Saturday, October 27, 2007

Stephen Colbert's Postmodern Electoral Strategy

My initial reaction to Stephen Colbert announcing his candidacy for the Presidency was supportive, but from sort of a "meta" view of current political practices:

Going on at great length about the impact of image makers on the political system just does not play that all well among the voting public. Demonstrating the role that image making plays, on the other hand, might have more of an effect. Perhaps Colbert has found the right way to get us all to look at the other candidates and ask what kind of an act each of them is playing. If this is the case, then I applaud his experiment but would like to remind him that there are now various regulations regarding how such experiments should be conducted when the subjects are human!

Unfortunately, most of the folks that Colbert is twitting are so entrenched in their behavior that they may not realize that their are being twitted. I offer as a case in point an article published by Editor & Publisher on Thursday evening, recently cited on Truthdig. This article, authored by "E&P Staff" appeared under the sort of headline that one would not associate with "America's Oldest Journal Covering the Newspaper Industry:"

New Poll Suggests Stephen Colbert Should Be Frontrunner Within a Month!

I have to confess that I had absolutely no idea how to react to this article. If it was meant as a gag, then it sorely lacked any of the style of delivery that makes Colbert (and, for that matter, Jon Stewart) attract such a following, in which case I would advice its anonymous author(s) to go back to their day job. However, if this article was a piece of “day job” work, then the are a few elements that would lead one to question its credibility. First of all is it accepted practice at Editor & Publisher to rely entirely on Huffington Post for sources? More importantly however, does the support for the headline lie solely in this one sentence?

If he keeps gaining over 10% a week, Colbert should be leading the field before November is out.

All campaign watchers know that this sort of momentum is a tricky phenomenon that never grows linearly. My conclusion, then, is that this is either a poorly written gag or an equally poorly written editorial, neither of which puts Editor & Publisher in a particularly good light.

On the other hand I think that Colbert comes out on the high side as a result of this journalistic blunder. Indeed, I strongly suspect that Colbert is playing the same sort of postmodernist game that I previously attributed to Pete Stark’s apology. If Stark’s use of the word “insignificant” represented an act of resistance (rather than opposition) “against a Congress whose normative practices undermine the democratic foundation that the Constitution tried to lay down for it” (as I previously wrote), then Colbert is calling on us all to resist an outmoded electoral process, which is also undermining our democratic foundation (as we saw all too well in both 2000 and 2004). Like the protagonist played by Robin Williams in Man of the Year, Colbert is smart enough to know that he would not do a particularly good job in the White House; but supporting him may be the most effective way for us to voice our resistance to a hopelessly broken electoral system. As they used to say in the Sixties, “If you’re not part of the solution, you can at least make the problem so bad that someone will have to fix it!”

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