#CancelColbert is a hash tag that has been making the rounds, stirring strong reactions. There have been some good articles that still miss certain aspects, so I want to go over how it looked from my end.
It started with a tweet from a PR account for The Colbert Report.
"I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever."
I saw it from @suey_park, who started the #CancelColbert hash tag.
I had mixed feelings. I was appalled by the tweet, but I was pretty sure it was not meant to be harmful, and canceling seemed extreme. I also understood that with the alliteration factor and with the severity, that worked better as a hash tag than anything more nuanced. And, Park and the others were not actually organizing to cancel, either, but I take things literally, so that was an issue for me. I didn't re-tweet, but I did immediately write one reply to the original account, and one question to Stephen Colbert's personal account, questioning if he knew about the tweet.
The show's account put up the sketch that the quote came from, but that actually made it worse.
The tragedy is that it starts out really well. The lines about the name not being offensive if you only use it once in the organization's name, and the picture with the coats, and the part about the backhoe, all work. "Smoke'm the peace pipe" is questionable, but still, there were good points made.
It went wrong when Colbert brought up the old character. And I do mean old, because the clip was from 2005. I suspect it got some pushback as offensive, and it feels like there was still some resentment over that that increased their motivation to trot it back out -- "See, we really are funny, and way less offensive than Dan Snyder." I could be wrong, but that doesn't change that it didn't work.
That all happened Thursday. Friday Park did a segment on HuffPost Live with Josh Zepps, and it was clear early on that Zepps had no intention of actually listening to Park. Based on his initial line of questioning, he had done no research. He was patronizing, spoke over her, and called her opinion stupid. Eventually she refused to engage on that level and the conversation ended.
Park has gotten a lot of hate directly, but also I have seen many criticisms focusing on the hash tag, and they miss key points.
One complaint is that it wasn't from Colbert's own account. Many pointed out his eventual reaction as surprise because he did not seem to be familiar with the PR account, so don't blame him. Okay, Colbert did not tweet that tweet, but he said the lines on the show. He's involved.
There have also been defenses that the problem is that the tweet was just the punch line, without the setup, and that's why it fell flat. No. Watching the setup, it still falls flat, even with the context. Granted, if the tweet had not happened, the bit might not have attracted any attention on its own, but the offensive material was part of the show.
A less common issue, but one that Zepps tried, is implying that going against Colbert when he is making fun of Snyder is like supporting Snyder in adhering to the Redskins name, with the wider corollary being that you can't have dissent within the ranks. (This is one reason I say Zepps did not do any research. He should have known about #NotYourMascot.)
It is not beneficial to divide the world into good guys and bad guys and then set up strict lines of team loyalty. People are flawed. Well-meaning people goof. People who make a lot of bad decisions still come through sometimes.
Granted, if you take a look at Fox News and the GOP, many of them appear cartoonishly ignorant and heartless, but it seems possible that part of how they got that way is following the party line too closely, and not being able to call someone on "their side" out when it was needed. No, that is not a reason to be silent.
And now for the biggest complaint of all, that people just don't get humor, they don't get the joke, and most of all that they don't understand satire; now that's patronizing!
Sadly, I think most of us have experience with someone who is being a jerk, but adds "LOL", or "Just kidding", thus putting the burden on the offended party because they don't get the joke. The joker may have latent or barely disguised hostility, or they may want so much to be funny that it impairs their judgment, but humor as a defense is not automatically valid.
"Ching-chong" is something that still gets used. Children are teased with this. I have heard people laugh at it. So, it is a charged phrase, and the viewers are being invited to laugh at it. I don't think anyone involved with The Colbert Report intended ill, but they messed up. They messed up by forgetting that humor needs to be directed against power to work. Making fun of Dan Snyder, who has millions of dollars and is an ass, works. Making fun of the way racists think that Asians talk sounds like it should work, but it came out sounding too much like making fun of the was Asians talk.
It reminds me of last year when The Onion got in trouble for a "joke" that they made about Quvenzhané Wallis. I got exactly where they were going with it. They had a more effective piece that came from a different angle, about Anne Hathaway reciprocating one women's baseless hatred of her. Going on that theme of cattiness and unfair resentment, it probably seemed that making an adorable 9-year old the target would highlight what was wrong with it, except they called a little girl the C-word, and it did not go over well.
It is really easy to misfire on satire. Doing satire well requires a lot of intelligence, and it requires double-checking to make sure your targets are correct. The Colbert Show failed on both points. It's perfectly reasonable to call them on it.
People tweeting #CancelColbert understand satire. That is not the problem. However, people defending the show as not racist by using hate speech or telling people to shut up as a way to fight censorship (and that happened a lot, and is still happening), may not really grasp irony.