Sunday, March 02, 2008

Live From New York

It's Hillary Clinton.

You all can go to the Saturday Night Live site and see her appearance if you'd like. I didn't watch the show (does anyone anymore?) but saw it online this morning after seeing that she had made an appearance.

Some thoughts. First, on whether SNL is funny. This week's debate spoof was exactly the same as last week's. We get it. The media loves Obama and hates Hillary. But a week-old joke rehashed in a different debate setting? Not funny. I know the writers are clearly trying to make their point, but what happened to writing a skit and asking "Is this FUNNY?" Also, all good humor has a grain of truth in it. The portrayal of Obama in this week's debate as monosyllabic and dumb has no anchor in reality, either in real-life or how he comports himself in debates. You can say a lot of things about him, but "monosyllabic" and "dumb" are generally not charges that will stick. So why craft an entire skit around a characterization that does not ring true, even to those who do not support him? The genius of comedy is in finding that one true thing, that one kernel of truth in a person's beliefs or mannerisms that you can inflate and parody; good comedy shows the other side of a well-known coin; it causes you to see something in a new, different and humorous way. Playing Obama as a boob perhaps made the writers laugh or met their goal of having "hillary" appear Ready On Day One, but it missed the mark in terms of actual, solid comedy and satire, when they could have hit on his propensity for talking about unity or his constant statement of "That's a discussion I'm glad to have." There are so many ways to play Obama in a truly satirical and send-up way, to greatly humorous effect. To just make him one step short of drooling makes no sense, comedically or otherwise.

Second thought. On whether SNL has a race issue. They clearly have no trouble talking about gender and sexism issues. So let's discuss why there is a white man portraying Obama when they would never consider having a Black woman portray Hillary. I recognize that in our culture there is a fluidity in our acting portrayals of minorities, but it bears noting that the fluidity is unidirectional. That is, lots of white people play roles written for people of color, but few people of color are drafted to play historically white roles. I'm not ready to go out on a limb and say that every role must be played by a person of the "appropriate" race or ethnicity; that is a reductive way to view art. I'm simply suggesting that if we'd find it jarring to see a Black Hillary, we should also find it jarring to see a white Obama. A white black-faced Obama, no less. (Note Fred Armisen's makeup). Specific to SNL, the question should also be asked why there is only one African-American man in the entire cast to begin with. You can't tell me there are no funny African-Americans in show business. The reason a white guy is portraying Obama is because the cast has no one to pull into the role! Again, it's not that you have to have "one of each" but that we have come a very long way since the days of having white people play Chinese people by adding eyeliner and from white people putting on dark makeup to play Black people. It's 2008 and it's high time that a candidate for the President of the United States who happens to be Black ought not to be minstreled on national television without us taking issue. (For further evidence of racial cluelessness on this show, see the Robert Smigel cartoon regarding Obama, Jesse Jackson and Sharpton). Pretty racist if you can get past the fact that seeing Jackson and Sharpton mocked tends to make people say "Oh, it's funny! Get over it!"

Third thought on the HRC campaign vs. the Obama campaign in the matter of each candidate's minority status. Some good chats with friends have brought me to the conclusion that HRC's campaign is floundering not because of sexism (which she has, to be sure, endured), but because of her campaign's inability to navigate that sexism. Contrary to her supporters' belief, Obama does not face less scrutiny or hatred because he is a man (click on the comments section of many blogs and news sites for proof of the often raw hatred directed at him due to his race and ethnic origin). Rather, he faces a different kind of scrutiny, and one that he and his campaign PLANNED for. They knew that he'd be pigeonholed as the "black" candidate and created strategies for mitigating that outcome. They knew he'd be seen as inexperienced up against HRC and others, and created a plan to counteract that. Whatever he's faced (although I'd argue that the sheer, well, virulence of the viral emails regarding his supposed Muslim connections came as a bit of a surprise), his campaign had a plan to deal with it.

Contrast with HRC who seems to have found the sexism directed at her campaign to be a huge surprise, with her campaign's response being irritation and complaining. (See her adviser Phil Singer's flipout during a press breakfast on Feb 26th for evidence). Her campaign is frustrated because they feel that the playing field is not even. Helloooooo?! Did you think it would be? Obama's people walked into this *anticipating* an uneven playing field--and therefore created plans to even it themselves via multiple avenues or to emphasize strengths when faced with areas of weakness. They are doing what any self-respecting campaign ought to be doing, and they are doing it with their eyes focused directly on reality--that a black man running for President is not going to be on an even playing field. Duh. They accepted that fact, however mad it no doubt made them, and just moved on with that knowledge in mind.

