If you haven’t read or heard, Stephen Colbert is catching a bit of heat for a recent tweet tossed out there by The Colbert Report Twitter account (which Colbert does not control or participate in in any way). The tweet read as such:
I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.— The Colbert Report (@ColbertReport) March 27, 2014
If you’re unfamiliar with Colbert, his show or satire in general, this is probably offending you. Apparently, there are many people out there for whom that unfamiliarity is a reality, and those people started a #CancelColbert movement, which, thankfully, has been ripped apart for the dunce move that it is.
This whole situation has many problems with it that invalidate the call to cancel The Colbert Report — the fact that it’s satire, the lack of contextualization, the ridiculousness of cancelling a show because of one comment, etc.
But my real issue with this whole thing isn’t with the people who don’t understand the context; in fact, the person who started all of this, an influential Twitter user and Asian-American rights activist named Suey Park seems very intelligent and well-informed. My issue is with this destructive trend of fighting the good guys.
Here’s what I mean by that: Stephen Colbert is a comedian, satirist, philanthropist and advocate for progressive ideals. He’s on our side. He’s on Suey Park’s side. So why waste time and energy fighting someone who’s striving to preserve the same ideals you are? Why punch the person next to you at a pro-Obamacare rally when you’re both trying to take down insurance companies? It’s divisive and pointless. You start a battle and forget about the war. It’s exactly this style of argumentation that impedes progress.
Stephen Colbert is not an idiot. He is not a bigot. He is not the enemy, but the language of these anti-Report tweets frame it that way and that’s a red flag that says many of the #CancelColbert folks don’t actually want a conversation about the topic.
This is not to say we should never question the people who are seemingly “good guys.” Some people who purport to fight for certain causes end up being jackasses with questionable word choice (see: Alec Baldwin). Just because you’re a Democrat doesn’t mean you have to believe that the President is flawless. Just because you think Jon Stewart is hilarious doesn’t mean he’s untouchable. Leaders should be questioned and comedians aren’t Teflon. No one’s perfect and everyone can be better.
But to call for the cancellation of a show, as Park and others are, does more harm than good. In Park’s ideal world, what would be the ideal outcome from this spat? The Colbert Report being taken off air? That end result would be counterproductive, and in a strict utilitarian sense, a giant loss.
It’s not that different from pro-life advocates boycotting Planned Parenthood for providing abortions. That boycott dismisses the 97 percent of non-abortion related activities that are beneficial and necessary to women everywhere. It’s firing the entire staff because one guy named Chaz accidentally sets the smoke alarm off on a monthly basis when he makes his grilled cheese.
In fact, it’s even more ridiculous, because The Colbert Report’s intention was in line with ideals in which Park believes. It was meant to shine a light on Washington NFL franchise owner Daniel Snyder’s clunky smoke and mirrors-style defense of his team’s name. Instead of changing the name from the offensive racial slur, he’s creating the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation to benefit Native Americans.
Colbert was calling out this attempt at reconciliation without brand change when he made his Ching-Chong comment. (It is crazy that a team called the “Redskins” exists, when you think about it — can you imagine going to a home game for the Nevada Darkies? Please.)
I understand I’m saying all of this from a privileged position — I’m a white guy with a haircut and a platform. Asian-Americans have been marginalized for years, and I respect this movement as being in the throes of growing pains for a community fighting for what it deserves. It wasn’t too long ago that Mickey Rooney was cartoonishly offensive in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But that doesn’t clear Park and her fellow #CancelColbert followers from missing the point and ignoring intentionality.
They’re fighting one of the true good guys out there while people get away with actual unacceptable behavior. Actually, they’re fighting the good guys alongside unlikely bedfellows.
Michelle Malkin, a Fox News commentator, outspoken conservative and human being who uses a #godblessamerica hashtag unironically, has been the other champion of #CancelColbert. Yes, Park has sided with an Asian-American personality who put her stamp of approval on World War II internment camps for U.S. citizens of Japanese descent as well as legal residents of Japanese descent. Click Here.
Malkin and Colbert are polar opposites. Malkin is the personality that The Colbert Report routinely lampoons and now Park and others are taking the side of regress, not progress; of uncontextualized Twitter rage, not comprehension of comedy.
Even if you’re upset about treatment of Asian-Americans (and you have just cause to be in many circumstances), do something active about it. Quit preaching to the choir via Twitter and go change minds that need to be changed. Twitter is easy. You get outraged and shout to the world and you support a cause with 10 seconds of effort. It’s armchair activism at its most impotent.
In addition, this time, it’s terrifically misguided. You’re not doing anything positive by asking for the cancellation of a progressive comedy show and deriding its creators who want the same things you do.
You’re punching the person next to you when you’re both holding the same sign.
Bennett Rea is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles, CA. A survivalist with various primitive skills and a distrust of Snapchat, he’s just trying to be a human in an increasingly technological world. He also works at an art gallery on one of the country’s trendiest retail blocks and constantly battles the urge to flee for a cabin in the mountains filled with books and bourbon.