What a Waste

October 19, 2008

Sarah Palin’s appearance on SNL did great things for their ratings, but I think it undermines the show. It defangs their satire; it tells us it’s all a harmless joke (a joke that she’s in on).

SNL has been in decline for decades, once it became part of the mainstream and lost its purpose.  The original SNL was the sixties generation and their immediate descendants attacking the staid, the conformist, the faux satire of TV shows like Laugh In.

Laugh In will always burn in hell for making having Nixon do a cameo on the show (“Sock it to me?”).  The cameo made Nixon seem like he had a sense of humor, and gave him degree of coolness for the under-thirty crowd — a way of disarming the youth vote when they were mad at the Democrats for the Vietnam War.

That idiotic line enormously helped Nixon to win a very tight election in 1968 — which, of course, led to the needless deaths of thousands of Americans as the war was extended another four years.

Comedy hurts.

I’m not suggesting that Palin’s appearance will do for her what Laugh In did for Nixon (although giving any legitimacy to an unqualified reactionary is a very bad thing).  But it does tell us a lot about SNL.  They had a run of genuine satire this election; for the first time in a long time, five minutes of every episode was important.

But that was just a lucky accident, and not a new direction.  In a few weeks, SNL will go back to being safely irrelevant, all about celebrity imitation and creative exhaustion.

What a waste.


Laughter Hurts

October 11, 2008

According to an article in Showbizdata, SNL’s Sarah Palin skits, while enormously helping SNL’s ratings, are hurting hers:

Friday, October 10 2008 Digg!

A national study has indicated that the “favorability rating” for Sarah Palin drops when viewers watch Tina Fey impersonating her on Saturday Night Live. Among a group of 314 Democratic, Republican and independent voters, Palin’s favorability rating dropped to 43 percent from 47 percent after they watched Fey’s parody of the vice-presidential candidate. As expected, the rating fell more sharply among Democrats and independents than it did among Republicans, who were virtually unaffected by the SNL skit. The study was conducted by Flemington, NJ-based HCD Research and Allentown, PA-based Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.

Becoming a laughingstock in the mainstream media is political death.  I’ve always thought Chevy Chase brought down Gerald Ford, and Bush, of course, exists purely as a pinyata for the last few years.  Ultimately, though, these characterizations stick because the public believes their tagging something true about the politician.  Moreover, TV satirists more reflect public opinkion than cause it.  Politicians aren’t really ripped apart by TV comedians until their numbers were already sinking.  As with the evening news, the media exists to reaffirm what we thought, rather than to wander very far outside that box.

Obama’s “Foreignness”

October 10, 2008

I think a lot of the McCain anger, both from him and from his crowd, is that it’s just inconceivable to them that a black guy as president. The emphasis on Obama’s “foreignness” is not about where he spent some of his childhood, but more about how foreign the idea of a black president is.

People – have we learned nothing from the first season of 24?

The President Who Cried Wolf

September 26, 2008

When you’ve blown all your credibility by starting a war on false cause, it’s hard to rally the nation to an actual emergency.  Take a look at Jon Stewart, nailing President Bush to the wall.

The Emmy Awards — Not Just Bad

September 23, 2008

The recent Emmy Awards program has been the subject of biting criticism (for instance, here and here).  The show was hosted by a slew of reality show hosts.  I’m assuming the Academy thought these people (Heidi Klum, Jeff Probst and the like) would be popular with the audience, since their shows get ratings.  But while they were trying to appeal to the modern TV viewer, the show was also determinedly nostalgic about television past, with tributes to the embarrassing time capsule Laugh In, Tommy Smothers, and the like.  The juxtaposition of the reality hosts with TV past was not kind.

It’s not simply that the older stars had talent and the reality hosts, almost by definition, don’t.  Broadcast television was a mass medium, now it’s not.  Television’s claim to importance, television as our collective unconscious, is being replaced by Youtube.

Television is becoming more about narrowcasting to more targeted audiences and less about Lowest Common Denominator.  The reality and game show craze the broadcast networks are falling back to is the last, desperate grasp at a big, undifferentiated audience.  It’s not going to succeed.

Nothing was more indicative of the shift to smaller, targeted audiences for TV than the program that won the most prestigious award, for best drama.  The award was won by Mad Men, a brilliant drama — with an audience of under 2 million people.