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Sketching Saturday Night Live’s political impact

By Breanna Lu and Manasa Sriraj Dec. 9, 2020

Jessica Lin Art

Since its inception in 1975, Saturday Night Live (SNL) has continued to rise in popularity through parodies of various aspects of everyday life, politics and products. By capturing the spirit of ever-changing pop-culture, SNL appeals to audiences from a plethora of backgrounds, prompting researchers and journalists to question the impact of satirical media on popular political thought.

SNL’s roots in politics reach back to its first season in 1976 with Chevy Chase’s parody of Gerald Ford. In response, the president filmed a cameo for the show. From Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush in 1992 to Tina Fey’s Sarah Paylin in 2013, the show has consistently mocked political figureheads throughout its over four decades-long history.

On Oct. 3, SNL made its return from a summer hiatus with a parody of the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and President-Elect Joe Biden. However, the portrayal of Trump by Alec Baldwin as a braggart and Jim Carrey’s interpretation of Biden as an exaggerated character actor fell short of some viewers’ expectations, writes The Atlantic. Many felt the skit inaccurately represented the personalities of each candidate and skewed audience perceptions.

"Since the skits are biased, they send a subtle yet repeated message that may sway undecided voters."

Several journalists worried that Carrey’s portrayal of Biden was overly dramatic and depicted Biden in an unfairly negative light when liberal Americans would have preferred otherwise, writes Vanity Fair. Opposite Carrey’s Biden, Baldwin’s Trump was boastful, petulant, tasteless and short-tempered, says The New York Times. Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election saw SNL celebrating Trump’s loss, with Carrey calling Trump a “loser” and Baldwin later declaring that he was “overjoyed to lose his job.”

“Political sketches on SNL can have a lasting impact on viewers, and this is especially the case with presidential candidates. Since the skits are biased, they send a subtle yet repeated message that may sway undecided voters. Additionally, celebrity appearances increase publicity for these shows, and fans of the celebrities can easily be influenced by the opinions they express,” Junior Iris Zhou said.

Although SNL claims to spoof Democrats and Republicans equally, the show’s parodies often align with the political views of the show’s comedians and creative directors. For example, Chris Rock commenced his episode by saying, “President Trump is in the hospital with COVID” and “my heart goes out to COVID.” Later, in the show’s Weekend Update segment, Michael Che said, “There is a lot funny about this — maybe not from a moral standpoint, but mathematically, if you were constructing a joke, these are all the ingredients you need.”

Viewers whose political standings are affirmed by the satire...exhibit positive reactions towards SNL, while those who find the messages at odds with their personal beliefs express discontent.

A number of viewers found these remarks to be insensitive and prejudiced against Trump. In fact, as stated by USA Today, Alec Baldwin faced immense criticism for his talkative and vain portrayal of Trump when the president was in critical condition from COVID-19. Baldwin responded by saying he would not have depicted Trump in such an obnoxious way if there was proof that the president was “truly, gravely ill.” Baldwin had previously voiced his disapproval of Trump’s presidency, which suggests that this remark may imply that Trump is untrustworthy.

Time Magazine states that political candidates’ positive reactions in the face of adversity contributes to an increasingly prevalent belief that an entertaining personality is a key factor to success in modern politics. For the general populace, a politician’s intolerance towards comedy makes them less relatable, and therefore less appealing, to the public.

Viewers whose political standings are affirmed by the satire on the show exhibit positive reactions towards SNL, while those who find the messages at odds with their personal beliefs express discontent. Nevertheless, both contribute increased attention towards satirical media, which may have swayed public perceptions of candidates in this past November’s elections in either a positive or a negative light.


About the Contributors

Breanna Liu

Staff Writer

Breanna Lu is a freshman and a new staff writer. She enjoys binge watching sci-fi movies and her favorite book genre is murder mysteries/crime fiction. In her free time, you will most likely find her asleep or chatting with her friends.

Manasa Sriraj

Staff Writer

Manasa Sriraj is a freshman at Leland High School and a staff writer. She is a STEM, puzzle, and geography freak and loves torturing her friends by spamming and "Rickrolling" on group chats. Her hobbies include listening to music, playing basketball and the guitar, experimenting with snack recipes (which usually result in messes), and building Rube Goldberg machines and gadgets out of Legos and other regular household objects.

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