Since Thursday evening, when 23-year-old writer and activist Suey Park sent out a tweet to her 19,000-odd followers—“The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals has decided to call for #CancelColbert. Trend it.”—America’s media has been in the grips of some sort of Suey Park-derangement syndrome. Park’s call to action came in response to a tweet from The Cobert Report’s official account that contained the punchline of a segment from last Wednesday’s program. In the bit, Colbert lampooned Dan Snyder, the owner of Washington DC’s football team, by comparing the racist name of the team to racist language used against Asians. Dozens of articles have been written about the hashtag campaign. Writers at The Wall Street Journal, Slate, Salon, the Washington Post, Time, the Daily Beast, Jezebel, CNN, USA Today, Huffington Post, the BBC, Mediaite, Entertainment Weekly, and many, many more have all weighed in. Almost without exception (Brittney Cooper at Salon is one of the few) these articles, essays and blog posts agree that Suey Park and the hashtag she spawned are misguided, ill-informed, unable to take a joke, unaware of the meaning of satire and/or just plain stupid.
In addition to the flood of media critiques, Park and others who joined the hashtag have faced a deluge of criticism and abuse from other Twitter users. At some points, dozens if not hundreds of tweets per minute were being addressed to Park. Many followed the script of your typical patronizing mansplainer confronted with a woman he disagrees with and is unable to resist engaging: “Don’t you understand what satire is?” etc. But many others contained racist and misogynistic slurs, rape threats, death threats and every other conceivable kind of invective, all directed toward Suey Park.
The mainstream media response to #CancelColbert has been more genteel than that which emerged from the underbelly of the internet. Two exceptions were HuffPost Live and Deadspin. On HuffPost Live, host Josh Zepps came out and said to Park’s face what much of the commentariat couched in less offensive language: “It’s just a stupid opinion.” Deadspin published a post entitled “Gooks Don’t Get Redskins Joke,” a cravenly cynical ploy to garner traffic and court controversy. (White liberal writers have shied away from criticizing Deadspin, citing the fact that the two authors of the post are Korean-American as some kind of excuse. I don’t share their sensitivity. People of color will always find someone willing to pay them money to sell out other people of color. Just ask Amy Chua.)
But for the most part, talented writers have (mis)applied their skills of logic and persuasion to explain why #CancelColbert was a bad idea. I find most of the arguments against Park (and yes I think many of the arguments are aimed directly at Park, even more than at her hashtag) to be fundamentally weak. We have been reminded again and again that Colbert’s offensive language against Asians was deployed as satire in order to attack the racism of Dan Snyder, and that the context of the statements are critical to “getting” the joke. This is obviously true, and did not need to be explained to Park, but how this invalidates the concerns of real people who feel real pain when they hear stereotypes about Asians is left unaddressed.
We have been told that, even if Colbert’s joke hurt the feelings of some Asian Americans, it was all in furtherance of a greater good—the education of people within his audience who did not realize that the name “Redskins” is an offensive slur until it was compared to anti-Asian slurs. This narrative strikes me as particularly specious. It rests on weighing the education of a group of people who have been hypothesized into existence as more important than the experience of a group of people who are actually speaking out to express their discomfort. If any journalist wants to present evidence of a single person who was moved to change their opinion of Dan Snyder by Colbert’s routine, then perhaps we can assign it a social value. I’ve yet to see any such evidence, and while I would never deny that Colbert’s performances are entertaining, there’s a difference between entertainment and enlightenment.