Unfortunately, televised right-wing demagoguery hasn't withered and died under Stephen Colbert's relentless mockery. Or perhaps that's fortunate after all, since Colbert's right-wing character has survived long enough to write a book, a satire on personality-driven quickies by the likes of Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Rick Scarborough, and Sean Hannity. I Am America (And So Can You!) features the requisite author portrait dominating the cover, and the usual table of content listing a litany of issues. ("Homosexuals," "The Media," "Old People.") But this is no mere comic exaggeration. Colbert composes a fantasia on American neo-conservatism, elaborating on the basic platform and loony offshoots alike with baroque flourishes of near-fractal complexity. Not only is everything 30 percent bigger than its source material, it's 30 percent more complex.
I Am America mimics some of the most successful recurring gags from Colbert's TV show, most notably the back-talking captions during "The Word." Here, they're marginal comments in red that sometimes reinforce, sometimes undercut the main text. Like the full-figure portraits of Colbert adorning every chapter opening (helpfully labeled "fig. 8: STEPHEN COLBERT"), what initially seems like mere porting of the show's aesthetic onto the printed page develops a cumulatively absurd effect. The gag achieves escape velocity somewhere around Colbert's class-struggle story about how his dad spent his life working for the local rich guy, leading to Colbert wanting to be the local rich guy. Footnote: "If you're late one more time, you're fired, Dad."
Throughout I Am America, the easy pickings of parody punditry conceal a deeper, more surreal layer of wishful thinking. For instance, Colbert advises us to "not only leave the past behind but deny the past ever happened." From the chapter on immigration: "America is not a land of immigrants. There. Was that so hard to say? It makes sense if you think about it. It feels like we've been here forever, doesn't it? Let's just assume we have been." While I Am America doesn't approach the comic density of Jon Stewart's America (The Book), it achieves a compelling state of altered consciousness, where the gut from which truth emanates turns out to be a coiled small intestine, a tangle where visitors from a rational universe can easily get lost in the hypnotically waving villi of infinite regress.