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Prom, Comedy, and Wealth

Today is Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year (I sure that just what God hoped would happen with Christmas). In (dis)honor of that, here is an article that I wrote a few weeks ago that unfortunately was not accepted for publication.

Students at Kellenberg Memorial High School, a private Catholic school in Uniondale, N.Y., will not be celebrating prom this school year. The school’s principal, Brother Kenneth Hoagland, cancelled the event. While Hoagland was disturbed by the sex, booze, and drugs that have become part of the prom weekend experience for many, he primarily denounced it for “the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity’s sake – in a word, financial decadence.”

Hoagland wrote the parents to inform them of the reasons for his decision. He argued, “But we are concerned about how our young people are being educated in the use of wealth and the experience of power that wealth gives. …The current culture of the prom on Long Island does not represent to us a proper Christian use of wealth.”

Comedian Stephen Colbert tackled the prom story on his new show The Colbert Report, a spin-off of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. Colbert was previously a “correspondent” on Stewart’s show where he frequently touched on religious issues in his segment “This Week in God.” Now Colbert plays an egotistical, aggressive, and extremely patriotic news talk show host (think Bill O’Reilly mixed with some aspects from other hosts). After introducing the story on October 18, Colbert then launched into an over-the-top defense of extreme capitalistic spending.

Colbert asked: “What is this teaching our children? That affluence is not supposed to be flaunted? Do you know what would happen to our economy if the rich stopped acting rich? America has a simple deal with the wealthy: we cut their taxes, and in return they inspire us with their gloriously macked-out cribs, golden toilets, and young taut trophy-wives.”

Colbert continued his rant by jokingly justifying American decadence: “Yeah, I know that this is a Catholic school and Jesus said it’s easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. But may I remind Brother Hoagland, our nation is rich enough to buy some really huge needles, with eyes you could drive a limo full of drunk prom kids through. …So, remember kids, they may away your prom…but never let them take away your champagne dreams and your caviar wishes.”

Hoagland wrote in his letter, “When Jesus said that it was very hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, it shocked his hearers and it still shocks us.” Through his exaggerations Colbert was able to point out the abuses of American wealth, perhaps in such a way that gets people to listen despite the shocking nature of the claims.

Reverend Jim Wallis, author of God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, appeared on The Daily Show in January of 2005. On the show he suggested that Jon Stewart was like the Hebrew prophets as he uses humor and telling the truth to make a point. It seems that Stephen Colbert may be following in Stewart’s tradition. Hopefully, his viewers—generally young, educated, and fairly wealthy individuals—got the joke.

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