“The only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s cock holster.”
— Comic Stephen Colbert, in the climax to an anti-President Trump hate-rant, on CBS’s “Late Night”
Ten points regarding Colbert setting several new lows for network fare, in entertainment, in comedy, and in political discourse:
1. “Cock holster,” needless to say, all by itself and without context, is gutter language. It does not belong in network TV monologues. It does not belong at the dinner table. You would not, if you had an atom of respect, common sense, dignity or decorum, use the term as a guest in a home, in the workplace, in a conversation with your mother, in a conversation with a stranger, or in an exchange with someone within earshot of a child. There is no excuse for using such a term in public, and anyone using such a vulgar phrase in metaphorically littering our civic and cultural environment.
2. Colbert is a performer on a network TV show. The fact that it is on late at night is no mitigation of the ugly conduct here, just a rationalization (#22): at least it wasn’t on “Sesame Street.” Once, the four major TV networks, especially CBS, the Tiffany Network, the network that fired the Smothers Brothers for being excessively disrespectful to President Lyndon Johnson, had departments of standards and practices whose job it was to keep their bonds of trust with the American public that once invited into the collected homes of the nation, they would not abuse the privilege.
Stephen Colbert abused the privilege, and did so deliberately and flagrantly.
3. CBS, as a (once) respectable, responsible cultural leader and communications icon was obligated to suspend Colbert immediately.
If he had made such an ugly comment about Barack Obama, CBS would have done so. If a late night host had made such a comment about any previous President, it would have done so. (If he had made such a comment about President Hillary Clinton, Colbert would have been fired.) It should make no difference to CBS’s assessment of its obligations that it may calculate that a sufficient number of CBS audience members are poisoned with hate and have the manners and tastes of crude lowlifes. The network’s role in society is to maintain and even elevate our cultural standards, not to accelerate their degradation.
4. Colbert betrayed his own stated values. It was only November 8 when he said on the same show, bemoaning the loss of civility in political discourse,
“Both sides are terrified of the other side. How did our politics get so poisonous? I think it’s because we overdosed, especially this year. We drank too much of the poison. Politics is everywhere and that takes up precious brain space we could be using to remember all the things we actually have in common,” he added. “So whether your side won or lost, we don’t have to do this shit for a while.”
Now the same alleged “adult in the room” not only engages in the “shit,” but escalates it. His rant wasn’t spontaneous, it was scripted. It was planned. It was deliberate. How can Colbert justify this? Yes, he was ostensibly defending a CBS colleague, John Dickerson, whom the President had treated roughly the day before. Obviously, he didn’t have to breach all broadcast precedent and taboos to do it. His defense would have been more effective if it was delivered with Colbert’s trademark wit rather than the stench of a playground insult.
5. It is time to mark the ongoing “resistance” obsession with the imaginary Russian conspiracy, which Colbert, a prominent “resistance” ally, evoked with the Putin slur, as what it is: the Left’s equivalent of the Crazy Right’s birther accusation against Barack Obama. The difference is that the accusation against President Trump is worse. It is worse because while mainstream Republicans never widely embraced or encouraged the birther lies, the Democratic Party is unified in its certitude, completely without evidence or facts, that President Trump “conspired” with Russia to sway the election. It is worse because the illogical claims that Obama was not a natural-born citizen were moot from their inception, and had no practical implications even if they had been true. It is worse because challenging a President’s place of birth is nothing like claiming that he engaged in treason with a foreign power. The birthers believed what they did, if they believed it, because they hated and distrusted Barack Obama. The Russian conspiracy purveyors are trying to make the American public hate and distrust its President using rumors and innuendo. This is a kind of treason itself.
6. All of those in Colbert’s audience who laughed at his pure vulgarity need to plum their souls. What is it that justified that laughter? The mirth-struck were exactly like the barking leftist seals in Bill Maher’s studio audience who loved when Bill called Sarah Palin a “twat.” Laughing at pure verbal violence against a woman is misogyny; laughing at the same against the President of the United States is deplorable citizenship. Both responses encourage and endorse hate and hate-mongering, not humor.
Not satire. Not wit.
If that is what Colbert’s audience has become, Both CBS and Colbert need to think hard about why they are in the entertainment business. Laughter and hate are not the same thing.
7. If Colbert is worthy of hosting a network TV show, he should apologize immediately to his audience, to his network, and to the President. Then he needs to take a vacation. “Stephen Colbert is what happens when you let politics take over your life,” wrote the Washington Examiner’s Becket Adams. “You become ugly, nasty and mean.”
Colbert deserves some sympathy in that the job of being a successful nightly late-night talk show host is stressful and daunting, and a potentially crippling psychological burden over time. The grind caused Jack Paar to snap; it turned David Letterman paranoid and bitter. Chevy Chase, who flopped at the job spectacularly, later said that it was the most difficult thing he ever attempted, made more so because it looked so easy when someone did it well, like Johnny Carson. I believe performers should be accorded leave to have the occasional bad moment. If Colbert doesn’t know that calling the President of the United States a “cock holster” is such a moment, however, he needs to find another job.
8. It is unfortunate that most of the criticism coming Colbert’s way is based on anger that he chose an anti-gay slur to insult Trump. Here is Vox,
“But the only way [cock holster] works as a joke is by demeaning gay people. The underlying implication here is that gay relationships are somehow extra funny — that Trump engaging in sexual acts with Putin is hilarious because it’s gay. In a setting in which Colbert is deliberately trying to find a way to insult Trump, it’s telling that he resorts to suggesting that Trump is engaging in sexual acts with another man. The suggestion is that the worst thing that could happen for these men is if they engaged in homosexual acts together, as if that devalues them as men, makes them submissive, or emasculates them.”
Yes, that’s insulting to gays. Meanwhile, pure, vicious, obscene ad hominem attacks on the President of the United States, issued on national television, are insulting to the United States of America, the office of the President, and whatever portion of the population that still comprehends what being an American means, and that among the the basic obligations of citizens and members of society are mutual respect and civility.
If one is properly sensitive to these obligations, you don’t have to worry about insulting gays.
9. The progressively advancing crudeness in public discourse since the election of Donald Trump, lately embodied by the head of the Democratic National Committee regularly seasoning his speeches with “shit” and now Colbert’s “cock holster,” is exactly what I predicted in September of 2015. However, it is the Democrats, progressives and “the resistance” who are now the role models for the nascent assholes in the rising generation.
I didn’t see that coming. For the umpteenth time in my life—why don’t I learn?—I over-estimated the character and integrity of liberals.
10. I can’t seem to remember my tenth point. What would you add?