Wow. Last night’s Saturday Night Live was … well, not so funny.
Or, actually it WAS funny, but not funny “ha ha.”
The opening sketch, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin with the actual John McCain going on QVC because McCain didn’t have enough money for any other network buy was kind of funny. But what was “funnier” was that SNL would give McCain a big freebie less than 72 hours before the election. The tension between ass-kissing by NBC (a wholly-owned subsidiary of General Electric, the world’s biggest defense contractor and a major recipient of the largesse of this war) and SNL’s core mission of being funny (a dodgy proposition in the best of times) was evident, and a real laugh killer.
Now, while comedy is subjective and all that, I know a little something about it. And, frankly, it blew. Worse, and worst, the Ben Affleck “skewering” of MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann was not only bad parody, humorless and heavy-handed, but it shamelessly played to John McCain’s obvious rage at Olbermann, as expressed by his equally unfunny comments on Olbermann at the Al Smith dinner earlier last month.
WHY was it creepy?
Parody and satire rely on an engine of truthfulness within the savage exterior. To really satirize, you need to understand the object of the satire, and play off of that journalistic apprehension of facts.
There was nothing factual in the satire. It was merely a mean-spirited skit from this month’s upcoming RNC skits on “Why we lost,” and “Who we can blame.”
Keith Olbermann is not immune from satire, of course. All of our talking heads (viz. anybody we see on TeeVee) are fair game. It is inherent in democracy that anybody who becomes “famous” is automatically seen as a satirical target — there is a knee-jerk reaction to “fame” in a “democracy” because the “famous” have stepped away from the theoretical “equality” of said “democracy” and are, therefore, and in an almost subconscious way, to be “taken down a peg” for having risen above the gruntings of the mob.
A line from Barry Strauss’ The Battle of Salamis (Simon & Schuster, 2004) rattles around in my brain:
Themistocles [who engineered the Persian defeat in the straits of Salamis] had suffered the fate of many a politician in a democracy. The people like their leaders to rise high and to fall fast. The longer a successful politician stays on the scene, the more the public worries about what he wants. A man as cunning as Themistocles made people nervous …
Keith Olbermann stood ALONE of all the TeeVee talking heads in speaking truth to power back when Bush held the country in thrall through fear and intimidation. He was the ONLY TV talking head to challenge the electoral theft of Ohio in 2004, when even John Kerry meekly whimpered and rolled over.
Every time he did, he took his job (and perhaps his life) in his hands.
That is a solitary place of courage and honor in a craven and corrupt landscape of enablers and “meetoo!”ers.
And “brave” Saturday Night Live decided to serve Olbermann up to John McCain in the best way McCain knows: nasty, petty, brutal and completely dishonest. Remember, McCain claimed at the Al Smith dinner that Olbermann had ordered up a “Mission Accomplished” banner and that McCain “humorously” said he’d like to tell Olbermann where he could put it.
About as funny as a wooden crutch.
Even funnier? Creating an alternate universe where Olbermann is over the top, but George W. Bush is (by implication moderate and reasonable) being unfairly criticized BY Olbermann.
You read that right. Seriously. It must be seen to be reviled. Revile … er … REVIEW this toxic video right here:
You know, a joke is a joke, and humor is humor (and some moron will, no doubt, tell me to “lighten up” and that they found it “hilarious”) but satire is a weapon AGAINST corruption and abuse of power, not a shiv to be shoved in furtherance of same. This was a blow FOR empire.
What’s worst, of course, is that any criticism will be seen as “he just didn’t get it,” but trust me, as an actual honest-to-goodness compensated humorist who can laugh at satire against any and all sacred cows, this was less humorous derision than comedic perversion. Corrupt, and, as we used to say “sell out.”
Creepy as it was, McCain’s Al Smith monologue, self-pitying and topped off with a petty and small-minded outright attack on a cable news journalist with a small audience, at least had some actual laugh lines, uncomfortable though they were — uncomfortable in the sense of watching a train wreck or rubbernecking at a roadside car accident scene.
But the Ben Affleck SNL sendup was even more devoid of humor. It was just a long slam, with Affleck attempting to do an impression of Olbermann basically saying stupid and hateful things. Adding the corrupt and laughable charge that Olbermann was using his position to settle petty personal grudges, and to attack insanely. It reminded me of someone all right. But that someone WASN’T Keith Olbermann.
