Last week, things got a little heated for Stephen Colbert. The host of Comedy Central’s Colbert Report had a segment discussing Dan Snyder, owner of the NFL’s Washington Redskins.
In the piece, Colbert discussed Snyder’s journey to talk to members of various Native Americans to talk about their reaction to the football team’s name, which many have criticized as being racist, mostly because it’s racist.
After those talks, Snyder was apparently moved by the plight of the Native Americans and started the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation to help them.
Colbert was similarly moved by Snyder’s journey, and that’s where the trouble began, and where the #CancelColbert movement started on Twitter.
The comedian decided to match Snyder’s efforts to address grievances leveled against him for an allegedly racist character he had created named Ching-Chong Ding-Dong, and announced the creation of the “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”
You can see the whole segment at the link below. The relevant piece begins at around 4:50.
The show’s Twitter account–reportedly run by Comedy Central and not overseen by Colbert or his show–sent out a promotional tweet that removed all context.
The Twitterverse quickly reacted with people offended starting the #CancelColbert hashtag calling for Colbert’s job. Since outrage is the currency of the internet, it spread quickly. Soon, conservatives happily joined in, as they are frequent targets of the show.
There is no doubt that the tweet on its own is terribly offensive. (It has since been deleted.) But of course there’s no reason to believe that the denizens of the internet would fly off the handle based solely on that tweet without getting the full story.
And the satire is clear. Colbert follows Snyder’s claim of the allegedly racist Redskins name being steeped in history by talking about the history of his allegedly racist character being steeped in the history of his show.
Then he mimics the naming of Snyder’s foundation by including the racist part followed by a euphemism.
With the satirical element so evident, it’s clear that anyone protesting the Colbert Report is really protesting the Redskins by proxy. The people who started the hashtag activism must have been in on the joke with Colbert and supported his message, and used their own brand of satire to further it. It’s competing messages both saying the same thing. Colbert’s original bit was a protest against Washington’s team, and the campaign against Colbert is protesting all of the elements of the bit that match the protest against the Redskins.
It’s genius, really. Protests have flown against the Redskins name for years and have only picked up in fervor lately. But Snyder has been adamant at every turn that the team would not change its name.
He has found support from more conservative members of the public who agree with the importance of tradition. They rail against the PC crowd for their calls to throw away the history of the franchise for something that isn’t a big deal, pointing to a study that showed 90% of Native Americans polled didn’t feel the name was racist.
Now many of those same conservatives are the ones gleefully piling on the #CancelColbert campaign.
And, through the transitive property, those conservatives are now protesting the Redskins name.
Colbert pointed out the ridiculousness of Snyder’s foundation, bringing it to the public consciousness. Then the #CancelColbert group turned it into a movement. A satirical movement that soon netted a group of people who would never directly come out in opposition to the Redskins.
This is satire 2.0, possible now in the information age. Satire that does not just provoke feeling but creates action, action that carries on through the satire. That captures people who don’t get the satire to protest something they ostensibly agree with.
I encourage everyone to join in the #CancelColbert internet activism if you want the Redskins name to change.
In fact, I am proposing we use the #CancelColbert hashtag for anything that offends or upsets us. Some examples of what I’m talking about:
#CancelColbert because the Starbucks barista wrote “Black Guy” as my name on my cup.
#CancelColbert because my state representative proposed a bill that all women should seek therapy.
My dog threw up on my rug. It really tied the room together. #CancelColbert
You can add @SoftCoreSophist so I see your tweets, and if there are enough good ones, maybe I’ll compile them and give you a shout out so the SCS Nation can revel in your wit.