Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why Saturday Night Live Actually Matters Right Now

AS WE'VE SAID IN an earlier post, this year's presidential debates have proven neither insightful nor entertaining. As my colleague Christopher Kamrath argued on a recent panel, the debates have devolved into a kind of sporting event--people tune in to see how the home team has done. The debates are so scripted, so predictable, we no longer look to them for information but to confirm what we already believe.

This time around, the debates did so little real work, they abdicated their claim on political culture and migrated entirely into the realm of popular culture.

From appearances of the candidates on Late Night with David Letterman to the Sarah Palin drinking game during the vice-presidential debate (every time she says "maverick") to the Palin as President website, to the goofy photos of John McCain, to the Sarah Palin debate flow chart. None though have resonated so often and with so many as the various skits on Saturday Night Live and in particular, Tina Fey's spooky embodiment of Sarah Palin.

Because the presidential debates are presidential debates, we have to distill them through some sort of lens. We can't ignore them. And, since we can't really look at them through a political lens, we have chosen to view them through a comedic one. SNL has been particulary good at showing us the appropriate ways to see both the debates and the candidates themselves.

The candidates' attempts to control the setting of the debates may make the debates themselves safe texts, but that lack of drama also makes them unusually fair game for parody. This is especially the case given the high stakes of this election and its revolutionary components. With the first serious African American presidential candidate and the first serious female Republican candidate for vice-president, one would think the discourse of the debates would be commensurate with the significance of this election.

But not so much.

Senator Obama has to look presidential, so he can't afford to be provocative or surprising. Senator McCain has to stick so closely to the conservative platform the Right Wing has laid out for him, he can't really maverick things up. So, Tina Fey becomes our maverick and SNL becomes the most useful TV media outlet (not Fox, not MSNBC, not PBS) to help us place the candidates and their debate performances in the proper cultural context.

If Marshall McLuhan is right and the medium is the message, it is worth inquiring into the ultimate message sent by both the televised debates and their televised parodies. Now, for example, Gov. Palin seems to be impersonating Tina Fey impersonating Gov. Palin. How can we tell the dancer from the dance if they both shoot moose?

What we finally learn from SNL about the debates and the candidates is that the gap between earnest performance and earnest parody may be narrower than we ever imagined.


  1. This is good artical abt Saturday Light Live tv show. McCain is very interesting and comedy. In this show there are a lot of comedian. I love this show a lot.

  2. I must say that this is one of the most Popular TV Shows of television. I love this show very much. And your blog post on this topic is really good.

  3. I have not seen this show much. Actually I like to watch cartoon series and comedy series most. My favorite sitcom is InuYasha.