Since every other article regarding the election now mentions Tina Fey, I thought it appropriate to evaluate SNL presidential sketches from an effectiveness standpoint. For example, while I recognize Ms. Fey is doing a funny job, (although since she is almost a twin and even I can do a Fargo accent, I’m not sure it is too hard to blow it; now, the porn star doing “Nailing Palin” is doing a hard job without blowing it…thank yew, thank yew), this post will evaluate which parodies were effective and actually caused a voter to stop and think about their choice.
Since I didn’t vote when Chevy was falling down as Ford or Akroyd was using his Southern accent, I can’t really comment on those years. Similarly, I was pretty young during Reagan; I remember Phil Hartman’s sketch in which Reagan is an absent minded idiot for White House tour groups, but he then metamorphoses into a brilliant, cold hearted asshole explaining the Iran-Contra scheme to his staff when alone. This seemed to give Reagan more credibility than he probably deserved, and oddly may have benefited him as far as voters go, but who cares when you win 49 to 1?
So, let’s turn to Bush- Dukakis. Classic debate with Lovitz as Dukakis and Carvey as Bush. This was the first time I realized that Dukakis was short…really short. He also seemed to almost mutter. Bush was portrayed as a cliché spouting non-thinker, but since everyone knew the older Bush was pretty damn smart, I left just chuckling about the parody of Bush. However, I actually started looking at Dukakis and wondering, is he really presidential timbre? Campaign advisers apparently saw it too since the defining ad other than Willie Horton became Dukakis riding in a tank but looking like he belonged on a short bus instead. Very effective parody.
Bush-Clinton. I abstain from comment. I voted for Perot who was properly characterized as a loony tune, and I missed the truth entirely in the parody.
Clinton-Dole. Clinton had proven himself, and the Slick Willie characteristics performed by Hartman didn’t bother voters since it was as if all of us, including Clinton, were in on the joke. Norm MacDonald’s Dole was old and somewhat mean. Recall the Real World sketch with Dole cowering in the corner with a look of hatred and fear on his face as a housemate spoke about his gay experience. Very effective parody, but probably little overall effect since Clinton was doing a pretty damn good job and most SNL watchers were not about to switch over to Mr. Dole anyway. Still, well done.
Gore- Bush II. Gore would go on and on about some lock box. I always thought Gore was some genius, but are his ideas simply silly sound bites? And you know what, he really is sort of patronizing with these analogies, isn’t he? And how can a genius so ineffectively communicate his ideas? How can this guy be president? Now Bush seems like an idiot in real life, but as played by the lovable Will Ferrell, I now realize it is primarily an act. No one really says strategery. This is a really good guy who can reach across the aisle and show those DC partisans how to get the job done. I imagine several on the fence voters could be subtly swayed over to Bush by these parodies.
Bush II v. Kerry- Wow, I consider myself to have a pretty strong memory, but I don’t remember a single SNL sketch from this election. I had to google just to find out Seth Myers played Kerry. I guess you can’t parody blandness and be memorable. And never was there a more important time for SNL to step up. This cast has some 'splainin to do.
1st round primary- Hillary v. Obama. You simply cannot parody Obama. He is Teflon. Still, SNL resurrected Hillary’s campaign for a few months by mocking the media’s fawning over Obama. I am certain Hillary wonders what would have happened if only SNL’s season had opened a few weeks earlier, but it would not have made a difference. What SNL giveth, SNL could taketh away, and Hillary is simply too big a target. Recall the Hillary costume party sketch in which Obama actually appeared? That alone would have sealed the deal against Hillary. Tina Fey did what she could, but Tracy Morgan had a competent response, and like the media, I think Fey was too afraid of looking like she was attacking Obama by sticking up for Hilary, especially since the sketches confirmed that Hillary was a self entitled B-word or perhaps even C-word.
Which brings us to McCain v. Obama. Again, Obama is Teflon. SNL has yet to find a fault it can pick at to make a viewer wonder just why this guy couldn’t be a president. In contrast, I keep recalling the debate sketch with McCain wandering around lost in the background and foreground seemingly looking for his keys and/or medic alert bracelet. It is one thing to make the standard Jay Leno, McCain is old joke, but it is another to have SNL define what that means by exemplifying an innocuous mistake from the debate. Maybe McCain is close to doddering old fool territory? I have to think twice about electing this guy.
And if McCain is old, who would step in? And that brings us back to Fey’s Palin….but really, what has Tina Fey shown us about Palin that all of us didn’t realize on our own? Not much. This goes back to my original point, it is like hitting a softball, and is thus, I believe, pretty ineffectual, albeit still damn funny.
Thus, the key to the effectual parody is to find the fatal flaw that really doesn’t exist or is so minute it doesn’t matter, then magnify that zit until it is so big that any viewer must admit that it does exist. If it exists, then I, the voter, need to really re-think my vote. And the winner in this regard has to be Bush v. Gore. Perhaps there never was a clearer right or wrong vote in retrospect, but at the time, SNL made one really think about Gore while feeling just fine about Bush. What if some undecideds in Florida had the same reaction? A case could be made that Will Ferrell is responsible for America’s downfall. He is still in the plus column b/c of Frank the Tank and Anchorman, but he still owes an apology.