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Tilting at Windmills

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April 28, 2009

MAYBE OVER-THE-TOP IS TOO SUBTLE.... It never occurred to me that some viewers might think Stephen Colbert is actually a conservative blow-hard. But Jason Linkins highlights this study from Ohio State, where researchers found that the satirical quality of "The Colbert Report" was lost on a surprising number of conservatives.

This study investigated biased message processing of political satire in The Colbert Report and the influence of political ideology on perceptions of Stephen Colbert. Results indicate that political ideology influences biased processing of ambiguous political messages and source in late-night comedy. Using data from an experiment (N = 332), we found that individual-level political ideology significantly predicted perceptions of Colbert's political ideology.

Additionally, there was no significant difference between the groups in thinking Colbert was funny, but conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements. Conservatism also significantly predicted perceptions that Colbert disliked liberalism. [emphasis added]

Linkins added, "I think a lot of conservatives are going to pissed when they realize that Stephen Colbert's performance at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner was not, in fact, an awkward and ineffective attempt to praise President George W. Bush, but actually a bitter and satiric criticism of his incompetence!"

I'm tempted to encourage Colbert to be slightly more over-the-top -- so as to help confused conservative viewers who think he agrees with them -- but I'm not sure if that's possible.

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (62)

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Comments

Gosh. I find that juuust a little bit scary.

Posted by: MattF on April 28, 2009 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

That White House Correspondent's Dinner was one of the greatest classics ever. I watched it 3 times all the way through back then. Laura Bush was PISSED at him!

Posted by: Patrick on April 28, 2009 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

They are so not it-getters.
And, unlike me, they probably haven't had thousands of girlfriends.

Posted by: Tek Jansen on April 28, 2009 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

Non-sense, he is switching sides with Specter.

Posted by: ScottW on April 28, 2009 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

Conervative's don't understand satire? I'm stunned!

Posted by: Jamie on April 28, 2009 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

"Conervative's don't understand satire? I'm stunned!
Posted by: Jamie"

They probably don't get sarcasm either...

Posted by: kp on April 28, 2009 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

I can't believe this. I just can't. Surely the survey was badly written or something. How can anyone who isn't abysmally stupid (which I would expect to be, like, 10% of people, maximum) not get what Colbert is doing?

Posted by: mmy on April 28, 2009 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

Is this surprising? Haven't conservatives been trying to kill irony for years now? They think they've won.

Posted by: Phil on April 28, 2009 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

"I think a lot of conservatives are going to pissed when they realize..."

Except that they will never realize anything. That would require joining the reality-based community, which they have rejected.

Posted by: PaminBB on April 28, 2009 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

"the homo storm! it got me!" was not enough?

really?

Posted by: Personal Failure on April 28, 2009 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Conservatives are predisposed to believing that others agree with them. That's why they think their minority viewpoint is what "America" thinks, and why they get so angry when people of opposing views have power.

Posted by: biggerbox on April 28, 2009 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

It is great fun to be amazed at how the right wing seems to have so little imagination.

On another level, it is an interesting insight to see that we don't all think or feel the same. That there are many kinds of people and we apprehend things differently. Amazing world. Glad I had a chance to be part of it.

Posted by: JohnK on April 28, 2009 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

I do hope Steven makes the study a topic on an upcoming show. This shit writes itself

Posted by: John R on April 28, 2009 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

"I can't believe this. I just can't. Surely the survey was badly written or something. How can anyone who isn't abysmally stupid (which I would expect to be, like, 10% of people, maximum) not get what Colbert is doing?"

Believe it. Remember, GEORGE W. BUSH JUST SERVED TWO TERMS IN THE WHITE HOUSE. How stupid do you have to be to vote for that clown twice. Pretty fucking stupid, IMO.

Posted by: bdop4 on April 28, 2009 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

How can anyone who isn't abysmally stupid (which I would expect to be, like, 10% of people, maximum) not get what Colbert is doing?

They "get" it, but they don't believe it: note the phrase "only pretends to be joking". This reminds me of the people who believe that a given stage magician -- one who says, all the time, "I'm just doing tricks, I'm not psychic" -- does, in fact, have psychic powers.