In my opinion, the difficulties HRC is facing also point to what I consider to be a dated form of feminism on her behalf. The statements from her campaign and her supporters remind me of me when I was a womyn during my college years. (I'm serious as I write this, and with great respect for the women who came before me). The statements of frustration with the media, anger at Obama supporters, at the Right Wing, at those who make derisive comments about her based on her gender, all constitute (pardon the imagery) One Big Feminist Circle Jerk. I used to go to pro-choice rallies where, looking back, we were the most ineffective advocates for choice ever dreamed up in a Rightie's diseased mind. We were all talking to ourselves. Our signs were smutty, our appearances were bizarre, and we convinced no one but ourselves of our position. But boy were we committed, and boy were we angry. I can remember feeling so frustrated that, as HRC has herself said, women are not permitted as many leadership styles as men. That women either have nurturing earth mother or iron lady to go on, but not much else in between or in combination. I remember feeling so angry that various frat-boy behaviors could occur on our college campus without comment, but if a woman voiced disapproval was told that she was jealous, fat or both. I felt like I was this totally intelligent and driven woman stuck inside a society that didn't know what to do with me, and it quite rightly made me frustrated and mad as hell.

And then I figured it out after pilfering a motto from Gandhi: "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." No one is going to give me anything either because or in spite of the fact that I'm a woman. And they are sure as hell not going to give it to me because I'm angry. I will get what I work for and I will not accept any excuse for not rewarding me according to my achievements. I left a job because I couldn't get my boss to send me to speak at conferences but sent a guy who was far less qualified than me. I could have fought it out, I could have rallied HR I suppose, I could have done the anger and rallying route but I decided the only way up was out; so I got another job, ended up in essentially the same position as my old boss, and throughly enjoyed saying hi to him as we both attended the same conferences as equals...with me and my 2 female coworkers presenting. Now THAT'S a "fuck you, you sexist bastard" that no HR arbitration--and no amount of righteous indignation--could have ever achieved. I decided that I didn't want the scraps of whatever conferences I may have gotten sent to as a result of taking action. I decided I wanted the power myself to determine who got to go to conferences, and that waiting for Supervisor Asshat to suddenly find me qualified in his rigid mind was not the best use of my time.

My point is not that sexism doesn't exist or that decisions, large and small, are not made according to attributes you cannot change. My point is rather that we can't "angry" our way into the Presidency. We can't "rally" our way into the Presidency. We can't even demand an even playing field in the race for the Presidency. Those tactics have all been tried. Rather, we have to play the field as it is, and plan-plan-plan to mitigate every single hurdle that we already know will be coming our way. The Obama campaign has done it, and the HRC campaign should have done it. Going on SNL to plead your case and telling Tim Russert that he should get Obama a pillow will not make you President. People (at least, I) won't vote for you because I feel bad for you, no matter how much I think you may be getting dinged for things a man would not. Because that's my point: you KNEW you'd get dinged for those things, you KNEW you'd be treated differently than the men, you KNEW this wouldn't be easy, right? So where was your airtight, rock-solid, no-excuses plan for handling that crap? You did have a plan, right? And if you didn't, why not? Because if you really wanted to win, you'd BE the change you wish to see. You'd have the most put-together campaign organization in the world, you'd have a solid idea of who you are, why you're running, and how you'd best display and demonstrate your considerable talents to 50% +1 of the population. Your campaign would be so tight, so right and so outtasight that no one could write you off without having to be honest with themselves and others about the real reason why. You would have left voters with no choice but to see you in a new and more powerful way.

It is a sad truth in our society that "a woman must do something twice as well as a man to be considered half as good." I believe it because I have personally experienced it. But here's the rub: knowing that sad truth, the burden is on you as a leader and as a woman to plan, work and struggle mightily at that beast of an expectation so that you find yourself in a position to slay it. And that's my point: you can't slay it before you get to the top; you can't even slay it on your way to the top. You have to outwit, outplay and outlast it--unfairly or not, on it's own playing field--until you get the power to kill it good and dead.


Anonymous said...

I'm a frequent lurker here. I feel I have to comment on the SNL issues. I think you completely miss the point! It does not matter what the current ethnic makeup of the cast is, or whether the actors portraying characters on the show are black white green or blue, they are just that, ACTORS and as such were hired by the producers of SNL to portray characters. If an audience cannot suspend its disbelief and see the actors as the characters they are portraying then it is the problem of the viewer, not the actors or producers. Welcome to art!
Mrs. Grits

E said...

I understand what you are saying, Mrs. Grits. My point is that the "art" tends to always go in one direction on SNL. Darryl Hammond was Jesse Jackson, but Tim Meadows was never Al Gore. Billy Crystal was Sammy Davis but Eddie Murphy was never Alexander Haig. That's what I'm getting at. Even Eddie Murphy said that they tried to "token" him like they did Garrett Morris.

Art in general should be free to cast whomever in whatever; I agree. But SNL in particular is where my beef lies.

Anonymous said...


It's not that I think there is not racism around, and it very well may be on SNL, but without being a cast member or other employee we are only assuming. Perhaps the writers/producers/directors of the pieces felt that Eddie Murphy did not have the talent or sophistication to portray Alexander Haig, yet Billy Crystal does have the natural pantomime talent to pull off Sammy Davis. I am actually NOT a fan of SNL, now or in the past, but I am also not a fan of what almost appears to be reverse-racism.

Mrs. G