Brow Beat

Colbert Made Franzen Read Him a Bedtime Story and It Was the Best Possible Use of Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen may have finally found his platform: The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. The mightily social media-averse author of Freedom and Purity appeared Wednesday night—in full, bespectacled dad regalia—at Colbert’s bedside, reading a bedtime story called “Little Red Reading Hood.” The familiar tale concerned a Big Bad Multinational Monopoly that “gobbles up local retailers in order to build low-wage distribution centers in tax-friendly states.” “What big eyes you have!” marvels Little Red Reading Hood. “The better to see your consumer preferences and target you with advertising!” the monopoly replies.

The skit is great. Franzen gets to make his points about Amazon’s—I mean, the wolf’s—crassness and greed. (And to sit in an extremely fun-looking rocking chair.) We get to laugh as he mocks his self-serious persona, delivering his lines in a sonorous, pedantic voice that activates our perception of him as a literary father figure: someone at once cranky, stodgy, and wise.

Franzen, whose sprawling novels address social mores, gender relations, and technological incursions, is sometimes criticized for spouting off on ideology when he should be developing character. This sketch winks at his supposed propensity for philosophical declamation in the middle of a story. A fusty, earnest dogmatism is clearly the Franzenny bit of Franzenness being targeted here—which is nice, for Franzen, because he has been chided for worse things, such as sexism and snobbery.

Plus, who doesn’t love a bedtime story? J.Franz’s Colbert cameo only furthers my conviction that he is the savviest marketer on the planet. Put that in your pipe and smoke it—though I’m sure the old-school dads from his canny myth of self have done so already.