Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Saturday Night is Alive . . . But Is It Really Living?

On Saturday night, my girlfriend, my best friend, some other friends and I were combing the Arizona desert with flashlights and cordless drills in a treasure hunt (I'll save that one for another post), so I missed the originally airing of Sarah Palin's appearance on Saturday Night Live. Considering the coverage her cameo received in the mainstream media, watching it on Monday afternoon like we did, one would think we were months behind the times, as her performance had already been thoroughly analysed and evaluated, as its ultimate impact on the overall election had already been considered and dissected with the same weight and clarity as any one of the four debates. In fact, Palin's appearance on SNL was something of a debate, with her greatest rival yet -- not Biden, but the media itself, specifically entertainment media. Palin has given the likes of The Daily Show, SNL, and David Letterman so much fodder that one had to wonder (1.) if they could really do it to her face, (2.) if she would give them even more ammunition in their very midst, and (3.) how she should stand up to them, with either a sense of stoicism or a sense of humorous humility. My verdict . . .?

Sarah Palin vs. Saturday Night Live -- Winner: Palin.

Considering the strength of SNL's writing lately, I couldn't tell whether or not they'd put on the kid gloves, but Palin emerged victorious by proving she could dwell in the lion's den and not get her arm chewed off. In fact, I dare say that SNL muzzled its own maw, stifling any true potential for comedy with a dire need to remain relevant in a world where comedy has its own central station, and even where it isn't the only show in the town of Saturday late night. Yes, I dare say MadTV offers a more lighthearted approach to political satire, which keeps its spoofery (I'm trademarking that one) so lighthearted and obnoxious one might forget that Obama and McCain are real people and not exaggerated characters like their classics Stewart or Ms. Swan. Indeed, a squirrely old McCain that frequently asks for his shawl is much more subversive than a Palin lookalike that reiterates the source material with a smirk that’s somehow supposed to make the reality of it all more derisively funny. "Mavericky" isn't a punchline; it's a shortcut. Obama and McCain in a dance-off, which would most likely and ironically receive higher primetime ratings than one of their debates anyway? Hilarious.

Finally, the Palin/SNL faceoff reminded me of another sketch comedy pet peeve. Basically, for years, SNL has been able to make even the most accomplished actor look like a bad high school play thespian, barely able to remember his lines. Alec Baldwin's contribution to the show's opening sketch could've been a show stealer; he confuses the real Palin for Tina Fey and slanders the V.P. candidate while pleading to Lorne Michaels about pitting the two together. His blatant reading of cue cards reminded me of The Simpsons episode with Krusty the Clown saying, "And now my favorite part of the show! What’s that say? Talking to the audience? Aw, this is always death!" Baldwin was just a hiccup away from: "[Palin] represent everything we stand . . . What's that say? Oh, yeah. Against!" Her retort, "Stephen is my favorite Baldwin," was more convincing. Sure, it's only one, easily memorized line, but who's the actor in the room?

Of course, for all of this analysis, I don't think anyone has changed their mind about their Presidential pick based on a few minutes of Saturday Night Live. My only gripe with the whole thing is that SNL comes off like someone should have, that satire shouldn’t just echo reality anymore, but shape it, too. It's a cyclical thing. If the reality of our national situation wasn’t hilarious enough by itself, we really wouldn’t have anything to ridicule in the first place. Unfortunately, in the case of electing the next President, I keep getting the creeping suspicion that we the people are the punchline . . . and I still don't get it.

ADDENDUM: This image is going around on the 'net, and while I wouldn't call it satire, it's absolutely hilarious. Entitled, "Next Season on Dancing With the Stars." Exposes the celebrity in politics, eh!

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