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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Maureen Dowd, "A Wit for All Seasons": Welcome to a World of Superficiality in Which Jesters Are Kings

Stephen Colbert has been tapped by CBS to replace David Letterman as host of the "Late Show," and his selection appears acceptable to both right and left. In a Washington Post opinion piece entitled "America’s heartland has nothing to fear from Stephen Colbert" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/kathleen-parker-americas-heartland-shouldnt-fear-stephen-colbert/2014/04/11/1f70ab98-c1ad-11e3-b574-f8748871856a_story.html), Kathleen Parker writes of her appearance on "The Colbert Report":

"To put it plainly, the fellow who will be sitting in the 'Late Show' chair is nothing like the character on the 'Repor(t),' which is both a delightful and grievous prospect. Many will mourn the exit of Comedy Central’s Colbert, but millions more will celebrate his new role. Having met the real-life Colbert, the lad who grew up in Charleston, S.C., I’m confident viewers will find him every bit the Everyman as was all-time favorite Johnny Carson.

The one time I appeared on 'The Colbert Report,' Colbert met me in the green room beforehand and, speaking as the polite Southerner he is, said, 'Now, I’m going to be in character onstage, so don’t let me put words in your mouth.' You can’t say I wasn’t warned."

Parker's conclusion:

"The notion that a fake persona’s comedy routine is a threat to the American heartland bears a striking resemblance to the sort of literal-mindedness that leads to inquisitions and the Taliban. If you can’t take a joke, you could always change the channel. But you’ll miss all the fun."

Meanwhile, in a New York Times op-ed entitled "A Wit for All Seasons" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/13/opinion/sunday/a-wit-for-all-seasons.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), Maureen Dowd also describes her appearance on "The Colbert Report":

"I DON’T remember much about being on Stephen Colbert’s show.

It all passed in a blur of fear.

I remember him coming into the makeup room to remind me that he was going to be in character as a jerk.

I remember that he held up my book about gender and asked if it was 'soft-core porn.'

I remember he asked me if I wanted to hold his Peabody and I told him I did, so he jumped up to grab the TV award from the mantel."

Dowd goes on to say:

"Carson was the Walter Lippmann of comedy, wielding enormous influence over the reputations of politicians he mocked. Stewart and Colbert took it a step further. They became Murrow and Cronkite for a generation of young viewers."

Stewart and Colbert have become today's Murrow and Cronkite? Perhaps Dowd is correct. Today, public opinion and politics are being shaped by one-liners instead of serious analysis.

But why should we be surprised? Could it be that the brains of many youngsters are not accessible to anything beyond superficial comedy routines?

In a Washington Post article entitled "Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/serious-reading-takes-a-hit-from-online-scanning-and-skimming-researchers-say/2014/04/06/088028d2-b5d2-11e3-b899-20667de76985_story.html?hpid=z4), Michael S. Rosenwald writes:

"Humans, [cognitive neuroscientists] warn, seem to be developing digital brains with new circuits for skimming through the torrent of information online. This alternative way of reading is competing with traditional deep reading circuitry developed over several millennia.

'I worry that the superficial way we read during the day is affecting us when we have to read with more in-depth processing,' said Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist and the author of 'Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.'

If the rise of nonstop cable TV news gave the world a culture of sound bites, the Internet, Wolf said, is bringing about an eye byte culture. Time spent online — on desktop and mobile devices — was expected to top five hours per day in 2013 for U.S. adults, according to eMarketer, which tracks digital behavior. That’s up from three hours in 2010."

Books? Analysis demanding prolonged thought? All a thing of the past.

Welcome to a world of superficiality in which jesters are kings.

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