Strong opinions, weakly held

On influence

Tonight I was listening to Terry Gross interview Stephen Colbert, and I was fascinated to hear his reaction to the idea that his show might influence the political discourse. (You can listen to the interview here.) He rejects the idea that his show or satirists in general play any role whatsoever in shaping the political discourse in this country. More importantly, he obviously hates the idea that his show could play any role in the political discourse.

In some ways, his comments remind me of what it’s like to publish a blog. When you don’t believe you wield any influence, you can say whatever you want. I am still consistently shocked whenever I write something here and I get a response from someone who can actually do something about it. (It happens occasionally when write about software and Web sites, never when I write about politics.) Insignificance makes it a lot easier to be candid. (It also makes it easier to be a jerk, but I try to avoid that.)

I thought it was interesting to hear Colbert react in much the same way that I would to the idea of being influential — it’s easier to reject out of hand than really think about the implications. In the larger sense, of course, he actually is influential and I, outside a small circle of people, am not, but that’s beside the point.


  1. Years ago I saw David Weinberger speak at a conference. I went up to him afterwards and told him that reading Cluetrain Manifesto inspried me to quit my job at the time. He was horrified!

  2. The flip side of this is, of course, that once we it becomes inevitable that we are being read by People That Matter ™, the non-ego-obsessed of us become terrified to say anything.

    Not that that is certain or likely any time soon, of course.

  3. It’s a wise rhetorical move to claim you have no influence. Artists have deployed this tactic for centuries. It helps keep you out of the grip of the censors and, in turn, gives you more freedom to say things without fear of reprisal.

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