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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Commentary on Humor Complacency: Critiquing Colbert

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                    Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman has gotten me thinking on America’s entertainment culture and how it affects one’s ability to comprehend the severity of a situation and counteracting the situation with action.

Just this morning, cup of coffee and WhoKnew cookies in hand (I’ve upgraded from the Oreos), I discovered that my usual morning tradition, “Morning Joe,” was not on. So I decided that political satire would be a fun wake-me-up before I started my day. Little did I know exactly what type of wake-me-up I would receive.

I do not watch “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show” frequently. The few times I have seen them, I have thought that they are fun to watch and in general enjoyed the content. I’m not sure if I was paying attention.

There’s a segment on “The Colbert Report” called “Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger” where Colbert adds these motions to whatever he is commenting on. This particular episode focused on China and North Korea during the segment.

The “Tip of the Hat” was (of course, sarcastically) directed towards the Chinese government.

If you have been keeping up with China (I became aware during a debate I led stating that China would not surpass the United States as the next superpower), you know that they’re having a huge problem with air pollution because of the size of the population and amount of machinery and factories releasing exhaust into the air. 

Their economic boom is destroying their environment.

If you’re looking for a good source, The Huffington Post frequently has updates on the smog situation in China:

Colbert reported on how the Chinese government and media is handling the situation: by posting an article on the unifying effects (poor and rich breathing in the same smoke, unified by a sense of humor about the smog, etc.) of the smog and reducing the amount of alerts made about the smog in order to make the situation seem less severe than it is.

I thought it was a good thing to report on, but I certainly didn’t think it was something to laugh about. I attempted to put myself in the shoes of the Chinese people, and I cannot imagine what it would be like to be in a thick cloud of barely breathable air 24-7. 

The audience was laughing, Colbert was laughing, and I was thinking about Postman.

The delivery of this news and the lack of audience awareness made the situation seem less terrible than it actually is. I began to wonder how often this happens, and how often I fall into the same trend of laughing at things that really deserve deeper and more serious contemplation.

Obviously, many of us have little to no power to aid the environmental situation in China, particularly when we have many problems of our own to take a look at. However, I think this is a good example of how we can be blinded by humor as a sort of tranquilizer, because things such as these are painful to contemplate.

I believe looking at humor as detrimental to our society when used in the wrong way is extremely important. What do you think? 


  1. I know that Stewart and Colbert would defend their own work -- and I tend to agree with this defense -- by pointing out that they host comedy shows producing satirical content based on the American media. It's not necessarily fair to judge them by the standard of a news source, but it's hard not to when they're doing a better job of being a news source by making fun of news sources than any of the actual TV news sources in the US.

    I'm definitely not going to contest that misuse of humor can be extremely harmful and problematic. But what we're looking at here isn't a news organization trying to be funny for some weird reason about a very serious issue. We're looking at a news-satire show that's doing a bit on a news story that the US news media happen to be completely failing to pay attention to.

    1. But I'm not saying that the television shows themselves are bad. I'm saying that using the Chinese smog problem as a source of humor is bad. I have no problem with the satire of the ridiculous political-goings on in the United States, and the satire of news sources as a sort of check on other news sources.

      However, satire of a country's (i.e. China) problems that many Americans have no exposure to (the smog problem) just leads to a general desensitization through humor and a bunch of smug intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals sitting in a room patting themselves on the back because they feels smart that someone else saw through another country's government's B.S for them.

      This small example happens on a larger scale through other sources of media, and serves as an example and warning as to how finding humor in bad situations that you yourself are not aware of or have little exposure to can be harmful, ineffective, and in some cases, sickening,