Suey Park’s Absurd and Hostile Huff Post Live Interview about #CancelColbert
“Satire” Google Definition: the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.
In response to a decades-long and growing stream of complaints about the racist name of his NFL team, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder finally... did nothing. As a kind of horrible consolation though, he created the (also racistly named) “Washington Redskins Foundation for Original Americans.” Right.
On the satirical Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert did a segment in which he was also to start an organization, which he named “The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation For Sensitivity To Orientals Or Whatever”.
The formula of this segment was classic satire fare: Colbert exposed and criticized the incompetence of Snyder’s endeavor by making up a similar foundation with an exaggerated but similar flaw to the one in Snyder’s ineffectual attempt at appeasement.
Later, the @StephenColbert account on Twitter posted the following tweet:
Without the original context, the satirical element is gone from this tweet, and the tweet could be read as racist, which people like activist and writer Suey Park did. Park started the #CancelColbert movement with this tweet:
#CancelColbert has garnered a lot of steam, inspiring thousands of tweets containing the hashtag just since Park’s tweet on March 27th, 2014.
But once Park learned about the context of the joke and the satire with which is was presented, she continued to push her #CancelColbert movement, and it continued to gain support. She appeared on HuffPost Live to answer some questions about the #CancelColbert crusade. But the interview didn’t go the way she or her interviewer, Josh Zepps, could have expected.
There is a lot crammed into that interview. To help unpack it, below is a transcript of the interview, with interjected synopsis:
(Transcript begins at 0:45 of the video)
Josh Zepps: Joining us now is the author of that very same tweet, Suey Park. And also still with us is Huff Post Politics reporter Jason Linkins. Thanks for being with us, Suey.
Suey Park: Of course, thanks for having me.
Zepps: Why cancel Colbert? What did you hope to achieve with that?
Park: (Laugh) Well that’s a loaded question;
It’s unclear what is loaded about Zepps’s apparently straightforward question: It is one of the 5 Ws of basic information gathering, and she is there to provide information about #CancelColbert in an interview, to a journalist.
Park: I think it’s sad, but unfortunately a lot of times our demands aren’t really met unless we have really serious asks or we generate these larger conversations. Unfortunately people don’t really listen to us when we’re being reasonable,
Park said it was unreasonable for her to ask for the cancellation of The Colbert Report, and nobody pays attention to reasonable requests.
Park: so I think it’s (indecipherable) to make a statement that this sort of thing happens weekly--that Asian Americans are always a punch line, and so I just think we’re trying to make a point that people will be held accountable the next time they do these sort of things.
Park says racism against Asians occurs once per week, and negative repercussions against Colbert for his racism will serve as an example to those who would make similar jokes.
Zepps: So, just to clarify the context, the tweet was related to a segment that was lampooning Dan Snyder, who is the owner of a certain Washington DC football team that has a racist name. It was meant to be--
Park: --Of course.
Zepps: It was meant to be satire. I mean, do you understand the point of satire; that you say something that’s intentionally absurd in order to ridicule, not the people who are the target of what you’re saying, but other people who might say it?
Zepps questioned Park’s understanding of satire, and then explained the general concept of satire that Colbert employed.
Park: Of course I understand satire, I’m a writer.
Park is a writer, therefore she understands satire.
Park: I think satire caters to the audience that you’re speaking to so it says something about what the audience finds humorous or acceptable when you’re using those kind of jokes,
Park believes audiences find the literal meaning of the satire humorous and acceptable.
Park: and I think satire’s supposed to punch up, so unfortunately he’s not doing that when he draws a parallel to orientalism to make a point about native american mascots.
Park thinks satire should be funny but she thinks Colbert’s joke wasn’t funny.
Zepps: But isn’t his point that there are lots of stupid racist who, even in their attempt to be conciliatory on race, end up putting their foot in it and saying something dumb?
Zepps asks if (and implies that) the point of Colbert’s joke is not the literal reading of the text but the implication behind his exaggerating the elements of Snyder’s mistake (i.e. satire).
Park: I really don’t think we’re going to end racism by joking about it--
Park believes that jokes are an ineffective means to achieve the end of racism.
Park: like I’m glad that the white liberals feel like they are less racist because they can joke about people that are more explicitly racist, but that actually does nothing to help people of color.
Park believes that white liberals are racist for mocking racists. And also it’s an ineffective means to achieve the end of racism.
Zepps: Why attack a satirical attack on Dan Snyder’s racism instead of just attacking Dan Snyder’s racism?
Zepps asks if the explicit racism is a better target than the less racist white liberals.
Park: Well, if you’re familiar with my activism or my work, I’ve been very vocal about native american mascots; I went to the University of Illinois for my undergraduate career. We had Chief Illiniwek, and I was incredibly vocal about it, and I had the same sort of backlash, and that kind of backlash happens no matter what you’re really attacking, whether it be, you know, the word “oriental” being used as a slur: yellow face, jokes about asian american people; or if I’m really just talking about native american mascots and Dan Snyder, I know I helped trend “not your mascot” on superbowl night to fight, you know, the name “Redskins” and “Not Your Tonto, and I had the same sort of backlash so it really isn’t fair to kind of individualize these things and ask why I’m not shifting my behavior
Park has attacked racists before.
