Thursday, October 18, 2007

I Can Be America

It's true that it disgusts me, just a little bit, that I am now one of the myriad bloggers who feels he needs to get in his say about Stephen Colbert's run for president. But that doesn't bother me, per se, more than the fact that the man (or his publishers) don't have a grasp of grammar.

Colbert just released a (political essay collection? comedy rant?) book called I Am America (And So Can You!). This title alone, plastered about the New York City subway system in advertisements for the book, irritates the writer in me. The writer in me, folks, is at my core. There's a plain-as-day verb disagreement in the context that makes the title grossly grammatically incorrect:

I Am America (And So Can You!)

"So Can You" implies that the "I" can do something.... but the "I" isn't doing anything; the "I" simply "is" (as in "am"), so "you" needs to be modified by the verb "to be".... Or, in the other case, the "I" isn't purporting to be able to do anything (there's no "I Can").

I Am America (And So You Can Be Too!)
I Can Be America (And So Can You!)

Or, more to the point, "can" can only be modified by a verb in the infinitive form. You can't "am" anything.

Maybe I'm being too nitpicky, but the fact remains. Is this part of the joke? I certainly hope not, because if it is, I'm afraid a good majority of the American public isn't going to get it. Colbert should stick to his political skewering and truthiness and all that and perhaps stay away from making overly subtle grammar jokes that make him (or more like his character) sound foolish.

So, what does that say about Colbert's "character"? He announced on his Comedy Central program on Tuesday that he's running for President of the United States in 2008, on both Republican and Democratic platforms. But his "character" is a foaming-at-the-mouth Republican, whereas the man himself is a Democrat. Who is he running as? His chances of winning aren't even worth pretending about, but at the same time I have to scratch my head and wonder if the guy is running purely as a stunt or if he actually wants to make a difference for the country. There's a whole lot of conflict in there about his "character" being the one who's running, not the actor. Stephen Colbert the actor bases his comedy around how ludicrous Stephen Colbert the character actually is. So, what's the gain in this stunt? When the character and the actor aren't congruent, what's the statement he's trying to make? Somehow this seems like it has the potential to backfire, but only if his campaign gains a whole lot of sudden popularity.

Ultimately I have less of an opinion on the matter than I am confused by it. But it's on my mind.

I brought this up to a friend of mine last night, and he countered with the statement that all the candidates running for president are "characters" and not actually running wholly as themselves.... they all have to compromise their true positions to pander to public opinion and their political party (be it reasonable or not; in my humble opinion, the whole political party is system is so so broken) to ensure that they win the election. That's a disturbing reality, isn't it? But in the end, it's really quite true.


J.J. said...

I don't think you get it.

Jennica said...

I think the title is completely, 100% part of the joke... it's exactly the kind of non-agreement Colbert plays with on his show. When you were breaking down how the grammar is wrong, I thought YOU were being satirical!

The whole thing's just a giant piece of performance art, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

The title is a joke. Have you ever seen the show?

is that so wrong? said...

I'm absolutely willing to admit that I don't get the joke.... and that's because I'm not a viewer of the show. That said, the title still irritates me every time I see it.

J.J. said...

YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE SHOW? It's really a remarkable celebration of verbiage.

Dale said...

You have to tune in and turn off the writerly wrage.

SGE said...

Please,he is a comedian. So his book is an extention of his running joke.


Philip, The Sequel said...

Alfred E. Newman: I wonder what he has to gain from another presidential run. All the man does is lose. Still, I wonder if this blog might be best served by focusing on subjects the author has made even the smallest of efforts to become familiar with.