When The Onion ran its "Fuck Everything, Nation Reports" article on the Newtown shootings, it was exceptional in its unusual refrain from controversy. The humor showed exceptional politically correct taste, not fixating on dead children or mental health or gun control. Instead, The Onion satirized the idea that people could keep calm in the midst of such pain and tragedy. It was a non-inflammatory topic, one devoid of controversy that everyone could relate to, but that struck a good point.
With that as the best example of food for thought, The Colbert Report's now-infamous segment on the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation falls terribly short of expectations, with those expectations made prevalent by the recent #CancelColbert Twitter trend. Instead of drawing the attention away from an issue that was already racially charged, host Stephen Colbert took a risk and fired off a poorly written joke that shined the spotlight on the Asian-American community.
Now questions brim about what price he ought to pay for it: did Colbert actually go too far? And even if he didn't, does it matter when the magnitude of the Twitter backlash may severely mar his viewership?
Colbert defenders argue that the people offended -- the majority of Asian-American, Pacific Islander and Native American descent-- are the same type offended by headlines that The Onion usually writes. But, as demonstrated by the Newtown piece, the best satire centered on sensitive topics concerns itself with dissecting an otherwise complex concept, zeroing on exactly what needs to be emphasized.
When The Onion ran a piece about Kim Jong Un being 2012's sexiest man alive, the piece made fun of America's tendency to revere men of prominence, and paralleled it to North Korea's forced-hero worship of their leader. Any perceived issues of ethnic sensitivity paled in significance to the bigger point The Onion made, and Colbert could have (and perhaps should have) steered his punch line as far away as possible from potential racial tension. He could have rephrased his joke to more explicitly target Washington Redskins coach Dan Snyder's act in a manner that wouldn't have needed context, and which would have addressed the matter at hand more directly.
This might have entailed something among the lines of terming it the "Asian American Foundation For Those Who Don't Have A Football Team Named For Them To Compensate For Racial Insensitivity," instead of rubbing salt in the wound of a demographic aware that it is already poorly represented in the media that they don't have much of a voice.
That being said, terminating the show will not make a statement against general racism. Rather, it will perpetuate the idea that stopping racism can be done only through cancelling a source of entertainment otherwise enjoyable by the majority of America, a feat that may be met with more bitterness than awareness. Instead, encouraging a dialogue should be prioritized above boycotting a show that only reflects a general problem within the culture.
Unfortunately, past attempts to open up dialogue have been unsuccessful for both those in the know and not, as indicated by the indignant tweeters of #CancelColbert. They be rightfully upset, but simultaneously use the word 'white people' in their breakdown of the issue, focusing more on who may be continuing support of the Colbert Report, and drawing attention away from the racial part of the problem. This conflict goes far beyond the potential ignorance of a single demographic, and will not stop while others yell back and stereotype just as badly, just as arguing Colbert's poorly articulated intentions will not likely stop his show writers from continuing to run politically incorrect jokes.
The immediate takeaway is that Twitter is not the platform to argue this issue. The hashtag will inevitably fade into oblivion as new trending topics cycle in, when a new celebrity becomes incarcerated or someone else dies on The Walking Dead. Our society has a short attention span, and the better option may come in the form of an open and angry letter to a major publication, drawing sustainable attention to this singular offense.
From there, discussions can be better moderated by and restricted to people in the know. Anyone can currently put their two cents in about the #CancelColbert controversy, diluting the valid opinions that are being articulated.
Meanwhile, The Colbert Report has argued that Colbert's character on the show is simply a conservative, bigoted persona who is simply a comedic archetype. But regardless, the actions of this persona do have repercussions -- intentionally, or unintentionally -- in targeting a demographic already smarting from the lack of positive attention America has given its plight. Racism toward people of Eastern heritage is very real, and an issue that all offended parties want brought to light, whether Colbert's show is cancelled or not.
Follow Crystal Duan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@duancries