In a September joint appearance at Fordham University, the Comedy Central personality and New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan swept the Catholic student body into a delirium of funny.
Such an odd and powerful couple.
While many motives could be attributed to such an event, most benign, it’s important to cast a critical eye when powerful people meet on a public stage. Doing so, and using history as guide, how might one contextualize this holy media experience? I’ll provide one view and admit asmuch that my approach is speculative though based on patterns that have been seen before.
First, an analogy might help frame the idea:
The VIETNAM ERA COLD WAR was to New York Cardinal Spellman was to the Miracle at Fatima AS today’s WAR ON TERROR is to New York Cardinal Dolan is to Stephen Colbert.
Comparing Colbert to the appearance of the Virgin Mary to three Portuguese children in 1917 might seem strange to say the least but please consider this idea: that both Colbert and the Fatima appearance were media designed to manipulate public opinion in their respective eras. In both eras, the results were the advancement of support for geopolitical objectives.
From the day in 1917 of the Fatima miracle forward, Mary’s “prophesy” of the Catholicization of Soviet Russia was productized and distributed as media to affect public opinion throughout the Cold War. The Vietnam War and Cardinal Francis Spellman’s support for US policy and the Catholic Dictator Ngo Dinh Diem was one such campaign of many.
During that war, the official icon of Mary’s appearance, a statue, was paraded through the streets of Saigon in South Vietnam to catalyze anti-Communist, pro-Catholic sentiment, a campaign which eventually caught the Buddhist majority, pro democracy nationalists, and other innocent Vietnamese in its crosshairs of internment camps and assassinations.
Today’s media delivery mechanisms have shifted but are used by the powerful toward the same ends. In this case, amidst a culture infatuated with entertaining itself, Colbert signed up as conduit for the Cardinal, legitimizing his image and ideas, delivered within the trojan horse of laughter.
No account I’ve read offered a serious historical interpretation; all regurgitated the careful choreography of the event’s organizers. For several examples, see here, here and here. In effect, the duo serenaded one another with scripted laugh lines, softening the audience and suggesting an embrace of Official Media and a higher power.
Why does this matter?
Since the events of 9/11, Cardinal Dolan has consistently stumped for the War on Terror, despite all its Orwellian vagaries and disregard for the foundational attributes of constitutional government. He used the power of the pulpit at Notre Dame after a football game in 2011 to memorialize the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 and even drew inspiration to fight terrorism from the gospel reading. This was too much and has invited cynical interpretations such as my own.
Consumers of events such as the Colbert-Dolan love fest best beware, because they are not an audience so much as targets.