Monday, December 15, 2008

Denounce the SNL skit on Paterson

The criticisms surrounding the "Saturday Night Live" skit on Gov. David Paterson (NY) do not concern the notion of whether or not it is fair game to lampoon a governor. The issue is that the dubious comedy was centered around mocking Paterson's eye movements and issues of blindness in general.
(Satirizing political figures with topical humor can be done without offending classes of people. Witness the same night's opening sketch that ridiculed the vulgarity and egocentric nature of Gov. Rod Blagojevich (Ill.). Here, the sketch did not offend Serbian-Americans.)

Apparently, we need to explain the situation to the writers of "SNL." When you can see, your eyes fixate on objects. Hence, the eyes remain with a fixed gaze upon one thing. When the seeing person shifts his/her attention to another object, the eyes pan to another location.

Now, when a person cannot see, the blind person has lost the connection with fixing eyes upon objects. Thus, the eyes appear to dart about. This is simply how things are for sight-deprived people.

This is not a laughing matter. So, why is it that "Saturday Night Live" needs to step into the gutter and have Fred Armesen mimic this aspect of Gov. Paterson?

Adding insult to the matter, Armisen held a chart upside down. In the sketch performance, the "news anchor" character guided Armesen's arms so that he was facing in the proper direction. Worst of all, a major part of the sketch was after Armesen finished his lines. Armisen blocked the camera view of the "Weekend Update" news-desk. And this poor taste joke was repeated and repeated.

Clearly, foibles of blindness were the focal point of the "humor" in the sketch.

This is sickening. Let's go back to when we were say three, four or five years of age. Remember that our mothers, fathers or schoolteachers told us that it was impolite to make fun of people's disabilities? If this argument itself was insufficient, the older, model adults explained to us that it would hurt the feelings of people with such a disability.

I presume that network censors do not hold the place in networks that they did, say forty years ago. (We do not hear of them as much as we would have in past decades.) But they serve a necessary function. If writers and performers cannot exercise the golden rule and consider the effect of their words upon the potentially offended minority group, then network censors can enforce good manners, good judgment.

Such a skit was cold-hearted on the part of Saturday Night Live. The writers and actors do not know the frustration that sightless people feel, not being able to see for the practical purposes of sight or for the aesthetic purposes (of enjoying physical beauty).

Alas, this is not too surprising. The casting department of Saturday Night Live has not given us a representative cross-section of the diversity of society. The cast is heavily male, nearly entirely white. To my recollection, they have never had a regular member that is of Asian background. Generally, the number of African-Americans on the cast has been a token number. The fact that SNL has felt it necessary to resort to using Armisen in blackface to play President-elect Barack Obama is reflective of their negligence to have a greater number of African-American actors.

Comment too should be made on the quality of the roles that African-American cast members are given on the show. To be sure, there are inane roles given to European-American performers, but overwhelmingly the nature of the role that the typical African-American cast member is the role of the buffoon, a role perpetuating the tradition of black American as a supposedly clownish character, by her/his very nature.

Lastly, we should note that lately the show has ridiculed the gay orientation of Rep. Barney Frank. Armisen (hmm, how is that he is all of the most offensive roles??? hmmmm) a couple of weeks ago, playing Frank, told actors playing Detroit Big 3 auto executives that American cars should be "more gay." Yes, the latest offense, in the matter of Armisen/Paterson sketch, follows a defiant Seth Myers response to outcry over SNL's treatment of Frank. When faced with criticism that the sketches were insensitive toward Frank in a gay perspective, Myers replied that he would not be cowed to criticism.

We should remember not only that free speech allows us to offend anyone to any degree we wish. We should exercise self-restraint against offensive free speech, not because we are afraid of any governmental power, but because we are concerned with the feelings of potentially offended people.

Please join me in writing a protest letter to the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC).
Here is the contact information for NBC:
Mr. Jeff Zucker, President
NBC Entertainment
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10112
(818) 840-4444

Click here to E-Mail NBC.

The NBC website.

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