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 ‘Sarah Palin’ Category
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.)
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.
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).
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.
As anyone who watched, and everyone who has mentioned it has already said, the Sarah Palin meets Hillary Clinton sketch that opened SNL‘s 33rd season was the one bright spot in an otherwise awful show. Tina Fey had Palin’s accent down (though anyone who’s seen Fargo more than once could probably do it about as well), and her already much-remarked upon resemblance to the GOP Veep-nom helped sell the bit. (For that matter, Amy Poehler’s pregnancy gave her a rounder face, and made her Hillary impression — which I’ve never found very evocative of the real HRC — a bit more persuasive.)
I don’t mean to damn with faint praise, here: the sketch was funny, well-performed, and at least a little bit pointed. But shouldn’t that be the norm for America’s premiere sketch show, with its Ivy League writing staff, zeitgeist-transcending staying power, and talent-roster chockfull of the future stars of It’s Pat — Again! and Another Night at the Roxbury?
Should a sketch that was merely timely and competent get its own segment on the NBC Nightly News? This one did, last night, on a day dominated by news of Hurricane Ike, the collapse of another couple of pillars of the financial sector, and, you know, the real presidential candidates and their running mates. Poor Lester Holt, the weekend anchor, actually looked a little embarrassed by this triumph of corporate synergy over news judgment. And I last saw Lester sitting in as the bass player with Earth, Wind, and Fire on the Today Show, so we’re not exactly talking Edward R. Murrow, here.
We hear a lot about how this country is split down the middle between liberals and conservative, secularists and evangelicals, “blue state” and “red state” values. But the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced the real split is between nice people and bullies. And the bullies have been winning. Anyone who ever got a wedgie, or heard the phrase, “stop hitting yourself” between the ages of 5 and 14, recognized Dubya and Cheney for what they were as soon as they appeared on the scene, despite the Eddie Haskell act they put on for the press. An John “Nasty” McCain and Sarah “Barracuda” Palin are more of the same; except that now, instead of stealing your milk money, they want to steal your country.
It’s not that their followers don’t recognize them as bullies; they admire bullies.
I don’t have a lot to say about Barack Obama’s appearance on Letterman the other night. He did okay. He had a few moments of genuine, off-the-cuff wittiness, and managed to deliver some planned zingers (like the one about Sarah Palin’s actually being the lipstick in the pig/lipstick metaphor) with elan. Most important, he didn’t embarrass himself: no gaffes, and he didn’t seem to be trying too hard. Sometimes politicians–and newsfolk, who in spite of the fact that they’re on camera for a living, can be surprisingly dumb about this–try way too hard to be funny when they appear on late-night shows.
With Letterman, though, there’s an added danger. Though he shares the anti-political, pseudo-satirical, “equal-opportunity offender” approach to comedy with Leno, Conan, Craig, Kimmel, and Carson before them, he’s capable of giving a guest–even an “important” one–a good grilling, when he feels like it.
Whether he feels like it is completely dependent on whether he likes you–he, the “real” David Letterman, from Indiana. Which is why, even though in some respects he’s been coasting for years, he’s still worth watching. He’s gotten to the point where he can fake it pretty well with movie and TV celebs he doesn’t care for, but when he’s talking to a “serious” guest, he can’t hide his respect or lack thereof.
He likes Obama: the interview was substantive (consider it’s a late-night comedy show, I mean), but not very tough. When they returned from the post-interview commercial break (which is often where you really find out how Dave feels), he called Obama “smart” (Paul pronounced him “smooth”–which may or may not be strictly a compliment, coming from him).