Apr 4

Brady Forrest

Brady Forrest

Clay Shirky on Colbert Report

Foo Clay Shirky was on the Colbert Report last night talking about his new Here Comes Everybody (the clip is embedded above). After Colbert gets past the book's threatening title, they discussed how "social tools aren't interesting until the technology becomes boring" and how the Colbert report can become a platform for the show's viewers.

tags: web 2.0  | comments: 7   | Sphere It

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Comments: 7

  Thomas Lord [04.04.08 01:43 PM]

Colbert did a great job hitting on some fundamentals of labor justice, power, etc. I like the way he "broke the fourth wall" there to create a contrast.

Shirky fumbled, big time, on a few key points. For example, when Colbert defends institutions at least if they have a relationship of respect with the audience -- contradicting a large part of Shirky's thesis -- Shirky seems to misunderstand that he's been called.

But, what really amazes me is the bit at the end about how prior to the Internet, "you didn't have access to the media". If students are flummoxed at that concept: good for them. Perhaps today as we remember Dr. King, we can think of Shirky's thesis in that context. And perhaps today, we can question just how much exactly a free blog actually counts as "access to the media."

Colbert's thesis seems to have sailed over Shirky's head: that, all rhetoric aside, he's putting on an asymmetric "show" just like Colbert.

Yeah Steve, it is scary. It sure does sound like a threat.


  Ranjit Mathoda [04.04.08 04:26 PM]

You may find my essay, The Coming Digital Presidency, about how social networks and Internet tools could be used by a President of interest:

  Ajeet Khurana [04.05.08 06:48 AM]

In a sense, conventional media is to blame for its plight at the hands of the new media. Conventional media was an ivory tower with selectively permeable walls. No wonder an alternative had to come.

  Prokofy Neva [04.07.08 11:30 PM]

Oh, it's not over yet, this struggle, and I'm so glad Comedy Central took it on, because they had the absolutely perfect take on it: a) it's boring b) it's unproved c) audiences in fact do "voice" themselves through TV personalities good at "voicing them" and prefer to watch that then their own amateur hour.

Colbert is also great in asking WHO PAYS? Moneterizing all this grassroots chatter is really a challenge!

Shirky is an extremist. He orders the execution at dawn of "organizations and institutions" without any need to do so, acting as if they are "already" destroyed and finishing them off with a bullet to the head if they aren't. We are supposed to celebrating eternal organizing in lieu of organizations. Of course, there are still organizations that pay his bills like "his university" and "his book publisher" that he hasn't gunned down yet, so that's hypocritical.

He posits that people "had no way" to speak in public "before the Internet" although of course they did, through alternative magazines, through letters to the editor, through the profession of editor or journalist, through music and literature. And now people do have the Internet and the chance to have a blog or post a comment on a news site, what of it? Their voices are drowned out, and most of the biggest blogs are now paid content and part of a very narrow industry of influencers not even always identified as such.

Colbert is right to ask in alarm, "are they coming at us, the Internet people?" because the spirit of insolent cynicism and griefing that "the Internet people" who are largely anonymous and unaccountable on a site like Wikipedia is indeed something to worry about.

  Thomas Lord [04.07.08 11:40 PM]

prokory: you miss it. you have many good things to say but you miss "it"

Colbert's main point is that Shirky *is* a Colbert but for one major difference: Colbert is upfront, honest, and self-aware AND he wants his audience to appreciate that he is PLAYING THE ROLE of ringleader whereas, Shriky wants his audience to deny Shirky's importance. Shirky wants to "shirk" his role, while getting all the benefits of it with none of the responsibility.

You can see this most directly in the way they treat the snack-chip/sticker gag: shirky calls for raw anarchy, Colbert makes a funny joke. History has now shown that the sober audience actually sides with Colbert.

Colbert's intrinsically self-lampooning style is vastly saner. Shirky's style is an alarming symptom of the hype of our times which is leading in profoundly dangerous directions.

Hi Tim. Nice to meet you. I did enjoy the the early X11 manuals! Would love to work with you on setting things right but, hey, I can't seem to get the time of day so I wouldn't know when or where to hook up.


  Prokofy Neva [04.23.08 10:29 PM]

Thomas, um, I don't understand how I am "missing it" when I've said exactly the same thing, essentially.

I fully understand, as I have written volumes about Shirky on my blog (

Skip to the 2-3 page past all the Second-Life-specific stuff.

Shirky is like any other Bolshevik type positing an advance guard who are superior to the proletariat, and who must speak on their behalf, while always championing them as a class, of course, against their "expropriators" -- who of course are paying for the whole shebang.

Yes, you are absolutely right that Shirky wants to pretend that he's "empowering people" and they will side with him as their "empowerer," and Colbert just cuts through all that.

  Thomas Lord [04.23.08 10:50 PM]


So, my goal is to try to make it easier for Shirky, O'Reilly, et al. to see how bald-facedly they are being made fun of in events like the interview -- and to understand the nature of the joke of which they are the butt.

My read of Colbert here is that he is arguing that Shirky is either (a) stunningly, moronically, self-unaware, or (b) a liar and manipulator.

The logic of Colbert's trap is to point out that he, Colbert, an "old media" show-man is very much a craftsman, student, and fully transparent, self-explaining manipulator of crowds (in no small measure to make his own living). He denies the existence of any "wisdom of crowds" magic pixie dust that just "makes stuff happens" and points to the men behind the curtains. Such as himself. And he deftly validates his point by asking if the audience agrees and assents. And they do, they do.

Shirky isn't much pretending that he's an empowerer. That would be owning up to a more active role than fits his narrative of what's going on. I read him as much more pretending to be an astute observer. It is that false pretense of passivity and that declining of personal responsibility that Colbert skewers.

It's really a beautiful little piece just for watching how very, very skilled Colbert is. He ain't winging it there by a long shot. He came to that table with a devilish plan -- and it worked beautifully. His "Did I get ya?" crack is foreshadowing.

By the way, did anything "unexpected" happen with the stickers? That (unprepared) toss-off by Shirky was just sad. And irresponsible.

So, I'm not clear on how generally you and I agree or disagree about this or that, Prokofy. I'm just trying to highlight a narrow, technical, elegant aspect of the Colbert interview.

A little art appreciation object lesson.


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