Many regard Stephen Colbert’s recent appearance before Congress as a theatrical waste of time, yet ignore the simple fact that it took the satirical brilliance of a comedian to point out the callous ineffectiveness of the Legislative Branch and the plight of millions of laborers within our borders.
In literary classics A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist and even A Christmas Carol, acclaimed author Charles Dickens effectively used satire to depict an amazingly accurate and astute portrayal of the human struggle during the Industrial Revolution in Western Europe.
His characters (especially antagonists) were made out to be caricatures of their real-life counterparts; complete with cartoonish appearances, outlandish names and social outlooks devoid of human compassion, social responsibility and political accountability.
His work is considered by scholars around the world as being some of the best fictionalized accounts of corporate and governmental corruption of the 19th century, and students today continually cite his work for its parallels with our modern day society and its own human struggles of poverty, disease and injustice in both eastern and western hemispheres of the globe.
Last week, popular “fake news” pundit and comedian Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report was invited to testify before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law on the subject of migrant workers in our country during a presentation entitled “Protecting America’s Harvest.”
Colbert appeared alongside United Farm Workers (UFW) President Arturo S. Rodriguez; after having spent a day working at a corn and vegetable farm in New York state after Rodriguez appeared on his show to discuss UFW’s “Take Our Jobs” campaign.
Colbert, who, while in character, brilliantly portrays an over-the-top, Right-wing, neo-con news personality modeled in part after “Papa Bear” Bill O’Reilly, gave a 10-minute presentation before the subcommittee on the dependency of our agriculture supply on migrant farm workers, their sub-standard “forced” conditions of living, and to dispel the myth that illegal immigrants who work on farms are stealing jobs from Americans.
“America’s farms are presently far too dependent on immigrant labor to pick our fruits and vegetables,” Colbert said, in character. “Now, the obvious answer is for all of us to stop eating fruits and vegetables. And if you look at the recent obesity statistics, many Americans have already started.”
“…this is America. I don’t want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, then sliced by a Guatemalan, and served by a Venezuelan in a spa, where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian. Because my great-grandfather did not travel across 4,000 miles of the Atlantic ocean to see this country overrun by immigrants.”
Now, Colbert is obviously no Dickens – but a round of well-deserved applause is due to the man who could brilliantly use satire to publicly ridicule the Legislative Branch’s professional ineptitude.
In 10 minutes alone, Colbert’s performance as a pampered, out-of-touch and hypocritical Right-winger was able to positively utilize his celebrity status and notoriety to deliver massive media attention to the dismal working conditions of migrant and undocumented farm workers within our borders.
“This brief experience gave me some small understanding of why so few Americans are clamoring to begin an exciting career as seasonal migrant field workers. So what’s the answer? I’m a free-market guy. Normally, I would leave this to the invisible hand of the market, but the invisible hand of the market has already moved over 84,000 acres of production and over 22,000 farm jobs to Mexico, and shut down over a million acres of U.S. farm land due to lack of available labor. Because apparently, even the invisible hand doesn’t want to pick beans.”
His comedic talent shined a spotlight on an issue that, while affecting the entire country, few citizens either choose or care to know nothing about – even though it highlights the living standards of the people who farm our food, stock our shelves, manage our livestock and more.
However, like clockwork, a few members of Congress, as interviewed thoroughly by Fox Propag –, I mean, Fox News, spoke out vocally against Colbert and his appearance by referring to it as a “waste of time” and an “embarrassment.”
Fox and Friends’ own resident “make-believe-bimbo” Gretchen Carlson complained that Colbert simply wasn’t funny, while Tucker Carlson (sans bow-tie this time) argued that the comedian came off as a “pompous jerk” when adding a serious end-note to the presentation:
“I like talking about people who don’t have any power, and this seems like, one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work but don’t have any rights as a result. And yet we still invite them to come here and at the same time ask them to leave. That’s an interesting contradiction to me. And, you know, ‘Whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers’ – and this seems like the least of brothers—right now. A lot of people are least brothers right now because the economy is so hard. And I don’t want to take anyone’s hardship away from them or diminish anything like that. But migrant works suffer and have no rights.”
Perhaps Colbert’s biggest critic – as featured on Fox News - was Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King, who had previously suggested before that a rational deterrent against illegal immigrants along the U.S./Mexico border was an electrified fence, stating hilariously (yet seriously) “we do that with livestock all the time,” and that gay marriage was a “purely socialist concept.” (WHAT?!?)
Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer even spoke out against Colbert – again, on Fox – saying “I think his testimony was not appropriate” to FOX News Sunday host Chris Wallace. “What he had to say I think was not the way it should have been said.”
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi actually sided with reason: “He’s [Colbert] an American. He comes before the committee. He has a point of view. It can bring attention to an important issue like immigration. I think it’s great.”
Well said, Nancy. I may not agree with you much of the time, but about this you are spot-on.
Whether or not the appearance of a “comedian” before the committee is appropriate is not a factor, since most pundits, reporters, politicians and bloggers would not have given a second glance to a subcommittee hearing on immigrant farm labor conditions had Colbert not “trivialized” the issue.
What is certainly not appropriate is how members of Congress on both sides of the aisle could vilify Colbert for “mocking” them, while they continue to sit on their hands with regard to every hot button issue presented before them.
Colbert’s appearance has drawn attention to an issue of great national importance – immigration reform and immigrant labor standards. Although a major campaign issue, little attention is given to it after the polls are closed.
Yes, Colbert did make a mockery of the legislative process. But, more importantly, he brilliantly used satire to call attention to a legislative process that deserves to be mocked.