June 27, 2011 6 Comments
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
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.