Colbert Stomps on Witches

Stephen Colbert is an American comedian whose news-like show The Colbert Report parodies conservative pundits such as Bill O’Reilly. The Stephen Colbert viewers see is a fictional character, and does not represent Colbert himself. However, the fact that the Colbert character isn’t real does not mean that we should not hold the real Colbert or the writers of the Colbert Report responsible for the content of the show. With this in mind, onward to the critique!

Last week, The Colbert Report did a series in which Stephen Colbert (the character, unless otherwise stated) attempts to “make his own album” with the help of rocker and producer Jack White. Colbert claims to have been a rock star in the 80s with the song “Charlene (I’m Right Behind You)”

Check out starting at 55 seconds

The lyrics to his song:

Every time I see you I think of you
Every time I’m near you I think of you
I think of you and I dream of you when I’m taking pictures of you
I think of you when I’m in a blimp looking down from up above you
You know I’m missing you
My mind is kissing you
I’m right behind you now Charlene
Waiting, watching
Oh so close
I’m right behind you now Charlene
You’ll never be alone again, no

This stalker ballad is offensive, creepy, and not funny. Colbert (the person), you and your writing staff may think that stalker behavior such as taking surreptitious photos of an unsuspecting woman, or telling her that despite what she wants, she won’t ever have the option to be free from your company *is funny*, but it is not. It is not acceptable. It is not okay. NO.

I understand that the comedic effect of this song is supposed to be that character Colbert is a loser idiot who pines for someone, and no one is actually condoning stalking. The thing is though, stalking is harmful and terrifying. An influential tv show should not make light of this criminal behavior.

This is obvious to me.

But the show continues to be offensive.

In order to make his album, Colbert needs some musicians (since he isn’t one). So Jack White recommends The Black Belles.

The Black Belles use witch imagery in their visual presentation. Upon seeing the band and this presentation, I immediately thought of Mary Daly’s use of witches in her _Gyn/Ecology_ which I’ve just read this spring. Over the centuries, women who were not encumbered by a man (due to spinsterhood, or death of a spouse) were often accused of being witches and were tortured and then killed (Source _Gyn/Ecology_ Daly). Women nowadays can claim the title of witch– it is a women-identified, women-centric word that connotes power. Cherry Blossom Life has a great post on using her own witchy powers in everyday life.

So I was pleased to see these artists owning their witch-dom. Women power! Until Colbert entered the equation.

Instead of joining the group by costuming like them, Colbert dresses the women in his suit-and-tie uniform. Then he proceeds to stand directly in front of them in the album photo shoot. “Stomp stomp stomp,” says Colbert’s foot to the necks of these artists.

Then, he chooses the song to sing with them. Goody– more female hatred ensues as they sing Charlene II together. Some lyrics include “I’ve finished looking through your door, won’t check your mailbox anymore. Bet you’re wondering why, I’m over you Charlene, it’s all over now”. This album has been released, and now you can buy it on iTunes!

Again, the arrogant, neck-stomping behavior of character Colbert is supposed to be funny. “Look at him, taking over the band! Funny funny,” the audience should be saying. But the actions of character Colbert have real consequences (the belittling of female artists and the extortion of their talents being two such consequences).

I recognize that the Black Belles took part in this offensive sh*t because they wanted the publicity that comes with it. As artists on Jack White’s label, he pimped them out for their talent and their identities.

So, a recap for those keeping score. These are the takeaway lessons Colbert wants us to learn:

Women may have an identity of their own (in this case, witches) but it’s okay to take that from them and make them identify as I do

Singing about stalking is funny

When I take a photo with the women I’m exploiting who are wearing the clothes I made them, I’ll stand in front of them and take up the entire picture

Then, I’ll make them sing a creepy song about stalking a woman. 

This is comedy.

About smash
Women's liberationist.

6 Responses to Colbert Stomps on Witches

  1. KatieS says:

    I found your post on Colbert interesting. In the past I found his parody of the right-wing-in-your-face-male entitlement funny, since he really nails that. I think that he does an it’s-all-about-me shtick that makes it very visible to everyone. He is parodying male entitlement and that seems a good thing. I haven’t watched him much for quite a while because I’m tired of watching male commedians, there is so much misogyny included in all of their acts.

    On the other hand, the way in which he deals with witches is exactly what I mean. He does not get how the persecution of women was a holocaust, very few do. Appropriating the group in this way is not ok.

    The stalking thing is not funny. I believe that most women are stalked, though not at the level of a restraining order stalking. Just watched and studied to find ways to take advantage of them. I think it’s built into the culture in certain ways. But this video would be very triggering to women who have been stalked at the restraining order level.

