SATIRE: the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.

Satire is a dangerous form of humor.  Whether employed in stand-up comedy, writing, or drama, satire requires something that other genres of expression don’t:  the person experiencing satire must be capable of understanding it and have an appreciation for it. Some might say that the appreciation for satire is an acquired taste.  Some people need satire explained to them in order to understand the irony of the words or illusions.  (That’s like asking an artist to explain what appears on the canvas.)

Don’t agree with me?  Just ask Stephen Colbert. His performance yesterday before a Senate Committee charged with regulating immigration received mixed reviews … some of them pretty nasty.  Colbert appeared in persona, which is to say that he chose to appear in the character that has catapulted him to the heights of performance recognition.  He is clearly one of the most talented, gifted satirists on television today.   Those who follow him regularly have created what might be described as a cult following.  His style of satire is especially appreciated by a younger audience.

In case you haven’t noticed lately, the makeup of the U.S. Senate is not young.  The grey hairs and well developed paunches give testimony to the age, experience and mindset of the membership of the Congress.   Those who sit on the committee holding a hearing today are particularly stogy.  They were neither amused nor accepting of Mr. Colbert’s performance.  Satire is not the usual style of testimony received by this committee.

That is not to say that what Colbert did or said was wasted.   Immediately there were commentaries around the networks, many of which applauded the testimony and pointed out that in giving the performance he did, Colbert scored high points.   Those who understand satire and appreciate it saw his performance as brave and timely.

Part of Colbert’s performance is the appearance that he is a conservative, right wing, hostile political person.  He draws from the most obvious topics, examples, and stereotypes of the right in crafting his performance.   The fact that he is a liberal-leaning person in reality is not lost on those who know him.   His depiction of the right is hilarious … and it is sickening. That’s the secret of good satire, particularly in stand-up comedy.   It allows a person to be amused and sickened at the same time.

One of the flaws in the message of many from the far right is that they are so darn serious about it.  Their passion is encased in fury and vitriol which insults, degrades and devalues people.   They are not saying such things to make a point which is commendable.  They are serious about destroying those with whom they are angry.

Satire exposes those flaws but does it in a way that makes it possible to laugh.   I didn’t see a lot of people laughing today in that Senate hearing room.  The occasional laugh that sneaked out was apologized for, recognizing that it wasn’t being received well by others.

I suspect Colbert’s performance will become a classic.  Not right away, maybe.  But in the years to come it will be replayed over and over again.  His talent in exercising it was obvious, and his bravery in daring to present it in that context was obvious.

Was he wise in doing this?   Will the impact of it be seen in new legislative activity?  Will immigrants receive the kind of respect they deserve because of it?  I doubt it.   If there is a poll about the effectiveness of Colbert’s performance (Am I kidding?  There’s a poll about everything!) I will come down on the side of “not a great idea, but done well.”

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