We are closing in on the final Election Day, but there is one more commentary to be said…
What has SNL done this season?
Saturday Night Live has been covering presidential elections and especially presidential debates since 1976. Considering the heightened drama of coverage on these events, it’s no wonder comedians and humorists jump to tackle the debates.
Because I was interested in this SNL history of debate coverage I found an article in the book Laughing Matters: Humor and American Politics in the Media Age.
The article is by Ben Voth and it is a rhetorical analysis of the effects parodies have on the American political process.
The article does an interesting comparison on the representation of two seasons of election and the show. Voth compares the 2000 election and the 2004 and how the SNL 2000 portrayal of the election was ultimately stronger than the 2004 season in getting a reaction from audiences. According to Voth, the parodies in 2000 were stronger because of two elements: “strong content and strong character.” (Voth 237) These were the elements that 2004 seemed to lack and thus didn’t have the same reach as the 2000 SNL parody.
I greatly enjoyed Voth’s article and as I was reading was able to discern parallels between the comparison of 2000 and 2004 election seasons and the comparison of 2008 and 2012 election seasons. I came to the conclusion, that using Voth’s elements he used to conclude that the SNL season of 2000 election was stronger than 2004 election, I can see 2008 being a stronger and more receiving of a reaction than this election 2012 season.
First likeness is both 2000 and 2008 were elections that resulted in a president running for office again the following term. Yes, I know that is not big news, but in the context of SNL parodies, it shows and is showing the same results in getting a response or reaction from American audiences. SNL had great strong content to work with in both 2000 and 2008, but in 2004 and 2012 they had the same character to write for and cast for, making originality and lasting effects difficult.
The Winners and why: 2000 and 2008
Bush was the son of a former president, came to the scene in all of his southern charm and was a strong debater, unless it came to pronouncing other countries, compared to Al Gore who was mocked incessantly for his first debate. Bush provided the opportunity to emphasize his drawl and tendency to use incorrect grammar and malapropisms in speeches, as well as his sometimes-awkward hand and facial gestures, making for great comedic content.
On top of the great content was the immaculate performance of Will Ferrell as Geroge W. Bush and Daryl Hammond as Al Gore. His impression was historical in that no other cast member has been able follow in his footsteps and his departure from SNL is one of the reason’s the 2004 political sketches didn’t have the same resonance or reach with the audience.
Poor Will Forte.
In 2008, SNL was able to open up again the arsenal by having the first African American to win the nomination of a major party in a United States presidential election, in the tossup for president. Also the fact that he was running against the perfect comedic opponent made for comedic gold. No, not McCain, but Palin. Everything Palin said and did was turned into a skit that would immediately go viral the next day. Tina Fey’s impression of Palin was to 2008 what Will Ferrell ‘s impression of Bush was to 2000.
This 2012 season just doesn’t have the same punch. Jay Pharoah portrays Obama and though he does a great job, he doesn’t have anyone that packs the same entertainment as Palin impressions did in 2008.
Overall, the comedic expectations set by the 2000 and 2008 political seasons were too high for the 2004 and 2012 to follow and meet strength of the content and characters.
Maybe in 2016 we will see new stars rise and bring back the history-makining humor of 2000 and 2008.