Saturday Night Live’s Partially Redemptive Pre-Election Show

–Richard E. Vatz

I have on these pages over the last bunch of weeks been cataloguing the Saturday Night Live (SNL) humor respecting the 2008 presidential election. It has been unmistakably clear that generally SNL has sacrificed its impartiality and comedic integrity en route to providing otherwise funny satire regarding this election

The November 1, 2008 last-Saturday-SNL-show-before-the-election (not redundant, as regular viewers will know) took some significant strides toward providing some sustained satire against the Obama-Biden ticket and Democratic media (please forgive the near-redundancy).

The show opened with Sen. John McCain — the real one — and Tina Fey as a slightly toned-down Sarah Palin pitching for QVC, due to the candidates’ lacking the funds of Barack Obama for multi-major-network appearances. In this segment there was a reference to and a picture of Bill Ayers, a reference to Gov. Palin’s extravagant election clothing purchases, and a clever take on Palin’s 2012 options should this presidential ticket fail, but it was overall more positive for Sen. McCain than anything the show had previously done. It should also be stated that to this reviewer’s quasi-keen eye there were no subtle, unrealized-by-McCain, attempts to make the Senator look bad.

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The show avoided any harsh satire of Sen. Obama, but there was a crushing and devastating impersonation of the consistently offensive liberal, self-important and self-obsessed, self-considered talkmeister, Keith Olberman, with Ben Affleck portraying his (Olberman’s) self-serving Ted Baxter-style buffoonery.

The SNL “Weekend Update” had satirical takes on Gov. Palin and Sen. McCain’s admittedly overbearing and self-ennobling label of “maverick,” but it worked without being offensive or unfair. There was a telling reference to “Joe the Bummer” Biden’s gaffe predilections.

Not insignificantly, the closing goodbyes at the end of the show included Obama-supporter Ben Affleck’s genuinely warm hugging of Sen. McCain. Parenthetically, the Obama-supporting Affleck showed how an entertainer can support a candidate without the seemingly inescapable heavy-handedness with which most actors bring their political preferences onstage. He is also that unusual talent who can satirize convincingly those with whom he is ideologically allied.

Sum: overall on the 1-10 Redemption Scale, I give SNL a “7.” Like John McCain’s third debate, SNL’s efforts were not too little, but they were a little late.

Professor Vatz teaches political communication at Towson University



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