things.

More about that another time, though, because it's a much larger topic than I want to deal with just now. Back to the book.

I Am America (And So Can You!) succeeds at its goal of being funny. It's crammed with a jokes-per-page rate rivalling that of Mad magazine, but with a much higher maturity level (and a much better percentage of jokes that are actually, you know, funny).

I can only remember one joke that made me laugh out loud, which is my litmus test for whether a writer is really funny. In a margin note in the religion section, next to the main text talking about the Protestant Reformation, emphasis in the original: "Where I come from, nailing things to a church door is vandalism."

If you think that's funny, you'd probably enjoy this book. Be warned, however: if you're even the slightest bit right-leaning - and if you can stand reading this blog without having to replace monitors damaged by throwing things at the screen, you probably are - you'll need a sense of humour about yourself. For me, jokes can be funny no matter which side is the target.

I wonder about Colbert's emotional health sometimes. The profiles I've read about him tend to claim that he really is a "devout Catholic", teaching religion classes (Sunday School) in his church. He must suffer immense cognitive dissonance at times, because he frequently mocks moral beliefs that are held by Catholics and Protestants alike. He frequently makes remarks indicating strong support for gay "marriage" rights (remember that his entire persona is a parody of conservatives, so when he says he supports something for a ludicrous reason, he's actually mocking it), ridiculing pro-lifers, or attacking the concept of absolute truth. I suspect that his priest would have some words of correction for him (unless his priest is a washed-out relativist).

As I've mentioned before, cognitive dissonance is not healthy for human beings over the long term. I worry that by laughing at Colbert, we're laughing at the gradual disintegration of a man's mind.

It reminds me of the idiotic theater audience with whom I saw I Am Legend. During two powerful emotional scenes - when Smith begged the mannequin in the video store to talk to him, and when he was screaming at "Fred" to tell him how he got into the middle of the street - they laughed. Those scenes were not funny. We were watching a man lose his grip on what little sanity he had left. Will Smith, the writers and the director did a terrific job. Those scenes were wrenching. The filmmakers didn't fail - that audience did.

I probably should just set my concerns about Colbert's long-term emotional health aside and recommend the book, because it really is quite funny. And, in the end, as long as I'm getting what I want, why should I worry about the consequences to someone else who I don't even know?

It seems like Steven Colbert would want it that way. After all, such isolationism is the liberal ideal (e.g., since Iraq "wasn't a direct threat" to the U.S. of A., Hussein should have been left alone. As long as he was only slaughtering foreigners, people who talk - and even look - different from most Americans, that was fine. Right?), and Colbert and Stewart's clear position.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my son's old bookshelf, some drawers full of toys, and some other stuff in my living room.

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