SNL in 2016-17: Parody Lost- Weekend Update

Saturday Night Live has had its ups and downs over the years, but has produced some genuinely transcendent moments in the past two or three years.  The Melissa McCarthy parody of Sean Spicer was brilliant.  The Black Jeopardy skit with Louis C.K.– and his opening rumble–were brilliant.  They have introduced a new level of sophistication in some of their sketches that is welcome and invigorating.

I don’t find the Weekend Update parody very funny any more primarily because it has evolved into a thing — it’s just a ten minute stretch in which Colin Yost and Michael Che get to spout off about current politics.  There is no parody: they are just picking on various stories and offering editorial comment, much like Trevor Noah on the Daily Show.  And it’s boring.  They are not real journalists, so the value in what they are doing is not the same as an informed editorial.  And it’s not funny because they are not really satirizing anything any more.  It’s just straight bloviation.

They give you an anecdote about something stupid that happened in the Trump White House and then shake their heads and go, “Can you believe this guy?”.    Where is the joke?  They are not playing anything they are not.  Neither Che nor Yost has a persona, like some of their “guests” do.  They don’t really dramatize or mimic anything.

Previous hosts of the parody segment did, in fact, parody stiff, self-important, clueless network newscasters.  Sometimes effectively, sometimes not.  It’s a lot to ask for, I know, but Colbert’s parody of Bill O’Reilly was clever.  Why not something like that?  Do a liberal broadcaster, I don’t care– just make it funny.

Steven Colbert’s persona, before he was corrupted by network talk shows, was an exceptional creation, a acidic parody of Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh and other pompous alt-right king pins, who continually discover the twists and ironies of his own hypocrisy.

It’s not hard to re-imagine SNL’s “Weekend Update” with anchors that are pompous, self-righteous, smug, or insecure, or paranoid, or mindlessly liberal and super-tolerant– anything would be better than this frat-boy insouciance.

I do like the basic model of each story: start with a true news item and then add some preposterous detail or spin to it that makes it funny.   Eg.  Trump tells the U.N. that he will utterly destroy North Korea.  Added: by running for president of North Korea (Seth Myers).

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North Korea is Not Going to Attack Anybody

Michael Moore’s dictum (not that it was his originally) that the media’s job is to scare you so you will rush out and shop more was never more true than the last few months as the CBC and other collaborators zestfully promote the idea that North Korea is an incredibly scary country that is planning to drop nuclear bombs on America.  They must be stopped.

The great thing about this story– for the media– is that there is no fix, and no termination point, so they can continue to flog it for as long as they like, or at least until we get a new deadly virus, another terrorist attack in the U.S. or Europe, Internet encyclopedias, or a wave of gypsies kidnapping our first-borns.  It doesn’t matter what it is as long as the CBC voices can lower themselves into a husky, knowledgeable but world-weary tone, and advise us on how exactly we can avoid having our children hit by meteorites.

Could someone, anyone, by the way, coach Gill Deacon on how to say a complete sentence, with a subject and a predicate, and an ending?

Anyway, here’s why North Korea is going nowhere.  Firstly, Kim Jong-An is not crazy.  He’s very shrewd.  He saw what happened to the last dictator to give up his nuclear weapons program– Ghadafy in Libya– and has decided that it would be pretty stupid to put himself in the same position.  Secondly, China is not going to reign him in to any great extent because China understands that weakening Kim Jong-An could open a can of worms that might eventually lead to an unstable government, rebellion, a coup, or God knows what else, and China will not tolerate a pro-Western state on it’s border.  It didn’t in 1953 and it won’t now.   Thirdly, all this attention by the world to North Korea’s missile program, including coordinated military exercises with South Korea and the U.S., is exactly what Kim Jong-an wants.  It confirms his position as chief guardian and defender of the regime against the nefarious western powers who clearly want to overthrow the regime and drive the North Korean people into indentured servitude.

