The other night on the Colbert Report, Daft Punk was supposed to play. They either canceled because of a contractual obligation with the VMAs or they were never really going to play and it was an elaborate set up for an even more elaborate song and dance routine where Stephen Colbert pranced from one unlikely scene to the next, cavorting with famous people while “Get Lucky” played in background. It was a mildly amusing bit of “Look at all the celebrities I know” showmanship. Until Henry Kissinger showed up. Colbert dances out of a closet, up to Kissinger’s desk, sort of dances at him for bit, and then leaves. Kissinger then calls for security. Laughter ensues. The crowd applauds.
Here’s the thing: Henry Kissinger facilitated the brutal suppression and genocide in East Timor on the part of the Indonesian army. Henry Kissinger helped bring Augusto Pinochet to power. Henry Kissinger is—at very least—partially responsible for the savage and needless murder of between 150,000 to 500,000 innocent Cambodians. Henry Kissinger is a war criminal and a monster. This all part of the public record. Stephen Colbert basically put Pol Pot in a skit about Daft Punk cancelling on his show.
If I had my druthers, men like Henry Kissinger would be excommunicated from society. Good women would cross the street to avoid him and lepers would spit when he walked by. I understand that this is not going to happen. Power forgives power, and whenever a Katherine Graham or elder Bush passes away, all the powerful men and women (of both parties) gather together to pat each other on the back for being important. I get it; you don’t get to be a senator or secretary of state without grinding some orphan’s teeth into dust over the years. And I don’t expect the people who run the world to exist on any moral plane that I understand. I’d be as bad a secretary of state as your average Clinton would be a writer about obscure hardcore bands. Possibly worse. So all of Kissinger’s peers can continue to kiss his ass. That’s fine. There’s enough blood on the hands of the upper echelons to go around.
Kissinger has also always gotten a bit of a free pass from the entertainment industry. From Studio 54 to Woody Allen, his cute accent, contrived self effacement, and unabashed delight in celebrity has ensured that entertainers often put the “how bemusing” factor of associating with him over the inarguable fact of him being one the most horrific killers of the second half of the 20th century. I don’t expect people in the entertainment industry, generally, to be anything other than power worshipping vacuous pricks. Also fine.
I think it’s fair to expect, however, in 2013, a little more from Stephen Colbert. Colbert (who I, like most lefties of my generation, generally like—if that even needs to be said) has a long a sturdy history of speaking truth to power. He has gone further than most journalists in doing so. This is why the decision to cast Kissinger as an affable foil is so confounding and depressing. Colbert doesn’t have to be nice to Henry Kissinger. He doesn’t have to josh around with him on his show. He could have just as easily kept the skit to, well, non-mass murderers, and it still would have worked.
I don’t know that I’m looking for an apology here (nor, as Colbert is generally above criticism from the left, do I expect one), or even outrage on the internet. I’m as weary of the constant cycle of anguished howls online leading to entirely disingenuous apologies as anybody. I think I’d just like it if Stephen Colbert could, in the future, not perform skits with anyone involved the secret bombings in Cambodia. Or even—fuck it, let’s reach for the stars—exclude all war criminals from the non-interview portions of the show. Maybe I’m a stick in the mud—a puritan fuddy-duddy—but I don’t think that’s too much to ask.