Two of the late night comics who lampoon the newsmakers have lately found themselves in the news, and neither comes off any looking any better than their targets. Such is the sorry state of both politics and political satire.
One of the two is Stephen Colbert, host of the Columbia Broadcast System’s “Late Night” program, is being widely criticized on both the left and right for a particularly vulgar joke he told about President Donald Trump. Pretty much the entirety of every episode is devoted to Trump jokes, so far as we can tell, except for when the guests are plugging their project, but this one involved Vladimir Putin and fellatio and a word that was censored even late at night, and that was a punchline too far. There were outraged editorials in the most respectable publications of the left, partly because they like their anti-Trump jokes more acerbic and partly because they thought the gag seemed slightly anti-homosexual. On the right they denounced Colbert for all the usual reasons, and there’s even a “hashtag” going around to boycott his advertisers and force his firing. Most folks in the middle probably found the joke tasteless, and not at all funny.
So far Colbert is unapologetic, though, and has every reason to expect that he’ll emerge from the controversy only slightly scathed and far more famous. He’s getting some unexpected support from several of the right-wing talk radio hosts, who of course deplore the joke but have reasons of their find advertiser boycotts and mob censorship even more deplorable. All the pundits on the left seem content with some mild scolding, and will no doubt be back to praising Colbert’s more clever Trump-bashing soon enough. By now most folks in the middle are probably wondering what all the fuss is about. Such vulgarity as Colbert used is almost ubiquitous by now, showing up on t-shirts and bumper stickers and shock jock radio shows all those endless cable channels, and it long ago invaded the political realm.
Even before the Colbert incident people were noticing the Democratic National Committee chairman’s very public penchant for barnyard epithets, and how commonly profanities are used in all sorts of leftist venues, and how vicious it has become. The right must grudgingly concede that the Republican president also has a habit of cursing in front of the kids, and revels in an ad hominem slur as much as any of his late night tormentors, and that some of cause’s allies of convenience can get pretty vicious themselves.
Both sides of the street will probably continue to slide into the gutter. There’s an assumption among too many people that cursing and trash-talking signals some of sort of proletarian authenticity and honest, and we’re often tempted to sell them some ocean-front property in *$%*@ Arizona. All of the fuss about Colbert should be focused on this general decline in political discourse, but everyone would probably just shout about it.
The other comic in the news is the eponymous host of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” on the American Broadcasting Company, who more quietly stepped into a controversy. In a recent monologue he took a break from his usual smart-aleck comedy to speak softly and tearfully about the recent birth of his son, who was found to have serious congenital heart defects, and spoke passionately against some of changes that Republicans have proposed making to the nation’s health care laws. The speech was respectful and reasonable, and we were heartened to see that so were most of the rebuttals. A few writers chided him for using the story for political purposes, and of course the comments sections were filled with the usual bile, but the response from the sorts of conservatives we read and even from the White House was also respectful and reasonable, and dealt only with the facts and the logic of the broader issue at hand.
We’re inclined to agree with those who have expressed their polite disagreement with Kimmel, but we’ll be willing to listen to what he has to say in response, and we thank him for furthering the discussion on such civil terms, and we’ll hope and pray that son of his lives a long and happy life. That’s the way politics is supposed is to work.
— Bud Norman