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.
Circumstances have now elevated this dull piece of agitprop into a cause celebré. You can read the story — and the most depressing set of comments I’ve ever seen — here. In short, though, it seems that Herb and Marion Sandler, the real-life couple depicted by Darrell Hammond and Casey Wilson, did not appreciate being identified in a caption as “people who should be shot.” Who knew network television shows couldn’t advocate the murder of individual citizens who are borderline public figures? How are you supposed to write comedy if you can’t identify people you’d like killed?
The worst part of this whole mess is that it gives Republicans yet another chance to whine about their “victimization” at the hands of the “liberal media.” Listen: you can’t use network airtime to identify real people, who just barely fit the definition of “public figures,” as worthy of being shot. No matter how loathsome the Sandlers may actually be, this is a pretty clear-cut abuse of the broadcast platform.
Second, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow aside, “the MSM” and even the hated NBC are not “liberal” by any sane definition. Meet the Press was, under the late non-liberal Tim Russert, Dick Cheney’s favorite forum for disseminating his radical left-wing worldview. Tom Brokaw comes a runnin’ like Uncle Tom every time Whiney McCain stamps his little feet — yes, your Maverickness, I’ll get Olbermann off the anchor desk; yes, I know we’ve been naughty and don’t deserve a sit-down with Governor Palin.
And SNL isn’t “liberal,” either. The fact that a sketch like this got on the air to begin with (I repeat: “George Soros? Really?”) ought to prove that. Not to mention Lorne Michaels’s contributions to the McCain campaign.
Yes, Michaels has given to Democrats, too; and SNL has certainly taken plenty of shots at Republicans. But the “balance” game, whether it’s played by comedy shows or newspeople, is unwinnable; the fix is in. Conservatives will never stop whining about how “unfair” the “liberal media” is. Even if NBC moved so far to the right it was indistinguishable from Fox News, the righties would still whine. It’s crucial to their self-definition. The conviction that the “MSM” is victimizing them is a more important tenet of modern conservativism than supply-side economics (or whatever they’re calling it now), opposition to Roe v. Wade, or homophobia. It defines them. It provides the “them” to their “us.”
Whatever Tom Brokaw or Lorne Michaels do to appease or cater to them, it will never, ever be enough. But rather than accept that reality, they and the rest of the cowardly, craven media will continue to legitimize the farthest fringes of right-wing “thought” in the guise of fair-n-balanced, “equal-opportunity-offender” neutrality. But it’s not “neutral.” It’s nuts. It’s a game they can’t win, but one which the public they are supposedly obligated to serve (an obligation I believe satirists share) can certainly lose.