A look at Stephen Colbert’s book.
Stephen Colbert I Am America (And So Can You!)
Many Americans know Stephen Colbert as a smug, witty faux news anchor on comedy central, however he is also a smug and witty author. Colbert’s satirical humor and commentary of our country can be found in the form of a book called I Am America (And So Can You!) His book takes readers on a comical journey around the country seeing what was obviously broken and his take on the problem. He critiques everything from politics and religion to breakfast cereals and nature “I’ve never trusted the sea. What’s hiding under there?” Colbert’s book was a best seller in 2007 and revolved around his mostly fictitious job as a news anchor, while making outrageous accusations about controversial topics he forces readers to confront the unpleasant things society tries to cover up. While Stephen is not actually serious about many of the points he disputes, he argues them convincingly throughout the book and with such finesse that readers can’t turn away.
While the tone of Colbert’s writing is mainly satirical he tosses in many elements of serious and playful irony. The first chapter of I Am America (And So Can You) is about family, what it used to mean to Americans and what it means now. In the first sentence Colbert is already on the offensive “We are at war…The battleground… The American family.” (5), Colbert brutally attacks the definition of family claiming that “two or more people living together who are related by birth, marriage or adoption” (5) is a radically left idea that is causing out country to fall apart. His tone of anger and insult is really used as a playful jab at right winged enthusiasts as he continues on to mention that the cold war “nuclear” perfect family was the only real family and proving his playfulness by referring to Sly and The Family Stone. Colbert Uses this two layered tone throughout the passage and book, Colbert is notorious for saying one thing and meaning another to bring attention to hierocracy everywhere; his two layered tone produces the same effect for his readers.
Two extremely obvious and plentiful literary devices that Colbert uses are allegory and allusion, he makes numerous references to other books, news networks, all around general knowledge, and family ideals to prove his point or make a joke at someone else’s expense. He first alludes to the perfect “nuclear” family with a Mom and Dad and exactly 2.3 kids; Colbert implies that this family is the only real American family because of its picture perfect-ness and ability to hide their actual dysfunction. He also references musical groups like Sly and The Family Stone and Toby Keith to set readers in the mood for “baby-making” (7) to achieve their 2.3 children, an allusion to Robert De Niro’s weight gain also implies pregnancy. Colbert continues to make a number of other references to clichéd old television families and American ideals “with great power comes great responsibility” (8) about stay at home mothers “a mother needs to stay in the home even when the kids aren’t” (9) and their duties and the strong father figure head who “protect[s] the weaker minds of his wife and offspring from worry” (8). The numerous examples of family stereotypes point out the fact that families have changed dramatically since then and that the times are changing.
Colbert constantly forces the reader to question their own beliefs through his usage of rhetorical questioning and rhetorical answers. “What makes the nuclear family so special? Well just like a real nuclear isotope, its incredibly stable” (6) rhetorical questions force the reader to try and come up with their own answer as they read the provided one which replaces the idea the reader was forming making this device an effective way of getting readers to agree with the point, Colbert utilizes this device to critique the social norms. Colbert’s use of hyperbole is extensive, with his slanderous accusations and broad generalizations that force the book to yell at the reader. He claims that “the U.S. census bureau is run by radical leftists” (5) and that a weak father figure is the reason that children turn gay.
In the end nothing that Colbert states is remotely true, however it’s the way that he says it that makes the reader want to believe him. He writes with a plethora of hidden meaning and messages and uses styles of arguing that other writers and correspondents do to make you believe him. The point he makes with this work is that if he can convince you to believe things that are this outrageous and untrue using the same arsenal of literary and debate weapons, then who else has been able to feed the population lies that aren’t as obvious. Colbert’s witty satirical humor causes his readers to question their own beliefs and make their own decisions that he tells them to, and his hypocritical writing style keeps readers laughing the entire time.
Colbert, Stephen. I Am America (And So Can You!) New York: Spartan Productions