Lorne Michaels, perhaps? Or, how about John McCain?
The all-important kernel of truth was lacking in a ham-handed and pathetically written — seemingly to order, so that SNL could osculate McCranky’s derriere — “comedy” bit.
McCain’s Al Smith speech was more deft, funnier and lacking in SNL’s imbecilic crudity — and McCain’s Al Smith speech was self-pitying, unfunny and gutter-minded.
How happy he must have been to see the journalist he most hated “skewered” in his presence. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and the rest spew the raw sewage of hate 24/7/365 on the American airwaves, but have you seen SNL parody them? (I haven’t, but then, SNL stopped being funny a long time ago, and has been only moderately funny in this, their year of renascence. [sic])
There was something fundamentally corrupt about SNL’s ass-kissing of John McCain, just as there was something fundamentally corrupt about their booking him 72 hours before the election. Just as creepy as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler running their blatantly anti-Obama, pro-Hillary, anti-male, knee-jerk pro-female propaganda “skits” earlier in the election season. “Bitch is the new Black”:
After lambasting Barack Obama and his supporters (including Oprah Winfrey and her followers), Fey transitioned into a rather unorthodox endorsement of Clinton. Calling out people who say “Hillary is a bitch,” Fey said, “Let me say something about that: Yeah, she is. And so I am I and so is this one,” gesturing to Amy Poehler. “Know what? Bitches get stuff done!” Fey then went on to urge voters in Texas and Ohio to “get on board” because “bitch is the new black!”
Even Hillary Clinton herself seems to be a fan of the SNL episode …
As is, I am certain, John McCain of last night.
But I find it an arrogant, selfish abuse of their trust of the public airwaves to play political footsie as they’ve been doing all year. Saturday Night Live has enough trouble being “funny” — their supposed raison d’etre — without this sleazy sucking up to power. Remember, Hillary Clinton IS their senator, there on the set.
At any event, there is damned little coverage of the stunt, and it will undoubtedly be forgotten so quickly that we’ll all be embarrassed when they show the rerun.
But it should not pass without comment that the swipe at Olbermann is a left-handed compliment on how a single man, standing against an almost fascist rollout of a big brother regime can single-handedly lift a national joke of a cable network (MSNBC) to a level that the “dēmos“ feel uncomfortable with and that the mighty Saturday Night Live, feeling its oats after years of embarrassing and mediocre comedy, must slam in a singularly unfunny “skewering.”
Satire can be used as a weapon against the bad guys, legitimately, and satire can be used as a truncheon against the good guys.
SNL chose the latter course, unfunny and corrupt though it was.
But I’m not laughing.
Update: I ought to note the “win-win” from McCain’s point of view.
The reason that John McCain was there was to step on SNL’s tongue. Knowing that the SNL take on the campaign would undoubtedly take a big swipe at all the sleaze of the McCain campaign in its ebbing gasps — looking and sounding like Ricardo Montalbán’s “Khan” in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan at the end, when he’s just gross and deranged — the Rovian Campaign calculated that SNL wouldn’t savage McCranky if he was on the set.
‘From hells heart I stab at thee…’
That part worked like a charm. (It was a defensive move, politically.)
Relying on the good manners of the participants, McCain’s handlers knew that they’d pull their punches, and that McCranky would, AT WORST, neutralize SNL’s impact on his campaign. (And the Tina Fey aside on selling her T-shirts — “goin’ Rogue” — was a plausibly deniable way of calling Palin fundamentally a traitor, which is what she IS, as regards her duties to the campaign that she promised to fulfill — a story I broke here a full week before it splattered all over the mediasphere like a nice, fat bug on a windshield.)
The second “win” in the win-win was if McCain got glowing reviews for his self-deprecating maverickiness. Well, the ickiness didn’t, at least, show through the pancake makeup ALL that much, but it wasn’t anything to write home about.
But, the initial calculation — silencing a potential source of great embarrassment — was correct, and the manipulators scored half of a win-win. Perhaps the Noise Machine that Thinks Itself Dextrous will shout the second “win” of the equation into pouting existence.