Posted by: DonBoy on April 28, 2009 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Given that conservatism is a joke, this really doesn't surprise me. Think about it, the Republicans are giving humor a run for it's money. Take a Republican press release and an article from The Onion. Now ask yourself two questions. Which is funnier? Which is more bizarre? It's really amazing the The Onion can survive given the tough competition from the Republican Party.

Posted by: fostert on April 28, 2009 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

I've often thought that for conservatives to get humor you need either a laugh track or a fart. But Colbert has a live audience, so apparently they need the farts anyway.

Posted by: Danp on April 28, 2009 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

tonight it is my privilege to celebrate this president, ‘cause we're not so different, he and I. We both get it. Guys like us, we're not some 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. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. Now, I know some of you are going to say, "I did look it up, and that's not true." That's 'cause you looked it up in a book. Next time, look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that's how our nervous system works.

Posted by: Tonio K. on April 28, 2009 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

I love what Colbert does, but this doesn't surprise me that much. I still remember when he had Bill O'Reilley on his show, and Bill actually admitted that he was either a caricature or a satire (I don't remember which), and Colbert asked, "Sir, if you are a caricature, what am I?"

O'Reilley was speechless (a state he needs to be in much more often, and for longer periods).

Keep it up, Steve!!

Posted by: Michael W on April 28, 2009 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

My daughter has a friend who thinks Colbert is dead serious. He didn't believe his friends when they told him Colbert was all satire. It's amazing that people can follow an ideology and yet have no clue what it's all about.

Posted by: pol on April 28, 2009 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

"Sir, if you are a caricature, what am I?"

That was the funniest statement Colbert ever made. And that's saying a lot.

Posted by: fostert on April 28, 2009 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

They are so used to listening to inconcievable rants on their "bought and paid for network" that they cannot tell the difference anymore.

Posted by: SteveA on April 28, 2009 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

Over-the-top satire is still too subtle for them. After you've watched FOX and listened to Rush, nodding your head in high emotion all the way, why would you detect anything askew in Colbert?

Question for people here who do watch FOX and listen to winger radio, though; I know that Jon Stewart is frequently reviled by the right. Do they never mention Colbert? Do they not get the connection between these two guys?

Posted by: shortstop on April 28, 2009 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

YES! I am delighted to see someone report on this phenomenon! My son indicates many of his conservative college classmates are adamant about Colbert's conservative nature. I have always been astonished at their obtuseness. Thank you for reporting this...

Posted by: JC on April 28, 2009 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

pol says:

It's amazing that people can follow an ideology and yet have no clue what it's all about.

It's less amazing when "having no clue" is what the ideology is all about...

Posted by: Bernard HP Gilroy on April 28, 2009 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

I have to say Colbert is SO DARN GOOD at his satire that the first time I picked up one of his books at the Library and read a page or two I thought OMG not another right wing neo nut, as I kept paging through I got such a kick out of dry wit and satirical comments that I had to check the book out.
I don't often get to watch his show as he is on opposite of Countdown here in North Dakota and nothing gets in the way of Countdown. But it is way too funny to think that the wing nuts believe he is one of them.

Posted by: redrover on April 28, 2009 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

I'm tempted to encourage Colbert to be slightly more over-the-top -- so as to help confused conservative viewers who think he agrees with them -- but I'm not sure if that's possible.

What's interesting to me is that Colbert actually has turned it up a couple of notches since he first started. He does a lot more winking at the audience now than he did the first couple of years. Which was a little disappointing to me since I loved how deadpan and right against the edge he was, but I understand why he may have felt compelled to do it.

At this point, if they don't get that they're being laughed at, they're never gonna get it.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on April 28, 2009 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

"How can anyone who isn't abysmally stupid (which I would expect to be, like, 10% of people, maximum) not get what Colbert is doing?"

Posted by: mmy

First & foremost, I believe that you greatly underestimate the % of the amerikan publik that is abysmally stupid! After all, more than 20% of the amerikan sheeple still believe that George W Bush was a great president.

Second - I have a T-Shirt that says "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups" with a rethugnican elephant logo underneath it. I have worn that t-shirt into small town western Indiana & have had people believe that I was referring to democrats as the large group.

The voting base of the rethug party is and will continue to be the low information voter.

