My friend Sam Karnick at The American Culture highlighted Steven Colbert's Christmas Special on Comedy Central, which aired just a few days ago and is now out on DVD. In the comment section, Karnick has a pretty good back and forth with a commenter on theism, nihilism, atheism, and other big subjects. Yes, this clip from Colbert's special prompted such a deep discussion.
I share the comment I left on Karnick's site (as of this moment, awaiting publication):
I dare to call this a remarkable event in modern popular culture. Modern comedy, especially on Comedy Central, drips with cynicism. The network's biggest shows — South Park, The Daily Show, The Sarah Silverman Program and (perhaps to a lesser extent) the Colbert Report — take potshots at everything traditional in America. I find a good bit of that funny, but start to get tired of it after extended exposure. It's always been a mystery to me how a network that makes its bones by continually mocking (often in bad faith) the values of Middle America thrives. Perhaps the majority of America — the non-elites — are not as stupid as Jon Stewart seems to think we are, and we have the self-confidence to laugh at ourselves.
Yet, on Comedy Central no less, Colbert presents a little song that is sincere, respectful, honest and (gasp!) wholesome. Note that Colbert produced a "Christmas" special, not a "Holiday" special. The distinction is important, especially in today's climate.
Where else, except the classic Peanuts Christmas Special, does one hear any explicit and respectful reference to the Christian meaning of Christmas in mainstream culture? Imagine for a moment that the Peanuts special didn't already exist. Is there any chance that someone in Hollywood today would produce it — and it would be eagerly broadcast by a major American network? I think not. We'd end up with some bland "Sparkle Season Spectacular" devoid of any meaning. Ugh.
Also note, the first lines of the song take a swing at the "cynics" — the bread and butter of the Comedy Central audience. Yes, Costello's second lyric mentions Santa, but he first mentions (and honors) "believers," for whom Christmas is sacred and not just an excuse to buy stuff. And Costello sings later of many a "Christmas carol to be sung." That's quite a remarkable thing to hear — and I believe it was intended to poke at the bland "Happy Holidays" nonsense that has infected the modern Western obsession with multiculturalism. This is not a song that tries to hide that it's Christmas, nor apologize for it, but celebrates it.
Now, to get back into the weeds here, I come down on Mr. Karnick's side. It's hard to listen to that song and not think that there is at least a gentle indictment of those "who believe in nothin'." And Christians waiting for "judgment" from the Lord are of a bit more peaceful character than those engaged in jihad.
Merry Christmas, everyone.