  2. smash says:

    You are right, the parody of male entitlement is a good thing. Sometimes, I think, as in this case, the audience doesn’t know that they’re supposed to object to character Colbert. Or maybe I’m not giving the show enough credit? I just doubt the viewers are sophisticated enough to think through. “Hmm this is creepy. Why is this okay? Well, it’s a parody. Ah, okay. So I should take this as evidence of what not to do.”

    I am becoming more sensitive to misogyny in the media. I ask myself if I would have recognized this episode as problematic before getting into radical feminist thought.

    I’m pretty sure I still would have found the stalking song creepy, but I probably would have just accepted it and moved on. Now I’m finding the tools to analyze specific instances of anti-woman sentiments in the larger context of the patriarchy.

    Mary Daly talks about “positive paranoia” (in _Gyn/Ecology_– I think it’s in the last chapter), which I take to be a process of looking at reality within the patriarchy and actively observing instances of woman-hatred *as such*. When practicing positive paranoia, how do I know if I’m just being sensitive, or if I’m truly perceiving an instance of woman hatred in the world?

    You say that women are “watched and studied to find ways to take advantage of them”, and that totally creeps me out! I think you’re right though. I’ve accidentally caught the eye of someone doing just that. The older I get, the less it seems to happen, which is good. Then again, the thing about surreptitious behavior is that we never really know whether it is happening.

    It feels so good to talk about these things! Thanks for discussing them with me.

  3. KatieS says:

    “You say that women are “watched and studied to find ways to take advantage of them”, and that totally creeps me out! I think you’re right though. I’ve accidentally caught the eye of someone doing just that. The older I get, the less it seems to happen, which is good. Then again, the thing about surreptitious behavior is that we never really know whether it is happening.”

    I think it happens less as a woman gets older because she gets wise to them. But there are so many areas where it happens and also it is such a common thing.

    I think it can happen to any woman who is vulnerable and/or has something the male wants. For instance, middled-aged women who have work experience will be ripped-off in the workplace. Elderly women are often targets for being ripped off financially, particularly widows who are in a vulnerable place and may have resources that they have never handled before.

    When I first started at my job a while back, I was befriended by a male who acted like a mentor, and then tried to steal my work/ideas and pass them off as his own. It didn’t last long, but it was clear to me that he was “talented” primarily at using women and sometimes men. He seemed to get what he wanted, and I found cases where he was (non-sexually) harrassing women to get his way. I frequently warned women about him when I saw it happening. He was astute politically and got what he wanted. A big part of what constituted his being “astute politically” was watching and studying his victims.

  4. greenmorgaine says:

    Sorry but you missed the point of the song. Its in the style of an 80s love ballad and an obvious spoof of “The Police “Every Breathe You Take” which is considered romantic, along with MANY other mainstream popular songs and movies that depict stalking behavior with no comment on how creepy it is. This song is intentionally creepy, and the humor is in how similar it is to ones that are not. This is an obvious spoof of an extremely well known song on a show that is itself a parody, so it is quite hard to miss the point but quite easy to find someone to explain it to you.
    As for Colbert himself, his character is a right wing patriarchal jerk who loves making everything including the news be all about him. He stays in character the entire show. His antics get annoying but the characters who he is imitating are still on air too.

  5. smash says:

    Hi greenmorgaine, please use a more conversational tone here at my blog. Your aggression is not necessary or welcome.

    I realize that character Colbert is attempting to parody mainstream rock. I also realize that his character is a parody, as I mention above: “Stephen Colbert is an American comedian whose news-like show The Colbert Report parodies conservative pundits such as Bill O’Reilly. The Stephen Colbert viewers see is a fictional character, and does not represent Colbert himself. However, the fact that the Colbert character isn’t real does not mean that we should not hold the real Colbert or the writers of the Colbert Report responsible for the content of the show.”.

    The Black Belles are a real band, and their talents are really exploited for comedic purposes throughout this episode. Just because a comedian conducts a parody show does not mean we can’t critique him or his writers for the content of the show.

    • dubsh says:

      Hi smash!

      I really appreciate the analysis about exploiting the Black Belles. I did not see the humor in that part of the bit by Stephen, at all. You are dead on about him removing their identities!

      I think, though, that the real problem was not necessarily the song itself. Because, yeah, greenmorgaine is right about it being a joke about how creepy those 80s pop songs were about stalking (though in the case of Every Breath You Take, it’s about Sting being stalked by his exwife or something- ie, no danger of PIV rape).

      But this is where greenmorgaine (any everyone else who I’ve heard use the “just lighten up” argument) stops analyzing. The real joke isn’t “Haha, can you believe how creepy and wrong those songs were? That’s unacceptable!”. The joke is STILL on women- that is, they’re laughing at how stalking is creepy and wrong AND how they get away with it!

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