Is Stephen Colbert the New Socrates?

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Despite his core demographic consisting of beer-guzzling young men (or, maybe, because of it?), humanities professors can’t seem to get enough of Stephen Colbert. These scholars are giving the faux-conservative TV comedian the full academic treatment, according to the Washington Post. In classrooms north and south, Colbert’s signature brand of satire is being deconstructed, reassembled, criticized and praised in a host of journal articles, scholarly books, PhD theses and undergraduate philosophy courses. For example, a chapter from a 2009 philosophy book posits “Is Stephen Colbert America’s Socrates?” while a 2010 interdisciplinary journal delved into Colbert’s humor from a theological perspective.

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But why the intense academic interest in a late night comic? The Post explains:

His character, an egomaniacal right-wing gasbag, connects him to a long Western satirical tradition going all the way back to the Roman poet Horace and the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles, although neither of those guys had basic-cable gigs.

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Boston University professor Michael Rodriguez, who teaches a class titled “The Colbert Report: American Satire,” further elucidates the comic’s academic appeal to NPR: “I don’t think it’s going too far to compare him to someone like Socrates or Plato, who were interested in truth. He also does another thing that Socrates did, which was to use the opponent’s own assumptions and presuppositions to then deconstruct them and show that they are, in fact, invalid. And Colbert does that better than anyone I’ve seen in this generation.”

After all, it’s not the first time Colbert’s humor has landed him a erudite accolade. In 2005 he conceived the term “truthiness,” referring to a truth felt in one’s gut and indeed not based on the facts. It was so pertinent to the society at large that the American Dialect Society chose it as their word of the year. And now, the man himself is bucking the modern educational arena. What higher acclaim could Stephen Colbert — the self-described “pundit, journalist…and female body inspector” — ask for in this life?

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