stephen.colbert.eagleSatire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.  –Jonathan Swift

He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'” (Mk 4.11-12)

In a Google Talk in 2012, Stephen Colbert spoke (without his character) on the nature of satire, specifically his kind of satire, and the intended “clanging against the world” that his character is intended to produce. He described his character as a pebble he can throw into the stream of America’s news, so that he can then “report on my own ripples.”

He’s done it for several years now, and in alarming ways, not just inside the confines of his own boisterous studio set but (famously) in White House correspondent’s dinners, in Congress, on the Washington Mall, in Iraq. In 2012 he created his own ridiculous Super PAC that would help his campaign for President of the United States of South Carolina. As the scripted buffoon, Colbert demonstrates an American non-example that unseats the heads at the table:

When I put this character, this very false character, into a story, anything that looks like me in that story is probably bull****. And that’s a specific way of doing satire. It’s satire by comparison rather than satire by deconstruction…I’m falsely constructing the satire as opposed to deconstructing other people’s behavior.

Satire is not an unusual form of cultural critique, nor is it new. Shakespeare did it with the Fool, Kubrick did it with Peter Sellers. Jonathan Swift did it, magnifying moral scruples into the grotesque. Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut did it.  Only Colbert has, in a sense, become his satirical target, though.

In satire, more often than not, the subject of choice is the human appetite for power and control, and its allure is generally subverted by characters unsuitable for access to it. Sound familiar? The kinds of people who “see the world upside down.” Outcasts and misfits, jesters and prostitutes, children and village idiots…and comedians.

Which is another facet I want to talk about in this breakout session: the arresting power of humor. How else can the words truth and grace be spoken together except by the language of humor? And how can this reality find itself in the pulpit for sufferers? Jesus wept, but did Jesus laugh? Let’s find out together, during the first breakout session on Friday. Until then…