-{This post involves race and politics, so obviously partisan and racial commentary is okay. Do comment with care, however.}-

The Hollywood Reporter has a lot of interesting background stuff on Saturday Night Live in recent years. The most interesting part to me, naturally, is the show’s political balance. James Downey, a writer on the show, commented with regard to their treatment of Barack Obama:

If I had to describe Obama as a comedy project, I would say, “Degree of difficulty, 10 point 10.” It’s like being a rock climber looking up at a thousand-foot-high face of solid obsidian, polished and oiled. There’s not a single thing to grab onto — certainly not a flaw or hook that you can caricature. [Al] Gore had these “handles,” so did Bush, and Sarah Palin, and even Hillary had them. But with Obama, it was the phenomenon — less about him and more about the effect he had on other people and the way he changed their behavior. So that’s the way I wrote him.

ObamaToastThis strikes me as pretty wrong, on its face. I knew even way back then the tact I would take: aloof, arrogant, and self-interested. Now, I don’t know the extent to which he actually is these things, but he did actually come off that way just a bit from early on. Enough to be able to pounce on. But SNL didn’t and said, even back then, that Obama was just so hard to make fun of.

It’s tempting to chalk this up to politics, but Downey isn’t very liberal, had some serious issues with Obama, and did go after him in another way (specifically, the media’s treatment of him). It’s honestly hard not to attribute this mostly to race. Specifically, the fear of being racist.

It isn’t the worst thing in the world, of course, that it’s harder to make fun of black candidates and presidents without getting a social wrist-slap. I’d argue that it’s actually generally a good thing. I do think that there was the fear of either being considered racist – even if white candidates do get that treatment. I think there was the fear of giving the racists’ cover (and I have no trepidation in saying that a lot of Obama’s critics are racist or use racism as a spiked hammer in their attacks). Which is actually quite understandable, but very much to the detriment of the show itself.

This actually speaks a bit to the odd place that Obama puts us in. Both in the sense that his critics have used his race to attack him, and in the sense that his supporters have attempted to link race with the vast majority of attacks against him. Unless it’s Obama eating a watermelon or something to do with Kenya, there are very few Obama criticisms that are so clearly and incontrovertibly about race that you can attribute it to such. Think back to the criticisms of previous presidents and how they might be perceived if applied to Obama:

He’s is a womanizer… that’s a fear of black male sexuality.
He’s is a smooth talker… ditto.
He’s is stupid… are you saying black people are stupid?
He talks funny… uhhhh?
He is a wimp… said only due to racist stereotypes of black masculinity.

So we’re left to where a race angle can be provided to just about anything. But it’s too easy to say that we shouldn’t consider race unless it’s a cross burning on a front lawn. One of the things Game Change that was pretty clear was that Hillary Clinton’s and John McCain’s people (over the alleged objections of the candidate) were using race, even when there was plausible deniability. And Obama’s people were using charges of racism even when they didn’t think that racism was actually a factor.

I said when Obama first clinched the Democratic nomination that it would be a race between the two parties. The Republicans would try to make race an issue as much as they could without getting called on it. The Democrats would try to take as many criticisms off the table by calling it racist. I should have figured this would apply to candidates as well.

Category: Statehouse, Theater

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2 Responses to SNL’s Left Turn (Criticizing Obama)

  1. Roy says:

    SNL hasn’t been funny since, oh, about 1977 or so.

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