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Democracy in Space: More than naming a NASA node

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Late nighters such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report are favourites of mine not only because they provide viewers with intelligent humour (well at least, most of the time…) but also because they provide us with lots of food for thought. And as any long term reader of Sahar’s Blog knows, I love food for thought.

Stephen Colbert’s latest antics include accepting to head a mob against AIG (watch clip here) and getting viewers voting at NASA to name a new node of the space station after him (for more information, go here).

As The Chortle reports: “a part of the International Space Station may be named after US comedian Stephen Colbert after he urged his viewers to swamp an online NASA poll. More than 230,539 fans voted for Colbert to be the official name for the node, almost five times as many as the top NASA-created name, Serenity. The space agency says it doesn’t have to be bound by the poll, but has not yet made any decision. ‘Either name that node after me, or I, too, will reject democracy and seize power as space’s evil tyrant overlord,’ Colbert said on his Comedy Central show this week” (full article can be found here).

To be fair, NASA did specify: “The name should reflect the spirit of exploration and cooperation embodied by the space station, and follow in the tradition set by Node 1- Unity– and Node 2- Harmony” (the rules of the vote can be found here).And I don’t think the name ‘Colbert Node’ reflects that spirit (sorry, Stephen!).

But others don’t agree. Space.com reports that: “Colbert has drawn support for his name not only from the public, but also Congress. In a March 26 statement, Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-PA) urged NASA to respect the results of the agency’s online poll” (full article here).

When it comes down to it, it’s not the actual naming of the station node that is interesting as much as the effort made by Stephen Colbert and his team to get NASA to respect the voting results. A few weeks ago, Jon Stewart was insulted as being ‘just’ a comedian, and I’m certain Stephen Colbert has been insulted thus before. And yet, Stephen Colbert, ‘just’ a comedian, has managed to create a discussion about the meaning of democracy in a non-election year.

The other interesting thing is going to be watching Stephen Colbert stand up for democracy, however small and relatively insignificant the reason might be. If one person demonstrates that he can stand up for democracy on a topic such as the naming of a space node, it might plant the seed of participatory politics in The Colbert Reports’ viewers on much more important and vital topics.

And that could be the real victory of Stephen Colbert’s campaign to name Node 3 of the International Space Station after himself.

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