Saturday Night Live, and the selling of Donald Trump
Imagine I own a book store, and I have a book that I want to sell you. I convince you to come inside the store. I offer you the book, and I tell you the book is funny, entertaining and important. You should definitely read this book. You give me your hard earned cash for the book, I hand the book to you and send you on your way.
Then, a year goes by, and you come into my store again. I tell you the book you bought a year ago is terrible. Maybe the worst book ever. I make fun of the book. I tell you the book is stupid, you should have never bought the book in the first place. I tell you that we all have to do a better job in making sure no more books like this can ever be read. I tell you that we are better than this book. Listening to my earnest words, I hope you will buy another book.
You call me a hypocrite. “How could you have sold me the book in the first place if you thought it was a bad book?” I explain that I am in the business of selling books, and sometimes I have to encourage people to buy books that I think are terrible. But afterwards, as long as we agree that the book is terrible, and we can make fun of the book together, isn’t that good enough?
On November 7th, 2015, late-night sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live sold us a book. They invited presidential candidate Donald Trump to host their show. Aware of federal campaign laws, producers were careful to only give Trump minimum screen time so other candidates would not need to be given equal screen time. Although Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton appeared in a couple of Saturday Night Live skits during the campaign, they were never invited to host.
Trump’s invitation to host Saturday Night Live should not have been a surprise. Trump is a businessman, but is also an entertainer. He hosted a top rated reality television series for years, he has appeared in movies, television shows and music videos, and has been a very public icon of wealth and success for decades. Trump was in the news, he was comfortable on screen, and producers knew he would get big ratings.
By hosting Saturday Night Live, Trump was given a platform and an audience. Almost 10 million people had the opportunity to see Trump in a new way. Smiling on stage, having fun, being funny.
You should definitely read this book.
One year later, Donald Trump was elected president. Losing the popular vote but winning the Electoral College, millions of Americans found themselves in a state of shock that someone who they thought had little to no chance of winning the election would now be president.
Even Saturday Night Live participated in this national period of sadness and reflection. On November 12, 2016, almost exactly a year to the day after Trump hosted the show, cast member Kate McKinnon opened the show in character as Hillary Clinton, beautifully singing the Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah,” at the end of which she said “I’m not giving up and neither should you.” A sincere, powerful moment that perfectly captured the feelings and concerns of people around the world.
The song was offered not as comedy, but rather as a seemingly sincere attempt on the part of Saturday Night Live to identify and commiserate with the millions and millions of people feeling lost, disenfranchised and scared.
Since that moment, Saturday Night Live has mercilessly skewered Donald Trump and his administration. Alec Baldwin has appeared on the show regularly with his imitation of Donald Trump. The skits have been consistently critical of Trump’s mannerisms, his approach to governing and the people he has chosen to surround himself with. Since Baldwin has begun to appear as Trump, Saturday Night Live ratings have gradually increased. Donald Trump, in response, has been particularly critical of SNL, referring to the show in Tweets as “boring” and “not funny.”
…we all have to do a better job in making sure no more books like this can ever be read.
As my book store customer, you are not going to let me sell you what I will later call a terrible book, and then return to my store only after I have complained about the book along with you. You won’t let me have it both ways.
Saturday Night Live can’t have it both ways. They can’t provide candidate Trump with a platform, millions of dollars worth of free publicity and an opportunity to connect with young, moderate voters (opportunities provided to no other candidate), and then turn around and complain about a president they had a role in creating.
How could you have sold me this book in the first place?
I don’t think I’m going back to this book store.