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Stephen Colbert testimony: a mockery, but of whom?

This brings us to today's word.

The word describes everyone who says that Stephen Colbert crossed a line by testifying before Congress, everyone who refused to snicker during his testimony, and everyone who is now running around insisting that he's destroying our democracy.

True, "Stephen Colbert," is a ridiculous parody of a human being. Since when has that prevented Congress from taking someone seriously? Take off the ironic quotation marks that surround Colbert's behavior, and you wind up with some of the people strolling around the halls of the Capitol today.

To say that Colbert's testimony was surprisingly unsubstantial, if funny, would be unfair, because it would imply we expected celebrity testimony before congress to be anything other than unsubstantial. Do we? Dr. Phil recently testified, in character, about cyber-bullying. I always assumed Dr. Phil thought that meant "people who say rude things to robots." But, no. He managed to get through several pages of testimony. Did we run him out of town on a rail, screaming that he was disrespecting the political process? No.

Are we going to pretend that when Angelina Jolie talks to the U.N. about refugees, we actually believe that she is going to transform our understanding of the issues? Do we actually think that congressmen are sitting there saying to themselves, "Hey, juvenile diabetes -- sounds bad, but I want to hear from Nick Jonas before we do anything. His is the only opinion I really trust"? Because if we do, I have a celebrity who wants to sell you a bridge in New York.

Celebrity testimony before congress is a joke. Don't believe me? Imagine the headline "Snooki testifies before a congressional hearing on..." You can imagine it, can't you? Yes. Then anything you have to say about "Stephen Colbert needs to respect our democracy and stop making a mockery of the process" needs to stop.

Look, D.C. is starved for celebrities. We've convinced ourselves that Scott Brown is physically stunning. We're so star-struck that Harry Reid makes a point of responding to Lady Gaga on twitter! I hope we have a high enough opinion of the political process to admit that this whole celebrity testimony thing is a racket. We want more star-power. So we've convinced celebrities that we believe their testimony about global warming, or homelessness among yaks, or ugly people in schools, is actually going to impact the political decision-making process. "Sure," we say. "Your opinion is important to us." We have all the sincerity of the voice that talks to you when you're on hold. It's getting ridiculous. Clearly, we need to interact with these people more, so we can stop being so impressed by them. If you agree, I've written six movies you can set here, with very reasonable budgets! Contact me!

But in convincing these stars to fly all the way out to our mosquito-bitten backwater, we've gone one step too far. Somehow we've made ourselves agree that celebrities who come to commissions on climate change to talk about their Avatars are actually bringing some sort of value. Now Stephen Colbert is here, doing the same thing any celebrity does -- perhaps with a touch more substance, and certainly a good deal more wit -- and shows us all up.

So do we blame ourselves? No. We jump on him. It's ridiculous. And that's the word.

By Alexandra Petri  | September 24, 2010; 2:59 PM ET
Categories:  Congress, Petri, Reality? Television  | Tags:  Stephen Colbert  
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