To Cancel or Commend Colbert?
Miko Malabute | Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Back in 2007, the show “South Park” aired an episode titled “With Apologies to Jesse Jackson,” where an ill-fated and painfully awkward mistake by character Randy Marsh forces him to be subjected to a ironic spell of “reverse racism,” in which people have come down harshly upon him and alienated him following his non-malicious use of a racial slur. As Marsh traverses through the course of the episode, he is met with hateful opposition from atypical rednecks, whom have taken offense to Marsh’s gross — and again, inadvertent — slandering of an entire race.
As they menacingly put it to the socially star-crossed Marsh, “We don’t take kindly to social ignorance.” Meanwhile, Eric Cartman shows his own ignorance throughout the episode’s story arc by proclaiming all of the recent hostilities and happenings as a “race war,” the show’s interpretation of Reverend Jesse Jackson demands an utterly outrageous apology from Marsh and meanwhile the entire town of South Park simply cannot seem to grasp the true matters and implications at hand, as usual.
The episode was edgy, to say the least, going over-the-top — and then some — with a lot of the writing. And yet, despite the countless “wrong,” politically incorrect strikes against the episode — just par for the course for a show like “South Park” — there was notable praise and approval of the episode. CNN programs such as “Showbiz Tonight” and “Paula Zahn Now” commended the episode for ironically highlighting in an almost roundabout manner the atrocities of hate speech and racial slurs.
However, sometimes these mechanisms for social commentary are not always as clearly seen. This was the case when on March 28, Stephen Colbert of the “The Colbert Report” came under fire when the show’s Twitter account — not controlled by Colbert directly — posted a tweet reading, “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”
This out-of-context joke was referring to recent news that the Washington Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder had tried to reach out to the Native American population in America by forming the “Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation,” aimed to provide resources and relief to Tribal communities. However, this establishment of the foundation was seen in the eyes of many as a half-hearted attempt on Snyder’s and the Redskins’ part to save their skin — and names — facing constant pressure and scrutiny to change the organization’s name, deemed as offensive to the Native American population.
The out-of-context joke that “The Colbert Report” Twitter account tweeted faced strong, intense and immediate opposition, being viewed as outright racism and ignorance. Instantly, the Twitter-sphere was alit with hashtagged-proposals to “#CancelColbert,” with the leader of the movement a self-proclaimed “Angry Asian Woman” Suey Park, who has led a substantial Twitter following in her attempts to cancel the show and express their indignation.
Throughout the past weekend, without really watching “The Colbert Report” I was familiar with the swirling controversy, being asked how I — as an Asian American — felt about the entire thing. And though I sympathize with those who are offended and outraged by the apparent ignorance, I believe that, ironically enough, the whole point was lost in translation. That is, by the immediately informed population of America seeing the absolutely awful word choice in the tweet, they immediately took arms against “The Colbert Report” and have been fighting since then to eradicate the ignorance of the show.
As with the case with most of those quick to take sides, however, they never knew the entire story, nor did they realize the true aims of the show’s joke and, consequently, the tweet. What seems to not show up in the 140-character memo of this latest controversy was how the show utilized the same mechanism as “South Park” that they praised about seven years ago. Just like their animated-network colleagues, a gross over-exaggeration of a misconception and stereotype in America was used to underscore a legitimate questioning of an organization’s motives and values. Understandably, people were bogged down in the word choice of the tweet and, in an age where people are quick to stamp out any forms of ignorance or social injustice, took action against the alleged criminal. Their hearts were in the right places, though their eyes weren’t — on the full story, that is.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.