Park: because honestly, if white liberals cared about getting rid of the mascots, there’s a lot they can do to help organize or get involved besides caring about their joke.
Park believes Colbert’s joke wasn’t enough to get rid of the racist mascot and that white liberals should do more. So far, Park has wavered between calling Colbert’s joke “racist” and saying that his joke is insufficient to end racism. She may be equating “insufficient to end racism” with “racist” in that his joke is racist because it doesn’t end racism. By this reasoning, hugs and discussions about the weather are “racist” in their failure to end bigotry about race. This is also the second time in the interview Park has made a broad generalization about white people.
Park: So for them it’s not really about whether the Redskins exist or whether or not racism is over; it’s really about them feeling like they can’t have fun anymore, and feeling entitled to be able to laugh at things that aren’t really funny.
Park believes that because Stephen Colbert (white man) cares to joke about the racist mascot on his comedy show rather than take more serious action (on his serious action show), this means all white liberals are only pretending to care about removing the racist mascot and ending racism when really they all just want to laugh at Asians and Native Americans.
Zepps: Jason, part of the whole gag here is the use of the term “orientalism,” which is such a weird, old, loaded (laughs) like--It’s just a--It’s a stupid, stupid word, but to get upset about the use of that word when it’s in a satirical context strikes me as misguided--I want to take a look though at a tweet, which Colbert Report has tweeted out. says, “For the record--”
“Orientalism” Google Definition: style, artefacts, or traits considered characteristic of the peoples and cultures of Asia. The representation of Asia, esp. the Middle East, in a stereotyped way that is regarded as embodying a colonialist attitude.
Zepps believes that the use of the weird, old, loaded term “orientalism” should have tipped Park off to the satirical context of Colbert’s joke.
Park: --Wait, hold on.--
Zepps: --”@ColbertReport is not controlled”--
Park: Excuse me. As a white man you don’t really get
Zepps: Hang--hang--hang on Suey, I’ll come to you in just a sec. “For the record Colbert Report [Twitter account] is not controlled by Stephen Colbert or his show. He is @StephenAtHome. Sorry for the confusion. Colbert himself has responded to some of the criticism on Twitter: “#CancelColbert - I agree! Just saw your @ColbertReport tweet. I share your rage. Who is that, though? I’m Stephen At Home [Twitter account]. Suey, you were just gonna jump in.
Zepps points out that Colbert was not responsible for the context-free tweet (with the implication that canceling his show for what is not his mistake, may be a poorly aimed punishment).
Park: Yeah, I was gonna say that I feel like it’s incredibly patronizing for you to paint these questions this way, especially as a white man, I don’t expect you to understand what people of color are actually saying with regards to “Cancel Colbert”. He has a history of making--
Park believes that Zepps’s race makes it patronizing for Zepps to disagree with her about racism.
Zepps: Suey. Being a white man doesn’t prevent me from being able to think and doesn’t prevent me from being able to have a--have reasoned perspectives on things. I don’t--I didn’t give up--
Park: --I don’t (indecipherable) totally logical
Zepps: I didn’t give up my right to be able to have an intellectual conversation when I was born.
Zepps believes that his race does not invalidate his input into discussions on race.
Park: --I know but, while white men definitely feel entitled to talk over me,
To this point in the interview Zepps has interrupted Park 1 time, and Park has interrupted Zepps 1 time, with Park interrupting first. This is the third time in the interview she has made a broad generalization about white people.
Park: they definitely feel entitled to kind of minimalize my experiences, and they definitely feel like they are somehow exempt and so logical compared to women who are painted as emotional, right?
Park makes her fourth and fifth generalizations about white people while also implying that Zepps has minimalized[sic] her experiences, and that he feels exempt, logical, and that women are emotional. These four issues have not been brought up until this point or otherwise been readily apparent in this interview. Park has now successfully turned the discussion away from @ColbertReport’s tweet and her #CancelColbert in response to it being about her and Zepps.
Zepps: No. No one’s minimalizing your--your experiences. No one’s minimalizing your right to have an opinion. It’s just a stupid opinion. I mean, It’s a misunderstanding of what satire--
Zepps denies Park’s accusations and finally responds to Park’s repeated attacks in kind, calling her opinion “stupid.”
Park: You just called my opinion stupid.
Zepps: --is. It’s a misunderstanding of what irony is.
Park: You just called my opinion stupid. That’s incredibly unproductive, and I don’t think I’m going to enact the labor of having to explain to you why that’s incredibly offensive and patronizing.
Park is offended by Zepps’s counterattack, and says it’s not worth explaining why she is offended.
Turning to passive-aggression, Zepps asks Park to explain.
Park: I just told you I wouldn’t enact that labor.
Zepps: Okay. Thanks for being with us, Suey.