Why We Should Thank Stephen Colbert: 3 Ways the Culture-Jammer Exposes Our Rotten Corporate State
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By absorbing the abuses of Citizens United and pounding out an activist political action committee of his own, Colbert has launched culture-jamming attack ads that complicate the campaign's media circus by asking Iowa voters to misspell Rick Perry's name to deplete his vote count. Or asking South Carolina voters to vote for Herman Cain, who's not in the race anymore, so Colbert can count how many votes he would have gotten if the state had let voters write in their candidates. Indeed, it was in South Carolina's gospel-fueled whistlestop where Colbert, following a Pokemon-quoting Cain, broke character to rail against Citizens United.
"The pundits have asked if this is all a joke," Colbert said at the College of Charleston. "And I say if they are calling being allowed to form a super PAC and collect unlimited, untraceable amounts of money from individuals, unions and corporations, and spend that money on political ads and personal enrichment, and then surrender that super PAC to one of my closest friends while I explore a run for office, if that is a joke, then they are saying that our entire campaign finance system is a joke."
Crowd goes wild, including those waving signs that say "Skipping class for Stephen Colbert." Crowd also learns that our political process was a joke long before Stephen Colbert started regularly lampooning it.
"It educates so many of us about the unfairness and intentions of the current political fundraising structure," Rushkoff added. "The ease with which he can find and exploit loopholes exposes the actual intent of much of these rules. So for those who are already concerned and suspicious, this amounts to a great education and a terrific media virus. The question, as always, is whether our knowledge translates to power, or whether all this activity just gives us a way to vent."
Participatory Democracy For Post-Millennials
"Voting is nothing more than a brief chance to register our disgust with the corporate state," journalist Chris Hedges wrote last week. "The campaign is not worth our emotional, physical or intellectual energy."
Not as it is currently composed, it is true. But having riveting electives can help change that, which is one reason Colbert entered the race in 2008 and 2012. Rather than writing a knotty exegesis on how and why the political process has been so thoroughly hijacked, he has simply gotten involved, and offered us a vehicle in which we can live vicariously through his experiences and enlightenments. By walking the walk, his campaign has injected enough "intellectual energy" to draw hundreds and sometimes thousands to everything from a banal Federal Election Commission filing ( PDF) to full-blown events like the South Carolina stump.
Colbert's strategy is a simple one. The easiest way to demythologize and even combat a corrupt system is to go to work on its guts. By participating in the political process, Colbert has given his growing audience a means of understanding its hidden intricacies, and he's not the only one hoping that they do the same and get involved. The New Organizing Institute's Candidate Project is looking to recruit progressives across the country for thousands of local offices just begging for hungry minds invested in making change. In fact, Project Candidate's stated aim is as simple as Colbert's participation: "We want to help change-makers become decision-makers."
"He’s illustrating how the system works by using it," Trevor Potter, Colbert's DC-based lawyer and a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, told the New York Times. "He can bring the audience inside the system. He can show them how it works and then leave them to conclude whether this is how it ought to work.”