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.
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.