Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Stephen Colbert as a migrant worker

On this episode of the Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert tries to see if he has what it takes to be a migrant farm worker. He has to pack corn and pick beans with all of the brown folks who seem to have no problem doing the job. Colbert is supposed to be representing the typical white, maybe urban, American who has probably never been in a field, or thought about where the food they eat comes from. He asks too many questions, complains about the conditions, and tries to find ways to make his job easier. At the end of it they tell him that he isn't cut out to be a migrant farm worker and he responds by celebrating.


There have been so many videos like this made by comedians and talk show host like Stephen Colbert and John Stewart. This video assumes that the average American is not cut out for farm work and is probably not interested in doing such work. The videos are created to highlight the hypocrisy in the constant argument, that (im)migrants are draining the economy and taking jobs from hard working Americans. These videos, which are seen on TV and all over the internet, do give a different spotlight to Latin@ (im)migrants, which is helpful in this political climate. However, these videos do have the tendency to reproduce and reinforce stereotypes, even if those stereotypes include the "hardworking, Mexican farm worker," they still have the potential to work against the Latin@ community by creating this idea that because Mexicans are good at farm work, they should continue to work those jobs. Its similar to the idea of glorifying “women’s work” in the home in order to keep women from feeling the need to work outside of the home.

I value Stephen Colbert’s efforts and videos a little more because he actually used his privilege as a white man, and as a public figure, to speak in front of congress about migrant workers. He leaves the comedy out of his testimony and speaks from his experience in a very real way. I think he appeals to people because he doesn't sound very threatening although what he's saying is a very big critique of "Americans." Its just interesting to think about how different voices create different responses, even though they are attempting to speak on similar terms.


1 comment:

  1. I had the opportunity of watching Stephen Colbert's speech. Apparently, he gave them a draft (as people to testify must do) and then deviated from that draft and did this comedic speech about his experience as a farm worker for a day and about immigration. As Mayra, I applaud Colbert's involvement in the issue. I think that he is well aware of his power as a public figure and he's putting it to a good use.
    This post made me think about humor and its role in politically sensitive issues. The truth is most humor is politically incorrect. Stephen Colbert, George Lopez, Chelsea Handler, and many many more comedians make their living by this kind of comedy. But what makes it ok? Or is it ok?! We all know that George Lopez' jokes almost always self-exoticizes his people: He talks about "the Mexican way" or "the Lopez way" and Handler is always making Jewish jokes (she is half Jew). Yet, they are extremely successful entertainers in mainstream popular culture.
    I, myself, have often felt torn when someone tells a racial (sometimes racist) joke, be it about my own culture or any other. It is a sort of guilt mixed with a desire to, why not say it?, laugh! I know that most of us try to avoid any jokes that involve race or gender. On the other side, I think that humor is also a part of our culture. What we call “albur,” “doble sentido,” and plain “joder” (tease/ teasing). I guess what I am saying or asking is: Can humor ever be used in a positive way? To reappropriate negative stereotypes or cultural practices? And in what contexts can such uses if humor be effective and acceptable?