From the Unabridged Dictionary of RepublicanSpeak:
Low Information Voter - Stupid low income white males (see Pat Robertson viewers)(see Rush Limpballs listeners).

Posted by: SadOldVet on April 28, 2009 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

The whole point of The Colbert Report is to mock the likes of O'Reilly by portraying a character that is hilariously over-the-top arrogant and simple-minded while promoting and defending conservative "principles". He does this all with a wink and a nod to let the viewer in on the joke.

The thing is, since Glenn Beck moved to Fox, Colbert is not even that over-the-top any more. Beck is more arrogant and simple-minded than Colbert's character, and Beck apparently really believes what he's saying. No wonder conservatives don't get the joke.

Posted by: Joe on April 28, 2009 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

I guess that answers the question of the last 8 years, can anyone be that stoopid? Yes, Virginia, they can. They are.

-- r

Posted by: DesiPanchi on April 28, 2009 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

One of your male posters at The Carpetbagger Report used to suggest that parodies tag themselves so nobody would be confused. Men have always tried to squelch feminine freedom and passion in this way because their comfort zone of power is rocked by woman-produced satire. They demand a warning ahead of time when a woman is going to be too smart for them.

Hillary was savaged for her brilliant parody of a politician under sniper fire, which went over the heads of almost every man who saw it. But did anyone criticize the black man for cracking jokes at the Al Smith dinner? No matter how much you deny it, this is looking like a blatant attack on Stephen Colbert's feminine side. The double standard stinks.

Posted by: Insane Fake Professor on April 28, 2009 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

I've always assumed that the reason he got the WH Correspondents' Dinner gig was because the staffers who booked him didn't get that he was doing satire. Bush figured it out during the show, and if looks could kill ... that Colbert showed the Helen Thomas clip was the icing on the cake!

Posted by: G.Kerby on April 28, 2009 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

The REASON that Conservatives don't get Colbert has nothing to do with Colbert being insufficiently "over the top". He is WAY WAY over the top much of the time.

The reason Conservatives don't get him is because pretty much every single Conservative with a mic and a show is totally over the top...or way out in the deep end depending on your choice of metaphor.

Rush Limbaugh
Michael Savage
Bill O'Reilly
Glenn Beck
Sean Hannity

Colbert is basically a parody of O'Reilly and he's the least over the top of the bunch.

It's no wonder they are confused. Compared to Glenn Beck, Steven Colbert comes across as a reasonable conservative. You just can't parody the sickness that is today's Fox news commentary.

Posted by: Kent on April 28, 2009 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

Satire is lost on some people.

Maybe if he broke out singing, "Springtime for Hitler"?

Posted by: Speed on April 28, 2009 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

Have you ever considered that maybe they're right and you're wrong?

Posted by: pereubu77 on April 28, 2009 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments" by Kruger and Dunning,

which is sort of a corollary of the Lake Wobegon Effect.

Posted by: dr2chase on April 28, 2009 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

I teach critical thinking classes at a 2 year college. Every once in a while, I will hear a student say (s)he is glad that Stephen Colbert is on because he represents a "conservative" counterpoint to Jon Stewart and the Daily Show. My eyes blink a few times. For a moment, I can't find a handle to grasp.

Posted by: Mark Haag on April 28, 2009 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

The great Steve Allen, when asked, "Do they get this show in Omaha?" answered, "They see it, but they don't get it."

Posted by: steverino on April 28, 2009 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

And this is news?

But if we try to explain Colbert to Republicans, how could we ever explain Rush Limbaugh? I've always imagined that to them, the two must seem very similar.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on April 28, 2009 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

Not to be nit-picky, but it's technically "the Ohio State University." Don't get me wrong -- I can't stand the Buckeyes. But, you know, being the pedantic asshat that I am ...

:-)

Oh, and Kent at 4:50 p.m. beat me to it: The reason so many don't get Colbert's satire is because the modern-day GOP is impossible to satire.

I mean, Colbert has created an amazing character. But no one is brilliant enough to create, say, Glenn Beck as a rightwing parody. They'd think he was just too nuts to be believable, giggle a bit at the thought, and then tone it down a few steps (to more of a Scarborough-type idiot).

Scary thought, ain't it?

