Tuesday, May 02, 2006

bravery and simulacra

I've spent the early part of this week trying to persuade myself not to blog about Stephen Colbert's magnificent performance at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner last weekend. Everyone else has been there and done that. You probably don't even need the link I've given you: News of his ballsiness -- not to mention the complete transcripts and videotapes of the event -- has made the rounds. Twice. In a variety of resolutions and formats.

But there's still something I want to add. I can't help myself.

When I first started working at Microsoft, a friend who'll remain anonymous told me, "It's easier to work here if you're on the right meds." She was a ballsy girl herself, lovely and outspoken. And did I say funny? She was funny. Kept me sane on countless occasions. And more than once our conversations caused the straight arrow in the office adjacent to hers to slam his door in horror and embarrassment. I miss her. She was definitely on the right meds herself.

It's easier, she said, if you're on the right meds.

So what I want to know is, what kind of meds is Stephen Colbert on? Which pharmaceutical gives you the courage to look the President of the United States in the eye and say things like:

We're not so different, he and I. We get it. We're not brainiacs on the nerd patrol. We're not members of the factinista. We go straight from the gut, right sir? That's where the truth lies, right down here in the gut.

Now, I know there are some polls out there saying this man has a 32% approval rating. But guys like us, we don't pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in "reality." And reality has a well-known liberal bias.
It was hard to pull those two excerpts from the transcript. I would've liked to quote the whole damned thing -- that's how good it was. Those weren't even the funniest things he said; they were just two examples of things it'd be hard to say looking the President in the eye. It's hard to point at your gut to refer by proxy to the gut of the guy who's got his finger on the button to launch the nukes. These are things he said knowing that when he was done speaking, he'd have to leave the podium and sit down next to him. Maybe even eat dessert and coffee and endure a round of after-dinner drinks.

It's hard enough sitting next to a stranger at one of these formal banquets. Harder still to sit next to a faux Texan, who can invade countries whenever he feels the urge. That galvanic power gap'd keep you off balance for the entire meal; it'd be tough just keeping the gravy boat of Hollandaise sauce for the salmon out of your lap. In fact, I'm sure they had a lively chat before Mr. Colbert's speech -- Mr. Colbert alluded to the possibility of Mr. Bush appearing on his show. And all the while, as they were dining together, as the table enjoyed Mr. Bush's unselfconscious anti-intellectualism and folksy patter, Mr. Colbert knew he was going to drop the bomb.

It'd be one thing if he'd performed this routine on his show; there you've got a sympathetic audience and you're not looking G.W. in the eye. Even in the posted video taken from the C-Span coverage, you could hear the coughs, scuffles, and nervous laughter of an audience on the edge of fear. He'd clearly gone too far for the likes of this august group of correspondents, correspondents who were still allowed to attend presidential press conferences. Even though this Bill O'Reilly simulacra is just a character he plays (for who knows what Stephen Colbert qua Stephen Colbert is like), it's a character he maintains week after week without slipping. And he didn't slip here. Even as the audiences' discomfort became electric.

What kind of meds could he be on? Surely it's something new, the fruit of many years of neuropharmaceutical research. And even if the drug is no longer under patent protection, Mr. Colbert is not taking the generic version. Did you know the generic version of a drug can be up to 25% weaker than the original? And possibly less effective than the original formulation because of vagaries in the manufacturing process? I don't need to look this up; I know this from my gut. And my gut tells me Stephen Colbert was on something FULL STRENGTH AND COMPLETELY GENUINE.

A couple of shots of bourbon don't give you that kind of courage. They just make you a little more apt to topple when you're leaning on the podium to make your best point. Or more prone to drop your notes and be unable to re-assemble them in the right order. Nope. Stephen Colbert didn't take a swig from a silver flask moments before he was introduced, Ivy League style; he's got to have been fortified by a big strong complicated molecule. It's not a wimpy simple molecule like ethyl alcohol. Something with a couple of benzene rings and hydrocarbon chains hanging off of it.

Mark has speculated that Mr. Colbert must've been toughened up by his childhood, a childhood no doubt spent defending his ears. I don't know if you've noticed, but Stephen Colbert's ears are profoundly asymmetric: one is much higher on his head than the other. He must've been aware of this, since one day on his show he demonstrated a trick where he folds his ear in half like origami. Earigami? It's a great trick. And the ears allow you to forgive him for his young Republican good looks and boyish charm.

But I still think it's the meds, not the ears: I'll have what he's having.

I hope our next president is as brave and his (or her) anti-intellectualism is just an act like Mr. Colbert's.


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