Was it a real argument, or a spoof of one?
That’s one of the pitfalls when it comes to assessing Stephen Colbert’s high-wire act on his nightly Comedy Central show “The Colbert Report.” He plays the role of a high-strung but intellectually limited cable-news talk show host with a satirical lean to the right, but his guests are not playing roles at all.
So when they seem to be engaging Colbert — the one on the show, that is — in serious conversation, it’s not easy to know what to think. And that was the case Wednesday night when “Homeland” star Mandy Patinkin showed up on “The Colbert Report” to promote this Sunday’s season finale of “Homeland” (10/9c).
According to this story on the Hollywood Reporter Web site, the two got into it over the nature of terrorism, the role of the U.S. in fomenting or otherwise causing widespread dislike for itself around the world, and the length of time it takes for Patinkin to grow his beard.
Certainly, that last subject was likely taken up in jest. But according to the Hollywood Reporter story, the discussion seemed to turn serious when Colbert "joked" about the terrorists "winning." This apparently came after Patinkin, who plays an anti-terrorist CIA warrior on "Homeland," said he's not personally afraid of a terrorist attack.
"If your example is not to be frightened, are you lulling the rest of us into a false sense of security … and the terrorists have won?" Colbert asked him (which, it seems to us, sounds like every other inane question he asks his guests, completely in jest).
But the writer of the Hollywood Reporter story felt differently, and cited the following exchange as evidence that the conversation then took on a serious tone (at least on Patinkin’s part).
"This launched into an argument on whether Patinkin loves America," the Hollywood Reporter said. "[Patinkin] says he does even though he blames 'America partially and … the other side equally'.
“Irked by Patinkin’s gray-area philosophy, Colbert called his commentary ‘propaganda’ — because if you give a moment’s humanity to your enemy, then he wins.
“To which Patinkin replied: ‘What creates an enemy?’
“Colbert: ‘An attack!’
“Patinkin: ‘Why is an attack taking place? … Are you not responsible at all for ANYTHING that goes on in the rest of the world?!’ ”
We guess that what Patinkin was trying to say is, that the U.S. bears some of the responsibility for creating an atmosphere in which populations in some parts of the world hate the U.S., leading some members of those populations to plan and carry out deadly terrorist attacks against Americans.
We don’t happen to agree with Patinkin, who is voicing a point-of-view that was not uncommon in some circles following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — that the U.S. was somehow at fault for “causing” the terrorists to attack the country.
Oh, well — the real issue for us here — in the case of this TV show — is: Was this a “real” argument or wasn’t it? With “The Colbert Report,” you can’t always tell.