I’m as tired of thinking about politics as I imagine most of you are, which is why I’ve let a few recent things slide without posting. Here’s a few links worth a look, though.
Archive for the ‘2008 election’ Category
I’ve been griping about Jon Stewart’s McCain-love for some time now, and Thursday night he finally came out and said that if McCain had won the GOP’s nomination in 2000, he would have voted for him, instead of Gore. (The video‘s here, but be warned: you have to watch several minutes of Bill Kristol, love-child of Goebbels and The Joker, to hear the quote.)
Today’s installment of NPR’s Fresh Air featured an interview with SNL head writer and “Weekend Update” anchor Seth Meyers. He came across as an articulate and pleasant fellow, generous in his praise for colleague Tina Fey, boss Lorne Michaels, and recent guest-star Sarah Palin — and as an uninspired and workman-like creator of mass-market comedy. Seth Meyers is to comedy what an Applebee’s entree is to food: reliably palatable, but nothing memorable.
On further reflection, that’s pretty unfair to Applebee’s. Maybe he’s more like a Denny’s Grand Slam: not great, but readily available and unlikely to make you actually vomit.
Two things from the interview jumped out at me as worthy of comment. First, he called Amy Poehler’s delivery of the Sarah Palin rap (I’m paraphrasing, but this is close) “one of the best performances in the history of Saturday Night Live.”
Okay, maybe the Denny’s comparison is too generous. How about Jack in the Box: usually okay, but with occasional e. coli poisoning.
Sarah Palin’s cameo on SNL doesn’t seem to have moved the needle very much, on way or the other, in terms of the public’s perception of the GOP VP candidate. To borrow a very nice turn of phrase from New Hampshire journalist/blogger Gina Carbone, I don’t think it will turn out to be her “saxophone moment.” It was probably both too little (she didn’t risk very much in her two rather staid spots on the show) and too late for that.
Still, she came off reasonably well: she looked like a good sport, didn’t trip over her lines, seemed to be in on all the jokes, and generally performed like the former broadcast professional she is (given her train-wreck performance in unscripted interviews, it’s easy to forget she was once a TV sportscaster — as long as she’s got a teleprompter, she’s fine). Indeed, Lorne Michaels said afterward that Palin could easily have “her own show” — a compliment, though perhaps a back-handed one. (Though if, as Mark Evanier speculates, Palin has given up on succeeding Cheney and is instead gunning to be the next Ann Coulter, I guess she passed the audition.)
The thing that I find so compelling is that right now Obama’s whole campaign strategy is simply [to] speak to people as though they were adults and trust that the truth of the world situation will be evident to them. For him to be attacked as a friend of a terrorist, for “palling” around with terrorists and to simply go back and say, “No, I’m not”? That was such a refreshing political moment. …I’m enchanted by the idea that a politician can come along and speak simply and clearly and truthfully to an electorate as though they are grown-ups and to feel the electorate respond to that. I’ve found that to be astonishing and especially now that we are in the end game and you see basically the McCain campaign has nothing left but conspiracy theories to throw at Obama. It really has become a fight between fantasy and reality, and although I don’t make my living off of it, I endorse reality.
Unlike Sarah Palin’s favorite Joe (Sixpack), Joe the Plumber is at least a real person.
He’s less of a real plumber, or at any rate not an average one: the average, journeyman clog-wrangler earns about $42 grand a year. Joe Wurzelbacher is worried about the possibility that he will soon climb into the $250K+ bracket which would, indeed, mean his income tax rate would go up under Obama’s plan. (Though he appears not to really understand the distinctions between personal income and the value of a business, to say nothing of the various deductions of which an entrepreneur can take advantage. Maybe Joe the Plumber needs to have a chat with Stu the Accountant.)
Time‘s James Poniewozik has some interesting insights into the possible impact of Tina Fey’s impression on the public’s impression of Sarah Palin. On the one hand, he notes, an impression that succeeds in capturing what the public sees in a candidate — as Fey’s Palin surely has — can be devastating because it is “shamanistic; it’s like owning a voodoo doll: capture your target’s soul, and you can make her dance just by waving your arms.” Fey “owns” Palin’s image in this sense.
And make no mistake, that is a powerful thing. Chevy Chase’s depiction of Gerald Ford, though it was not even really an impression — let alone a very convincing one like Fey’s Sarah Palin — had a huge claim on the public’s perception of the man, and probably contributed to his political downfall.
Before I get to the whining, the New York Times’s Bill Carter, the Woodward and/or Bernstein of the late-night comedy beat, has an interesting article on how the election is boosting the fortunes of SNL and other shows. It includes some interesting ratings info, showing the Comedy Central shows’ strength in the 18-34 year-old male demographic.
Via Mark Evanier, news that tonight’s prime-time SNL special will be a weekly feature up until the election. For some reason, this news fills me with foreboding.
