Comedian Stephen Colbert shocked the nation on Oct. 16 by announcing he will enter as both a Democrat and a Republican in South Carolina's United States presidential primary on his TV show, "The Colbert Report."
Since then, fan sites have jumped on board, supplying visitors with information on his campaign and encouraging people to download the South Carolina primary petition.
One of the most surprising outcries of public support, however, has come from a group on the social networking website Facebook.com. A Facebook global group, "1,000,000 Strong For Stephen T. Colbert," reached one million members in eight days, greatly surpassing other support groups for presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. It had 1,232,387 members as of Monday night.
The University of Arizona Facebook network has 42,277 registered members, and the Colbert group has appeared on the top of the "most popular today at Arizona" list for several days.
"I think it's entertaining; I laugh at it. It's just so absurd, it's genius," said James Pennington-McQueen, Associated Students of the University of Arizona senator and treasurer of the UA Young Democrats.
Similar to websites in support of Colbert, the Facebook group provides links to voter registration and encourages support in South Carolina.
It has also become a discussion ground for its members, who post their thoughts on the group's "wall" and discussion board.
"I think it's more of a reaction to politics in general," said Hunter Wilson, a biology freshman and member of the Colbert Facebook group.
A registered California Democrat, Wilson said he was excited to join the group when he saw it online.
"I think we could really use an interesting president for a change," Wilson said. "If he gets on the ballot, sure, I'd vote for him."
Chris Cruz, an undeclared freshman, said he is a fan of Colbert's show. He said he thinks Colbert's presidential run is a joke, but that it will stir political interest in the young people who connect with him and send a message to other politicians.
"If he gets young people to vote, then why not?" Cruz said. "If anything this satirizes the attitudes and way (other politicians) run their campaigns. Even if he gets 5 percent, it'll show politicians that they have a problem."
Mary DeCamp, treasurer of the newly reestablished Green Party of the UA and a communications graduate student, said she doesn't oppose the Colbert group.
"I think it points to dissatisfaction with the current political choices," she said. "Humor is an incredibly powerful tool, and if it gets anybody paying attention and talking, it's valuable."
However, not everybody at the UA is taking the joke in stride.
"I don't think this is beneficial to college students or anybody else," said Thomas Volgy, a political science professor.
Colbert, unlike other celebrities-turned-politicians like Arnold Schwarzenegger, is running for office as an irresponsible joke, not because he wants to impact the country, Volgy said, adding that a presidential candidacy is not the venue for humor.
"It's all a big joke," he said.
"Unfortunately, what's at stake is a lot of stuff that's not very funny."
One reason that college students do not vote is because candidates don't address issues they care about, Volgy said.
He said it is easy for young people to show interest about a comedian on Facebook.
"The test will be if they can mobilize into doing something in politics," he said of students. "When that happens, the politicians will start paying attention."
It's beneficial for students to have electronic mdia to reach conclusions about political candidates, but the group is diverting attention away from serious issues, Pennington-McQueen said.
"I think this is representative of political ignorance and apathy," he said. "What worries me is that people are so much more willing to put stock into this joke than an actual issues campaign."
The Facebook group represents a large spectrum of people, from those who think Colbert's run is a joke to those who actually want to see him elected president, Pennington-McQueen said.
"There's always a type of subliminal seriousness to what he's saying," he added.
Nick Perrera, a sophomore majoring in political science and Near Eastern Studies, said the online numbers don't surprise him.
"It's to be expected. His target audience is young people, people who use Facebook," Perrera said. He added that he is a fan of "The Colbert Report" but doesn't think Colbert actually wants to be president.
"I think it definitely does more good then harm," Perrera said. "Getting people politically active in any way is pretty much a win for the democracy, seeing as how so many people don't even care."
Pennington-McQueen also said he doesn't think Colbert is seriously running for president, while acknowledging that he is a force to be reckoned with.
"It's so funny to me that so many people are resonating with him," he said. "President Colbert in 2008? I don't know -- it'd be a crazy thing."
© 2007 Arizona Daily Wildcat via U-WIRE