The fall 2012 season premier of Saturday Night Live was on September 15th and the host was Seth McFarlane, and the first thing that struck me was the political intro skit.
I wasn’t surprised because they were doing a political skit, but that they decided to open their season with a political skit. It seemed to be setting an early and decisive tone to how this SNL season was going to be portraying the presidential campaign.
The skit was a parody of the Democratic Convention in which Obama (played by a newer cast member Jay Pharoah) spoke on his faults in this administration and responding to critiques of his strategies, but mainly stating that he was not worried. He had a secret weapon by the name of Mitt Romney. The scene then cut to Romney addressing an audience and showed how awkward, insincere, and detached from the general population he can be seen to be.
The point of this skit was to paint the picture of Obama being the lesser of two evils, and that no matter what his failings were, you could do worse by choosing Romney.
Later there were videos making fun of the negative campaigns that each party has run about the other.
There was a large amount of political spoofs and skits in the first two episodes that I could talk about for days but I will simply introduce some beginning ideas here.
What does this all mean to those of us looking deeper into the depictions and coverage of this election season? I felt there were a lot of instances where the humor was coming from the writers pointing out the performance of politics and making light of the whole circus of proceedings. To tie this to one of our class readings by Jeffrey Alexander in his book the Performance of Politics, I felt that the humor comes from candidates falling short of becoming a collective representative.
The continual effect of this type of representation and soft news of a serious presidential campaign is how it affects voter turnout and the electorate. My simple analysis is that any effect on people’s perception of candidates stemming from these skits is because the skits are more memorable than hard news or straightforward analysis. It is made memorable because these skits cause a reaction, laughter. People tend to remember if something made them laugh because it is something that has a positive association even if the intention was to create a negative view on something. Or someone.
Which brings me to the 2008 presidential elections.
Sarah Palin and Tina Fey’s impression of her created a viral sensation in a matter of one spoof. And in one SNL season, Palin’s polling numbers dropped significantly.
I was able to find an article that described this phenomenon as “the Fey Effect.” The analysis also provides a telling glimpse into the effects of an increasingly popular form of nontraditional media on the political attitudes of those who use it most, young adults.
These are the results:
“An individual who saw the spoof had an 8.5-percent probability of approving, and a 75.7-percent probability of disapproving of the Palin choice. Those who did not see the SNL debate had a 16.1-percent probability of approving and a 60.1-percent probability of disapproving of the choice. Approval of Obama’s selection of Biden, on the other hand, was positively associated with viewership of the spoof. Although the SNL debate was not especially kind to Biden, it is possible that his image was positively inﬂuenced by simple comparison to Fey’s portrayal of Palin.”
In this election season, The Huffington post expressed concern that with the new SNL season in swing, political opinions of candidates will begin to sway, especially amongst the younger generations and they cited the 2008 elections specifically.
I look forward to watching this SNL season with a more critical eye on the skits and spoofs.
A little Palin/Fey humor and comparison
The Fey Effect Article
Huffington post article