One reason is the fact that, in addition to the easy (if funny) shots they’ve been taking at Sarah Palin, SNL has, in the name of “balance,” also become one of the Mainstream Media’s principle conduits for the dissemination of bizarre, right-wing talking points. A case in point is the angry, tedious bailout sketch I wrote about a few days ago, which presented an Oliver Stone-like conspiracy theory that managed to blame everybody but the party that’s been running things for most of the last eight years for the current economic mess.
After the opening VP debate sketch, I was ready to offer SNL unqualified praise. I laughed a lot, and was impressed by Fey (her best performance as Palin yet), Sudeikis (not a spot-on impression of Biden, but a spirited performance that captured something of the essence of the man), and the writing. (Queen Latifah as Gwen Ifill was fine, too, though not all that Ifill-ish).
Unfortunately, I kept watching. More to the point, I kept watching long enough to see a sketch about the bailout bill that seemed to have been written by William Kristol, with an assist from Jonah Goldberg. Except not as funny.
UPDATE: A commentator has suggested Williams was merely comparing the two current candidates with Eisenhower and Kennedy, rather than mistakenly suggesting Eisenhower ran against Kennedy. I don’t think so, but you can watch for yourself, beginning at about the 3:22 mark. For a transcription, see below.
I just heard Brian Williams—twice—compare the contest between John McCain and Barack Obama to “Eisenhower/Kennedy.” The chief problem with this comparison is of course that Eisenhower never ran against Kennedy. Nixon ran against Kennedy.
Even a network anchor can be expected to misspeak once in a while, of course. But Williams said it twice, and even took time in between to explain the basis of his erroneous comparison: experience vs. new blood.
I am loathe to give credit to Tom Shales, because I think he’s gratuitously mean and often clueless (he doesn’t get Mad Men, and thinks Lorne Michaels is a genius and SNL is still cutting-edge funny), but I think he’s onto something here: Sarah Palin is not only not defying the caricatured version of herself Tina Fey and others have created, she’s deliberately embracing it.
To update my last post, nope — McCain’s refusal to look at Obama hasn’t become a thing yet. SNL made no reference to it in their debate sketch, which surprised me, given the attention it had gotten elsewhere. Not only that, they had a joke about Jim Lehrer insisting that the candidates look at each other — not an innaccurate depiction (except I remember him admonishing them to talk to each other more), but an inclusion that made the exclusion of lack-of-eye-contact-gate all the odder.
The return of Tina Fey as Sarah Palin has gotten a lot of attention already, and I can’t add much, save to join the chorus of those noting, as I just heard Joan Walsh say on Hardball, that some of the parody dialogue was pretty much a verbatim transcription of the real interview. The writers didn’t have to work very hard on that one.
Which brings me to today’s question: do the writers of Saturday Night Live even follow the news, beyond the bare minimum their jobs require? I’m not just being snotty because they didn’t go the way I predicted with the debate sketch (and I’ll point out I wasn’t advocating that comedians should focus on the eye-contact business).
“Hey John — my eyes are up here.”
In the aftermath of the debate, John McCain’s refusal to look directly at Barack Obama is garnering a good deal of attention from pundits and bloggers. My expectation is that this will be something late-night comedy shows pick up and run with, but right now that remains to be seen.
But it is certainly the kind of thing SNL, Leno, Letterman, et al. can latch onto. Moreover, it is the sort of thing comedy can do a lot to amplify, and make consequential. For example, even people who didn’t watch any of the Bush vs. Gore debates knew about Gore’s audible sighs, at least in part because SNL made fun of them. Topical comedy — especially the mainstream, “equal-opportunity offender” sort we see on network TV — always prefers dealing with the silly, the trivial, and the personal over the serious and the substantive. It’s easier to mock, it’s more accessible to people who don’t necessarily follow politics that closely, and it’s relatively uncontroversial, because it doesn’t touch on issues or ideologies. Unfortunately, “journalists” like these sorts of stories for the same reasons.
I’ve been critical of Jon Stewart for what I perceive as a tendency to pull his punches when dealing with John McCain. But The Daily Show did a pretty good job responding to McCain’s ridiculous and reckless “suspension” of his campaign.
There’s still a tendency, shared by many “straight” pundits and late-night comics, to treat McCain 08′s excesses as strange anomalies—as if McCain himself is somehow not responsible for them. Even as Letterman was pummeling McCain for his dishonesty about jetting off to DC the other night, he put it in these terms. This was not, Dave said, “the John McCain I know.”
“Something doesn’t smell right.” That may well stand as the public’s verdict on John McCain’s surprising “suspension” of his campaign yesterday. Perhaps it will even end up being McCain’s political epitaph.
Lyndon Johnson knew he’d lost the public’s mandate when he “lost” Walter Cronkite. With this judgment, McCain just lost David Letterman.