The Americans love to say– and I think they really believe it– why would any small foreign country think that we or our allies are threat to them?  Other than Iraq.  And Panama.  And Afghanistan.  And Yemen.  And Somalia.  And Grenada.  And Cambodia.

North Korea doesn’t listen to China.  China does not want 100,000 or a million refugees on its border.

So, the U.S. applies more sanctions which are very unlikely to have the slightest effect on Pyongyang.

Will the U.S. invade North Korea, or try to bomb its nuclear facilities?  I am very skeptical, but if they did, it might turn into one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in U.S. history, and even worse than the decision to invade Iraq.  North Korea has massive artillery all within range of major South Korea cities.  South Korea will be regarded as an ally of the U.S. if there is any military action by the U.S. on North Korean soil.  There might be 100,000 deaths initially, and that figure may not play well anywhere, even in Trump’s cabinet.  Furthermore, the U.S. could be reasonably certain that China will come to North Korea’s defense.  At that point, we are talking a very big war.

Does the U.S. want another war?  As has been said by many pundits: why don’t you finish the last two you started first, before you even think about it.

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John Hughes Caves to the Preview Audience

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a change made to a film as a result of previews that improved the film.  Oh, I think those changes might have sold more tickets.  But they have never improved the film artistically.

Case in point: “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.  You know the scene: Ferris Beuller has hijacked a German parade and sings “Twist and Shout” and just blows everyone away.  It’s a clever, hallucinogenic scene, and the high point of the movie before it gets bogged down with the embarrassing and deadening Cameron’s-awful-relationship-with-his-insensitive-uncaring-father subplot.  Hughes needed something to lend some gravitas to this otherwise slight but amusing story.  He stepped in it.

As Ferris is clowning around on the float, Cameron and Sloane are talking about relationships and how difficult it is for men, and Sloane says it’s easier for girls because, “a girl can always bail out and have a baby and find some guy to support her”.  Cameron then says, “that sounds depressing” and Sloane says, “it is depressing, but it’s always an option”.

Don’t remember that piece of acerbic dialogue?  Of course not.  It’s a powerful, creatively striking, evocative moment.  So it must be excised from this entertainment lest audiences are provoked into reflecting on their own little lives and forced to arrive at unpleasant conclusions.

Yes, test audiences– especially girls– hated this line.

Especially, I imagine, pregnant girls sitting right next to their boyfriends.

I would suggest they would not have hated this line at all if it had really been harmless or innocuous or false.  They hated this line because it was true, and it revealed too much about how they thought about relationships, and dispelled the adorable little escapist fantasy that so much of the movie provided to them.  Just imagine those girls in the audience, sitting next to their boyfriends, and both of them considering that line.  And the boy emits a knowing guffaw.

And John Hughes– a disturbingly interesting but always compromised director– caved immediately.  And that’s why his movies are never great and never a lasting achievement.  They are always entertaining, and often interesting, and often “good”,  but never artistically great.

Did you also know that earlier in the movie Ferris Bueller robbed his father?  Yes, he removed some mutual fund certificates from a shoe box in his father’s room and took them to the bank and cashed them in, in order to pay for the “day off”.  Don’t remember that part of the film?  Of course not: it too was filmed, and then removed, because it would have revealed to the audience that Bueller’s “day off” wasn’t free– someone paid for admission to the ball game, and the meal at the French Restaurant, and admission to the Art Institute of Chicago, and it wasn’t Cameron, and, god help us, it wasn’t Sloane.

It might even have suggested to the audience that the people in this world who get to enjoy those thrills are the dishonest, the bankers, the hedge fund managers: Ferris Beuller went to college, got a degree in business administration, and got rich.  No wonder Ben Stein, who played the math teacher, and is a well-known conservative Republican pundit, loved the film and thought it was a work of genius.  A lot of other people in the cast did not.  At least, not until they were told it was great by the media and the audience.

It is a crime that the Cameron subplot was left in– the biggest artistic weakness in the film– and that the strongest pieces of dialogue were excised so we could all feel better about ourselves and the world.

That’s entertainment.

The full documentary.

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