Stephen Colbert on American Jobs In Stephen Colbert’s book, America Again, Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t, he talks about a wide range of problems in American society. They range from jobs to energy to healthcare, and of course, they are all written in a satirical sense. In the second chapter, Colbert and his writers talk about jobs in America. They discuss the problem of jobs being shipped overseas to countries like India and China and Colbert puts forth his “solutions” to the problems, which mostly include setting up sweatshops in America.
He also talks about job interviews and how to be successful at them. Colbert and his staff of writers use a wide range of comic techniques in the book as a whole and in the chapter on jobs to satirize the American culture and government. One comic technique Colbert uses in the jobs chapter is reduction. Reduction is essentially belittling or degrading someone. Near the beginning of the chapter, there is a picture of Barack Obama being captioned as Jimmy Carter.
While Jimmy Carter was a decent president and many historians agree that he didn’t do anything bad, he is widely remembered for not doing much of anything during his one term as president except failing to get the Americans that were being held hostage in Iran out safely. Barack Obama has a similar record of inactivity in his first term, so the book captions Obama as Carter to essentially say that Obama didn’t do much in his first term as president.
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Throughout the chapter and the whole book, Colbert and his writers use pictures to their advantage. This is a common technique in satire because it’s easy to get your message across using pictures. They are usually fairly simple, quick to look at, and easy to understand the meaning of. Colbert also uses caricatures to his advantage in the chapter on jobs. A caricature is usually some sort of picture of the person or group being satirized with their more unsightly features being greatly exaggerated. It is a common technique used by satirists.
Near the beginning of the chapter, there is a picture of an Indian woman going through the Kama Sutra exercises, a very old series of exercises used to strengthen the body and mind, while working at a call center. Through this picture, Colbert is talking about the problem of American jobs being shipped overseas. He also has a picture of a howler monkey named Bobo running a human resources department at a company. There is a common stereotype against human resources departments for not doing much work and making the employees’ lives difficult.
The howler monkey is supposed to represent the HR department because it would be impossible to work with a monkey. Bobo even goes so far as to eat an employee’s paperwork, the equivalent of an HR department losing your paperwork. While pictures are of great use in satire, words can be just as effective if used properly. One technique Colbert and his writers use is burlesque, or the treating of a serious matter in a joking or flippant way. Burlesque is used throughout the chapter, but is used the most in the part about job interviews.
Job interviews are extremely important, for they can make the difference between being hired for a job and not getting a job. In our current economy, interviews have become even more important because people are often in dire need of employment. Colbert devotes several pages to telling readers how to conduct a good interview. He tells the reader how many handshakes they should give, proper dress, and even how to appeal to the interviewer. Colbert also says to repeat the interviewer’s name many times.
He says “Make a point of repeating your interviewer’s name as many times as possible as soon as you hear it” (Colbert 44). Colbert is essentially saying that by repeating the interviewer’s name, you’re flattering them, a common technique used by job seekers in interviews. Colbert satirizes the interview process as whole because he sees it as a joke and formality. He believes, and many will agree with him, that getting a job depends on flattery and connections with the interviewer. A fourth technique used by Colbert in the jobs chapter is reductio ad absurdum.
This technique involves the satirist pretending to take the side of the person or group he or she is mocking in an attempt to further humiliate their subject. In the chapter, Colbert pretends to support sweatshops and shipping jobs overseas. He even goes so far as to suggest putting sweatshops in America and disbanding unions. In one of Colbert’s “truth punches” he says “The minimum wage ruined the proud American tradition of the sweatshop. You start paying American workers a minimum wage, the next thing you know they’re demanding air-conditioning and less flammable shirtwaist materials” (Colbert 30).
The conditions he describes are very common in sweatshops around the world and are obviously a huge health and safety hazard. However, they make manufacturing cheaper and the lack of labor laws allows them to force their employees to work in the aforementioned conditions. Colbert pretends to support these views because by doing so he can make fun of them more effectively. Also, he highlights the extreme working conditions because by doing so, he can show the absurdity of both sweatshops and the argument for them.
He can pretend to support horrible working conditions and still be viewed as humorous because everyone knows that those conditions are inhumane. One characteristic of satire that Colbert and his writers use in the jobs chapter is obscenity. At the beginning, he makes fun of the Rosie the Riveter, a common figure for female empowerment during World War II. He describes Rosie as “History’s most thinly veiled lesbian-I have worked hard to remain ignorant of whatever depraved act ‘riveting’ is” (Colbert 21).
He also talks about Alan Greenp’s scrotum and puts in a picture of it. The obscenity does not really have any purpose in satirizing Americans and their jobs. It’s there mostly for the sake of making the reader laugh and want to continue. Exaggeration is easily one of the most common, if not the most common, characteristics of satire. The chapter and the book as a whole are filled with exaggerations of varying amounts. He uses a “quote” of Ayn Rand’s, which says “Any man using the words of another is an unthinkable parasite worthy of contempt and death” (Colbert 25).
Obviously Ayn Rand never said this; it’s a rather extreme thing to say and would have damaged her credibility. Colbert uses exaggeration in this instance to satirize Rand’s views of the working American. She is widely known for being a conservative and scorning Americans who don’t work and live off of the benefits of society. Colbert also uses this quote as an opportunity to take another swing at the Republicans. By making fun of a popular conservative, he is, by association, making fun of conservatives as a whole.
The style of satire that Colbert and his writers use is a monologue. In a monologue, the satirist speaks from behind a mask. In America Again, Colbert is the narrator, and he uses this position to satirize more freely. By staying as himself, he can use the persona he has on his tv show, and he doesn’t need to spend time creating a character to speak through. This is also advantageous when using the reductio ad absurdum technique because most readers will already know that he doesn’t really support the side he’s pretending to be on, and they can appreciate the comedy more.
The chapter on jobs was very amusing and did a good job of satirizing American jobs and American’s views on jobs. He satirizes how Americans preach the need to bring jobs back to America from countries like India and China, but no one is willing to lose money by investing in more expensive American workers. Works Cited Colbert, Stephen, Michael C. Brumm, and Andrew Matheson. "Jobs. " America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't. New York: Grand Central Pub. , 2012. 16-47. Print.
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