Will Colbert make amends with 'ice holes'?
Megan Stewart, ctvbc.ca
Published Tuesday, February 16, 2010 5:52PM PST
After months of mocking Olympic ideals and Canadian values, American satirist Stephen Colbert has arrived at the Vancouver Winter Games.
A UBC media scholar told ctvbc.ca that he believes the show's host is trying to make amends with Canadian viewers, some of whom were genuinely affronted by Colbert's accusations that Canadian speedskaters unfairly benefited from home-ice advantage at the Richmond Olympic Oval.
"I think he's coming up here because he put his foot in his mouth and I think he realizes it," said Joe Cutbirth, a Texas-born journalist and academic whose research centres on the relationship between mainstream political intelligence and the content of humorist newscasts from the likes of John Stewart.
Not that Cutbirth expects Colbert to voice an apology, but he doesn't think the satirist has only come to Vancouver as a financial supporter of the U.S. speedskating team or to embrace the Olympic spirit.
"This is clearly a public relations stunt for Stephen Colbert. I think this is just a game and he's doing this as public relations just like some of the politicians who want to come on his show."
The Stephen Colbert Report will tape two shows in front of live audiences Wednesday and Thursday at Creekside Park near Science World in southeast False Creek. More than 3,900 people have confirmed their attendance on a Facebook group dedicated to the event.
Cutbirth said irony-laden broadcast shows like Colbert's and The Daily Show use satire as a technique to hold institutions to account and monitor individuals who yield influence. But the privileged position of watchdog can be abused -- especially considering Colbert is now seen as an influential figure in his own right, he said.
"Satire works as a tool of the powerless against the powerful. When it is used by the powerful against the lesser power, it's like kicking a cripple. And, for better or worse, in this case, Americans are seen by Canadians as the more powerful.
It's one thing to make fun of Bill O'Reilly, Cutbirth said.
"When Stephen Colbert discredited Canada and the Olympics -- a real source of Canadian pride -- I think he realized he had made the taboo, he had crossed the line. He had become the powerful American guy beating up on a country with a smaller population and a smaller economy."
No one from Comedy Central returned an interview request.
Political fun and games
On Jan. 22, Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh flew to Washington, D.C., to tape a segment with Colbert.
Dosanjh represented his constituents of Vancouver South and played a game-show stylized item with Colbert called "Know Your District," this time revamped as "Know Your Riding."
The former B.C. premier interviewed with Colbert for nearly two hours. Viewers can tune in to CTV to watch a seven-minute clip of Dosanjh when the segment airs next week.
What will we see from the conversation between Colbert and Dosanjh?
"I have absolutely no idea," Dosanjh told ctvbc.ca.
"They craft the show -- the subjects have no say. I did it knowing it's always a risk," he said.
Elected officials strive not to look foolish on the show, which reaches an average of 175,000 Canadian viewers.
Rather, they aim to appear confident and good-natured, despite being lampooned by Colbert's caricature of an egotistical, close-minded and patriotic American.
The risk is worth it for politicians and ideologues who want to prove they possess the common touch, says Cutbirth, who teaches a graduate-level course at UBC called News as Satire.
"People like to see that politicians can be self-deprecating and can laugh at themselves because sometimes it takes a good sense of humour to get through everyday life," he said.
"There is a truthiness to it, as Stephen Colbert would say, in that we know this is public relations for the politician, but the politician is not totally in control. The only risk involved is if [public figures] tried to control the exchange or take themselves too seriously. If they go in and treat it more than just sitting at the dunking booth at the carnival, then they risk being exposed for being out of touch."
But if the rapport between Colbert and Dosanjh is any indication, perhaps the former federal Health Minister could appear again on the show -- perhaps even as an expert "ice-hole," an invented but playfully derogatory term levied at Canadians by Colbert.
"He seems like a very good human being," Dosanjh said of Colbert. "This is just a character for him. He is pretending to be an ignorant American, ignorant about Canada in particular."
There were some private moments when they weren't taping, Dosanjh said of the interview.
"We talked about some things off the record," he said, declining to elaborate.
Producers told one of Dosanjh's staffers that the taping was far longer than most and, according to a comment on the politician's web page, Colbert offered his own compliment, saying Dosanjh "is great -- he completely gets the show."
In defense of rudeness
One long-time fan of Colbert said his theatrical accusations about Canada being unsportsmanlike would be considered offensive in normal circumstances.
"If he said that on the street, I'd think it was rude," said Shannon Fedewa.
But this 23-year-old from East Vancouver takes Colbert's megalomani-American patriotism with a grain of salt and revels in his tongue-in-cheek mocking.
Fedewa will be at Wednesday morning's taping and appreciates satirical news reporters like Colbert, Stewart and Canada's Rick Mercer for bringing a passion to political coverage and bringing new audiences to politics.
"I'll admit it -- it's something I can relate to. Even if this is a grab for viewers, I hope it works."
On the Facebook event page, The Colbert Report in Vancouver, Fedewa wrote, "Dear Colbert-Shmolbert, bring it, that is all, proud icehole."