Stephen Colbert vs. Mr Brown: What’s the point of political satire?

Photo shared by Sarah // Originally by the New York Times

I doubt folks back in Singapore get to watch The Colbert Report, since it barely makes sense to anyone outside America, let alone Singapore… right? Actually no.

It’s not about how globalized our society is today, but more about how America offers us a flip-side to what Singapore could be like should our political ideology transform overnight to a full-on liberal one. But before we proceed, it’d be good to explain what The Colbert Report is about… This is a satirical television program on Comedy Central that stars Stephen Colbert, best known previously as a correspondent for The Daily Show. The show depicts the further activities of the Stephen Colbert correspondent character from The Daily Show, but in a different context — a direct, deeply mocking satire of conservative political pundit programs like The O’Reilly Factor, Hannity and Colmes, and Scarborough Country and other opinion-news shows in general. He plays an extreme conservative, revelling his routines in liberal goodness, which is really darn poetic if you asked me.

As seen all over the blogosphere, Colbert recently paid a blistering comedy “tribute” to President Bush at the White House Correspondent Dinner Saturday night. From the opening of this C-Span video (C-span preferred Google Video over YouTube), you can already see how George Bush wasn’t amused right from the start. With good reason, since he’s quietly seated next to Colbert while being the butt of most of his jokes. Given Colbert’s performance, I felt that it wasn’t as polished as his show, but the recklessness was priceless. It was a dare that stirred the hearts of many (last count 54,000!) across the nation.

But what’s the point of all this? Does it change anything?

1. Satire works.
However conservative your country’s politics is, humor is like the backdoor to freedom of expression. Mr Brown did so with his “Bak Chor Mee podcast” which poked fun at the demise of James Gomez from the Workers’ Party, who fumbled with his election forms. It’s since been a podcast hit and has even spun off into a popular Tur Kwa desktop wallpaper and soon to be T-shirt! Mr. Gomez has since been been arrested detained and questioned by police, under the accusation of stage-managing the entire minority candidate certificate episode from the start. Aiyoh!

2. Freedom of speech = risks vs. rewards
After Colbert gave his speech, most bloggers felt satisfied having their hero tell the president off. Mr Brown’s “persistently non-political” podcast also gave Singaporeans an outlet for their disgust at the political play during the elections. Yet in both cases, there was no violence, no hatred, just plain old intelligent fun. It was talking high-brow issues straight from the gut, and making it enjoyable for everyone to understand. Interestingly, both the President and Colbert handled the interplay pretty amicably

3. In-depth social cue on what we’re really thinking
Stemming back into our own identity, it’s hard to see what we’re thinking about without a proper “mirror”. The mass media attempts to tell us what we think, but opinionated daredevils like Colbert and MrBrown can get deeper into these issues on time and on the mark. They’re really telling you what you want to hear, something which might have been otherwise suppressed elsewhere. They give you that “thumbs up” to what you believe in and tell you that the innate feeling you have is justified and good.

Ultimately, personalities like Stephen Colbert and Mr Brown serve a critical function to each of our societies. As shown by their popularity, they don’t just entertain, they stimulate.

9 thoughts on “Stephen Colbert vs. Mr Brown: What’s the point of political satire?

  1. I feel that more than telling the President off, Mr. Colbert told the mainstream media off. This is why I started watching the Daily Show years ago to begin with: alternate perspective and (badly needed) media critique. I have watched Colbert for years and am very proud of his bravery. Just my two cents on this whole thing. Now, must pull away from computer…. enjoy… sunny….weather…. 🙂

  2. Jennimi and Otterman: In the case of Colbert and Jon Stewart, you’re right… both are really questioning the media on how they cover news. Funny how they’re using media against media.

    Oh, I fixed the “arrested” part. Thanks Siva!

  3. im singaporean..and i do watch daily show and colbert religiously since last year thru downloads. as regular viewers..we’ve established the fact that fox news has somewhat been the bush administration fav medium just like a certain media org here in spore. and my fav thing bout these shows is tat they archived watever bullshit they say which is seriously lacking in our “media” .our ppl have very short termed memory. the whole idea is to take watever bullshit from our “media” wif a pinch of salt. i bet u the “peanuts” comments during the nkf saga will be devoured by the daily show..maybe he’ll put the penanut butter man on the graphics.
    – senior political analyst

  4. Excellent writeup. Watch the 60 minutes episode of SNL and Jon Stewart’s opening speech after 9/11 and you see that Political Satire is probably the best sign of political maturity. Political Satire is a form of political freedom which we must truly treasure in itself.

    As a Singaporean, i’m grateful for those who post up Colbert and similar material up on youtube that the rest of us can enjoy and see, there’s a bigger world out there and more to strive for. Will we one day be able to see MrBrown roasting LKY at a private retirement party?

  5. Raconteur8 & Eddie: You guys got the gist of it… though we might not see these ideas materialize on TV, the opportunity does lie in us doing it via podcasts and videocasts. Like MrBrown, what better way to satire than to make one ourselves!

  6. I watched Colbert Report, because I also watched “The O’Reilly Factor” for a good laugh. Actually, political satire is useful to loosen up politics in Singapore. 🙂

  7. BL: Satire has always been vital as a form of social expression for political issues. It’s humor with very strong purpose.

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