Okay, Earlier this summer, I caught the LA Times article and the Colbert Report as they talked about the lack of honor in being a farm laborer (blog post here). Well it seems Colbert has taken the Union of Food Workers (UFW) up on the “Take Our Jobs” campaign. He worked on a farm for a day.
With my travel and maniacal attempt to catch up on work, I was under some sort of a rock until I saw a status update saying Colbert had testified at Congress — the update was from Michigan fruit farmer Ben LaCross. I met Ben virtually through the wonders of Twitter some time ago and finally met him in person the end of August at the ACFC10 (summary post on AgChat.org).
When I saw the link Ben posted, I must admit to assuming the video embedded there was a hoax, something Colbert is known for and cracks me up with at times. So I read, watched and Googled. I saw it on many of the major news sites including this one by CBS News:
Stephen Colbert Testifies Before Congress on “Vast Experience” as a Migrant Laborer
UPDATED: 2:24 pm ET
Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing in character this morning, speaking on the topic of working in America’s fields.
Colbert, testifying next to the president of the United Farm Workers (UFW), discussed his “vast experience spending one day as a migrant farm worker,” adding that he was “happy to use [his] celebrity to draw attention to this important, complicated issue.” (Watch at left.)
“I certainly hope that my star power can bump this hearing all the way up to C-Span 1,” Colbert joked.
A video of his testimony is embedded there and I’d suggest you watch it. The fact that Ben is the one who brought this to my attention is easily understood. When we met last month he told me that there were several people who split time working on his farm with cherry & apple harvests and working in a cotton gin in Georgia. Watching his eyes as he spoke, I could see his interest in these people who contribute to his farm and the production of our food. He told me he had learned a little about cotton from these workers.
Watching that testimony & having experience in the area led Ben to make a short reply:
While I completely disagree with Colbert’s assertion that farmworkers are treated bad and underpaid (I do our farm’s payroll and am jealous sometimes), he is spot on in his message of agriculture’s need for people who are willing to do the work to bring our crops from the fields to the plate. It does say something about our culture that we need a celebrity to highlight an important issue, but hey, if Elmo can be a power broker on Capital Hill, why not a basic cable TV news host?!?
I have to admit I question the wisdom of inviting someone who spent a day or so in the field as an expert and more than 16 people should try working on a farm for a day. And I must say with American’s lust for attention, I assumed more would sign up just because Colbert made the dare and people could have assumed they could get attention for the deal.
I think they would be like Colbert though and say flatly they will not go back out there. And they may think the field laborers should make more simply because they’d be willing to pay someone anything to get out of the work, but reality is there are a lot of people in the US who make less money than I do and have backbreaking jobs.
Looking at the coverage, I had to check it out and see whether it was on his show Colbert Report last night. I have to say he’s much better at making his point with humor and I appreciated last night’s show more than the testimony today.
As I watched the spot online, my takeaways:
- He uses humor to make great points.
- He shows that farmwork is hard work.
- The work requires focus and effort.
- American history — corn Indians called it maize because sometimes they’d cut it into a maze…. LOL (that’s all the way at the end)
The ironic images stick with me… him doing his version of the Laverne & Shirley glove trick, harvesting Farmville crops rather than the real ones he’s standing in the midst, riding a mobility scooter through the field, stealing corn out of someone else’s crate, getting out of work by sitting on the conveyor and being thrilled when he’s told he’s not designed for hard work so he calls for his driver Pablo & leaves the farm ASAP.
The irony in his program makes me laugh but its not because I find farmwork funny. It’s because the image of people like Stephen Colbert actively engaged in it for longer than it takes to do a TV show or two is.