So Stephen Colbert recently got his Super PAC approved – which means that he can raise an unlimited amount of money, as well as advertise for his PAC on Comedy Central. The approval has brought attention to large role privately-run PACs are going to play in the next election – and brought up questions about the legitimacy of the process as a whole.
The Colbert Report has been doing strange things with reality for quite a while, of course – the myriad overlaps between Steve Colber[T] and his alter ego; the 2006 elephant Wikipedia thing, the selling of his wrist cast for charity, and his various in-character and semi-in-character appearances on Bill O’Reilly’s show, doubly ironic rallies, and before Congress. Stephen Colbert’s character has been breaking the boundaries of his allotted time slot since the show’s inception. People don’t even talk about Steve Colbert the comedian – he seems to be kind of a low-key guy; little is known about him that can be wholly differentiated from his pretentiously pronounced character.
Two other examples of this blurring of public and private life: Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana (I can’t really comment too much on this, but I DO know now that there was a show and a movie and that they are the same girl but one of them is sometimes a cartoon or something), and Lady Gaga, who has said that she considers her entire life a performance.
So what is this thing? Why are fictional characters bleeding into real life? Well, in the case of Colbert’s Super PAC, it’s like a pop-up book version of satire – it’s a real-life critique that plays by the rules of the society it’s critiquing, legally approved and earning real money and possibly having a real effect on the election.
And meta-awareness is the key to mainstream comedy right now: The Simpsons (with their constant in-show jokes and references to Fox), anything by Seth McFarlane, Community, Parks and Recreation, Arrested Development (Arrested Development sooo muuch), and 30 Rock, eg. It’s not enough to just be funny within the show anymore – shows need to make audiences feel like they’re in on one huge inside joke.Well, I mean, that’s the heart of satire, right? The acknowledgment of the form. It’s why all the songs in the Book of Mormon are so dang catchy – because the music is everything that is catchy and addictive about Broadway boiled down into one show. And so it’s like stories and characters can’t just be stories and characters anymore – they have to be aware of what they are, and go outside it, for audiences to appreciate them.
The interesting thing is that I think this indicates a certain inability to lose our self-consciousness – it’s like we can’t enjoy ourselves unless we’re letting everyone know that we know what’s going on – that we’re willingly playing along with entertainment’s game. Entertainment is becoming more and more about who is breaking the fourth wall and how well, and so we abandon the maintenance of any sense of separation – that other-worldy, play-acting quality that movies, shows, and characters used to have. Entertainment is no longer contained within the realm of fiction. I’m not sure if this is good or bad or just a natural evolution of a communication-saturated society, but there it is. We seem to have abandoned all possibility of the acceptance of myth, and now everything has to be self-aware.