Posted by: Mark D on April 28, 2009 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

Have you ever considered that maybe they're right and you're wrong?

Maybe for a second, until you actually read an interview with Stephen Colbert and he talks about how it's all a parody.

But I guess the real message here is that Stephen Colbert really does mean all of the crazy things he says and he doesn't even know it! Next thing you know, his parody diploma from Dartmouth is going to pop up in reality like in a really bad Stephen King novel.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on April 28, 2009 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

@Kent: It's not just the commentators, even a lot of Republicans are so mired in nonsensical talking points that it's sometimes hard for me to tell whether they're being serious or not. A lot of posters on this blog have a hard time spotting some of the parody trolls who post here from time to time. And Al? I'm still not sure if one person is posting in earnest and another parodying him, or if I just can't always spot the satire.

Posted by: Kris on April 28, 2009 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

Putting aside what this tells us about conservatives and the conservative media in this country -- this presents a great opportunity for cable news. Think about it -- normally the problem is that however you present the news, everyone on both sides thinks you're biased against them. But Stephen Colbert has discovered a way to present the news such that partisans on both sides think he's one of them!

I propose we start up a new cable news channel with every show being a parody of Fox in some way, our tagline being something along the lines of "Forget Fair and Balanced -- We're on YOUR Side." Provided the hosts are funny enough it could get a fair number of young liberal viewers, and if its over-the-top enough lots of conservatives will ditch the squishy Fox News for the station that is finally willing to really tell it like it is.

Posted by: Eric L on April 28, 2009 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

For me, the fact that so many of them don't get it just makes the joke so much funnier.

Posted by: doubtful on April 28, 2009 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

Wingnut ideology colors their perception of reality? You don't say....

I'm old enough to remember that when the "Simpsons" episode where Sideshow Bob runs for mayor and that parodied Rush Limbaugh first aired, there were complaints across the nation from conservatives who objected to what they saw as a conservative show (that in their mind championed conservative Homer while making fun of lib Lisa) changing political tone.

Posted by: Disputo on April 28, 2009 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

If you don't get that every word that comes from the mouths of Limbought, Colter, Beck, Hannity, and the rest of the right-wing hackocracy is bullshit, I wouldn't expect you to understand Colbert's sattire.

Posted by: Winknandanod on April 28, 2009 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

A lot of people seemed to accept Jesus' General as a right-wing blogger for quite a while as well. Never underestimate peoples' ability to not get the joke.

Posted by: Wapiti on April 28, 2009 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

Btw, I forgot to add, that the way this study found that cons view Colbert is similar to the way many view Rush. Some of my saner conservative friends object to Limbaugh's more ridiculous comments literally taken, but insist that he is a moderate conservative merely satirizing more wingnut conservatives.

Posted by: Disputo on April 28, 2009 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

My choices for a lack of a satirical sense:

Their mothers' held their heads under water a little too long.

The anesthesiologist forgot to turn the oxygen back on.

A stern forbidding humorless father and a submissive silent mother locked them away from "funny people" in the basement for 20 years.

They have no time for humor. They must control the whole world with maximum punishment for the least offense. You will be taught to obey without question, as they were.

It was not a good idea to tell "Georgian" jokes around Stalin, either.


Posted by: deejaayss on April 28, 2009 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

Everything old is new again. Archie Bunker empowered millions of old white bigots to just be themselves although Norman Lear went to great lengths to make it clear Archie was always wrong.

Posted by: Bubba Jefferson on April 28, 2009 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans don't get humor. Their idea of something funny is when someone slips, falls and breaks their leg. If that person happens to be a member of a minority group, it then qualifies as a belly buster.

Posted by: J. Frank Parnell on April 28, 2009 at 7:37 PM | PERMALINK

Clue conservatives in???

What? Are you kidding me?

Not before we hear him quoted by a few congressmen without irony.

It'll happen. It's only a matter of time.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on April 28, 2009 at 8:32 PM | PERMALINK

When the people you're satirizing don't get it, that means you hit it good.

Posted by: m.e.b. on April 28, 2009 at 8:41 PM | PERMALINK

The real conservative babblers like Beck are really so nutty, an OTT parody like Colbert just can't be nuttier - so they can't tell the difference.

