With more than four decades of political satire and quotable skits under its belt, NBC’s Saturday Night Live has certainly proven itself as a prominent form of comedic entertainment among Americans.
Some claim the show pushes an agenda, others say it pushes buttons, but one cannot deny that creator Lorne Michaels is consistently pushing the envelope in terms of the show’s content, especially since the 2016 election.
Just a few days ago, President Donald Trump himself attacked Saturday Night Live, assumedly targeting Alec Baldwin, the SNL guest with the petrifyingly accurate representation of Trump on the show since his election.
“Nothing funny about tired Saturday Night Live on Fake News NBC! Question is, how do the networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution? Likewise for many other shows? Very unfair and should be looked into. This is the real collusion,” tweeted
Trump in late February.
While SNL’s continuous popularity is largely credited to its political satire within skits and parodies of actual political events, it is important to also ask where an audience of eager fans should be able to draw the line between comedy and political bias.
Rich Clark, a political science professor at Castleton University, admits that there is nothing technically or legally wrong with the democratic agenda being pushed by the show.
“It’s free speech,” he said. “They are certainly given a wealth of riches to pull from,” Clark continued with a coy smile.
While Clark feels that the sketches are hit or miss, he also stresses the fact that political satire can be a key aspect of informing the general public on the basics of politics and current political events.
“However, we tend to engage people in politics is largely positive,” said Clark. “It’s comedy, it’s entertainment, but it has engaged a lot of voters and participants.”
Melisse Pinto, another political science professor at Castleton University, agrees that this sort of political satire actually plays a positive role within society.
“It is a very important part of our political culture and political discourse” she said.
While Pinto admits that she has not really been watching SNL as of late, she reaffirms Clark’s initial point that there is nothing truly wrong with what the show is doing.
“It’s definitely protected under the First Amendment,” she said with a chuckle.
Thomas Bailey, a student at Castleton, feels that it certainly would not be a bad idea for the show to cut back on such satire regardless of its legality however.
While Bailey is an avid viewer of SNL via YouTube, he does admit that “sometimes they take it too far.”
Because he loves the show and finds it to be extremely humorous, he continues to watch despite that.
But is this a dangerous aspect of satire, in terms of its ability to spread such messages to college-aged kids who may not necessarily understand these politics from a different perspective?
Clark was quick to state that this type of jest certainly does have an impact on most viewers.
“Satires shape our understanding of certain political figures,” he said, before giving an example.
He references how Gerald Ford once tripped and fell down the stairs of Air Force one, and how it in turn gave Chevy Chase the idea to make fun of and reenact the incident on his own late-night show. This led people to believe that Ford was clumsy, when in fact he was “extremely athletic,” according to Clark.
It is important to remember, however, that SNL does have some segments such as the “Weekend Update” that, while written to the same comedic tune as the rest of the show, do inform its viewers of real newsworthy issues.
“Weekend update occasionally has some of the most incisive views that
come off as one-liners,” Clark said.
If SNL was to cut back on their political satire, one would certainly wonder how it would, in turn, affect their ratings.
“Not at all,” is the opinion of Bailey, who feels that the show’s initial purpose of
bringing laughter to the world can still be fulfilled without pushing their current agenda. Clark also brings attention to the fact that Michaels is simply giving the people what they want as is the nature of entertainment television.
“The deal with Baldwin has been good for its ratings … It’s commercial impact,” he stated matter-of-factly.