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Politics is not entertainment

Over the past few years, we have all heard claims that the lines between politics, news and entertainment are blurring. Commentators have speculated that people can no longer tell the difference between a news show about politics and an entertainment show about politics. Half news, half satiric commentary segments on shows like “Saturday Night Live” and Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” leave their audiences, mostly teens and young adults, confused about what is fact and what is funny. Until recently, I laughed off claims that this was a real problem. I was convinced that the line between political fact and political humor was there and that, if we tried, my peers and I could find that line. Stephen Colbert’s testimony at a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing last Friday shattered that conviction.

Colbert, of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” was asked by Representative Zoe Lofgren, chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, to testify in front of that committee’s hearing on “Protecting America’s Harvest.” Colbert’s qualifications? He spent a day working alongside migrant laborers in upstate New York. Yes, that’s right.
Rather than hear testimony from a real expert on the issue of migrant labor or from a real migrant laborer, the committee heard testimony from a comedian with a day’s worth of experience on a farm.

My opinion of the charade was soured even more when I actually heard Stephen Colbert’s testimony. Colbert chose to deliver his opening statement in character. For those of you who don’t know, the character that Colbert embodies on his show is an egotistical, right wing pundit. Colbert’s entire statement was peppered with one-liners like “I don’t want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, sliced by a Guatemalan and served by a Venezuelan in a spa where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian.” This might have been acceptable if his one-liners actually emphasized some sort of point, but they didn’t. They were just part of Colbert’s comedic routine.

Stephen Colbert is a funny man. He makes light of politics and making light of politics, like making light of a lot of things, makes people laugh. But here’s the thing. A congressional hearing is not Comedy Central. Real politics affect real people’s lives in very real ways. It is not a laughing matter. I hope that Colbert’s travesty of a testimony will serve as a warning to politicians. Don’t invite entertainers to be a part of the political process unless they actually have some expert knowledge to share. Having Colbert at last Friday’s hearing certainly boosted its entertainment value, but politics is not entertainment, or at least it shouldn’t be.

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