Posted by: Neil B ♫ on April 28, 2009 at 10:07 PM | PERMALINK

GOP = Gathering of Parodists?

Posted by: Vokoban on April 29, 2009 at 4:23 AM | PERMALINK

Say, can anyone tell me what channel The Colbert Report comes on?

I don't know how he does it [and on the fly, no less!] but Stephen Colbert is The Apogee of Satire, Ne Plus Ultra. That he can use a typical conservative argument, often verbatim, to completely undermine the conservative movement is well-documented. His "authenticity" is what dupes the fucktards. He says what they always hear. He just nudges the context of it slightly closer toward reality so that more people can see the madness in conservative "logic."

Posted by: chrenson on April 29, 2009 at 7:59 AM | PERMALINK

The satirical nature of Colbert's show is often lost on many guests as well, I have noticed. It's pretty common to see a guest or interviewee become flustered or frustrated by his character.

Posted by: Ben on April 29, 2009 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

When the people you're satirizing don't get it, that means you hit it good.

I agree. When they first screened "Spinal Tap", a lot of viewers wondered why they didn't film a better band, like Led Zeppelin.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on April 29, 2009 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

well, Linkins is only half right. Colbert's performance at the 06 Press dinner was partly an indictment of Bush, but it was even moreso an indictment of the press corps, and the awful, awful (...you know, fiction!) job they had been doing in covering the administration.

that's what most people get wrong about Colbert and Stewart. they aren't really there to promote a liberal or Dem agenda. they are there to send up and parody our press corps. that is almost the whole point of both of those shows.

Posted by: onceler on April 29, 2009 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Conservative stupidity measured to three significant digits. Pretty impressive, University of Ohio.

Posted by: DH Walker on April 29, 2009 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, redrover, check out the schedule. Colbert is on several times a day on Comedy Central, as is Countdown. You CAN watch them both.

"As for "Satire is lost on some people.

Maybe if he broke out singing, "Springtime for Hitler"?"

Nope, that won't work either. You would not believe the people picketing "The Producers" because of that song.

Next, "Not to be nit-picky, but it's technically "the Ohio State University." I'll match your nit-picky and raise it with it's technically "Leland Stanford Junior University." Wags there say it's the only Junior University in the country. A little less funny now that all "junior colleges" are called "community colleges."


As to the ReThugs being unable to recognize Colbert's satire, "It's the Truthiness!"

They've been substituting Truthiness for truth for so long, they just can't recognize the real thing anymore. It's kind of like not tasting the weird aftertaste of artificial sweetener after drinking diet soda for a good long while.

hm, maybe the ReThug Kool-Aid is articially sweetened? Would that lead to the Truthiness dilemma?

Posted by: Cal Gal on April 29, 2009 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

Well its nice to have some empirical data supporting poe`s law.

But I too think Colbert means many of the things he says. Remember the "I have nothing but contempt for these people" referring to the members of the Washington press core that turned out the white house correspondents dinner? Was that a joke?

And when he talks religion he can get very sincere. And why wouldn`t he be? He himself said "I teach Sunday school, motherf@#er!"

He is a serious Catholic from a big family who knows a bit about American history, and history in general.

I think people don`t appreciate how much on the spot improvisation goes into his interviews. For Jon Stewart its easy, he has a lot of well written stuff from a prompter and then an interview in which he can be himself... Stephen Colbert has to listen to his guest outline a 500 page book on feminism all the while staying in character and working out a clever reply to everything this guest says.

From a comedic perspective Colbert regularly overthinks his follow up "questions". His guest argues something funny and unexpected, Stephen want to top it with something even funnier, preferably without going completely of the PC scale, he looks away from the guest, sometime even to the ceiling, half a silent second passes and then the perfect wacky reply, or retort really, follows.

It wrecks the timing, but the jokes are quite brilliant and it makes me appreciate the rest of the interview so much more. It also shows how quickly he can think trough a some of these issues religion and morality must be close to his hearth.

I mean who is the real values voter, Stephen Colbert or Bill Oreilly?

I would be more surprised to see Stephen Colbert go trough a divorce or a real addiction to painkillers.

Someone with more time might compare how much money Colbert and his talk radio inspirations have raised for charity including the families of soldiers.

Posted by: rt on April 29, 2009 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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