By now you’ve probably heard that Senator McCain has chickened out “suspended” his campaign and unilaterally attempted to postpone Friday’s scheduled debate, so he can hasten to the Capitol (presumably in a celestial chariot, drawn by wing-ed horses) to Save the Republic.
McCain must rid himself of the distraction of debating his opponent, so that he can devote all of his Mojo to solving this crisis (as only a Maverick can!), or we’ll be looking at 12% unemployment, and a depression by Monday.
Never mind that McCain hasn’t cast a Senate vote since April 8. And the fact that he’s slipping in the polls? Pure coincidence.
If the news media falls for this stunt, they are officially beyond redemption. If the public falls for it, we’re beyond stupid.
I’m not sure what to think of Craig Ferguson, but my old friend Radio Steve* sent me this clip, which I found pretty interesting.
I’ll confess that I haven’t watched Ferguson very much. If I’m up at that hour, and up for more comedy after Stewart & Colbert, my usual fare, I’ll watch Conan. Ferguson’s too cute, too frenetic, too dependent on being liked, for my liking. I don’t mean that he comes across as desperate for our approval; it’s just that his appeal is based on personality, rather than material or a particular comic point of view. To borrow Eric Idle‘s useful categorization, Ferguson is a “red nose” comic, as opposed to the “white face” types we’re used to seeing as late-night hosts.
Awards shows are usually dull viewing, but last night’s broadcast of the Emmy Awards was so bad it was almost shocking: not just lame (I expected that), but unprofessional. It was like a public access show with better-looking people and better production values.
On top of its general crapitude, ABC also managed to make the occasion a pretty impressive display of cowardice, cutting away from John Adams writer Kirk Ellis, just as he was about to make the shocking charge that George W. Bush is inarticulate. Heavens! We can’t let our viewers hear such heresies!
Leave it to Stephen Colbert to figure away around the suits’ preemptive censorship.
I had better things to do than watch SNL last night, but via Oliver Willis, I did manage to see the lead-off sketch about McCain’s negative advertising. Like last week’s Sarah Palin opener, it was somewhat above the low bar the show has maintained for the last, oh, 10 years or so: somewhat funny, somewhat on-target, somewhat biting. But it’s still pretty weak tea compared to what Colbert does regularly, and what Jon Stewart could be doing, if he takes off the gloves RE: “friend of the show” John McCain.
Still, the sketch has a couple of strengths most recent SNL pieces of recent vintage lack. First, it has more than a single idea: McCain’s cluelessness about technology, the announcer legendary for having “the most sarcastic voice in the history of campaign ads,” and some fairly specific references to the McCain campaign’s recent tactics. Second, it builds: though they don’t hit him terribly hard, McCain goes from merely clueless to consciously ruthless (when he approves the “black babies” ad, after being reminded that George W. Bush won using such sleazy tactics). The announcer character also allows the writers to turn the sarcasm back onto Team McCain (on Sarah Palin: “she’s so experienced”) in some unexpected ways.
Pardon my French—and Latin—but I’ve noticed that David Letterman and his writers have introduced a new variation on the kind of joke traditionally told by mainstream, “equal opportunity offender” late-night comics. These are jokes that focus on the personalities of candidates—or really, on one or two caricatured traits—and have, at best, only tangential relevance to the ideologies and policies the candidates represent. The Latin phrase ad hominem (literally, “at the man”), as some of you may have learned in Freshman Comp, is a logical fallacy in which one attempts to win an argument by attacking the person making it. For late-night comedians, the ad hominem strategy allows them to make fun of politicians without really talking about politics. No one can accuse you of “bias” (accepted idiot-speak for “caring enough about an issue to have an opinion”) if instead of dealing with what a politician says about, say, the mortgage crisis, you just make fun of his haircut.
Thus, the hotly-contested and highly consequential 2000 presidential race was, as far as Dave, Jay, Conan, and SNL were concerned, merely a choice between a dumb guy who couldn’t pronounce big words, and a guy who bragged about inventing everything from the Internet to the phrase “Don’t go there, Girlfriend” in a robotic monotone. In 2004 it was the dope vs. the flip-flopper with the rich wife, and in 1996, the womanizing Bubba vs. the old guy who referred to himself in the third person. There were some funny lines along the way, to be sure, but no real satire, because none of this was really political—it was just personal.
And that is the case with this new subset of Letterman jokes, too. But they are, at least, a different—and, if only because of their novelty—more interesting form of ad hominem jokes. Yet they proceed from the unfairest basis of all: physical appearance:
I kind of like that Sarah Palin. You know, she reminds me, she looks like the flight attendant who won’t give you a second can of Pepsi…. She looks like the weekend anchor on Channel 9. She looks like the hygienist who makes you feel guilty about not flossing. She looks like the relieved mom in a Tide commercial.