SNL HELD A FUNERAL FOR HILLARY CLINTON. IT WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY. As Mollie Hemingway writes, “This Civil Religion Sucks:”
But we must talk about the abomination that was Kate McKinnon in full Clinton drag playing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for the cold open. Cohen died this week, so playing his most popular hit was part tribute to him and part tribute to — and here’s where it gets weird — Hillary Clinton.
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“Hallelujah” is a sexual and spiritual hymn. Putting Clinton in as the Messiah figure in this mix is particularly telling and cultish. When McKinnon finished her performance, she turned to the congregation and said, as Clinton, “‘I’m not giving up, and neither should you.’” Uh, okay? (The Atlantic does its civil religion take here, calling a woman with historically high unfavorability ratings “iconic.”)
The very idea that you would mourn something that fully half of the voters in the country voted against shows how insular “Saturday Night Live” seeks to be. It has doctrinal boundaries, and if you’re outside those boundaries, you are heterodox. Apostates and blasphemers aren’t welcome and will be shunned. Or just ignored. Note how NPR thought this preachy opening represented the views of the entire nation, all evidence to the contrary:
[Hemingway links to an NPR tweet that reads, “SNL Reflects a Nation’s Emotional Tone in Post-Election Episode.”]
“Saturday Night Live” does these ponderous openings following terror attacks. Because government is God to many on the left, this was a crisis of the soul and the cold open reflected that. But to equate your neighbors different political calculation on the referendum of Hillary Freaking Clinton, of all people, to terrorism is appalling and unacceptable. It belittles loss of life by creating a false political equivalence.
As Larry O’Connor notes today, the tone of the SNL episode’s cold opening immediately after 9/11 was much less funereal and actually funny, thanks to an assist from Rudy Giuliani, than their strange, stillborn wake for Hillary, which is a reminder that SNL has now come full-circle.
In the mid-1970s, the nascent (and often very funny) Saturday Night Live took a well-deserved wrecking ball to the earnest, mawkish showbiz culture of Bob Hope, Milton Berle, and the Rat Pack. Its first writers would reject any sketch they deemed as “too Carol Burnett.” But a few seasons into the show’s run, early writer Anne Beatts sagely warned, “You can only be avant-garde for so long until you became garde.” SNL became so garde they eventually reshaped the entire media world. David Letterman and the mock news broadcast that is the Daily Show were direct extensions of the first five seasons of Saturday Night Live, and the crude, snarking tone of MSNBC would be unthinkable without SNL’s seismic shift in the media culture.
Today, Lorne Michaels is the executive producer of NBC’s The Tonight Show, which was defined by Johnny Carson’s long-running era. Carson’s center-left politics were more or less in-line with those of SNL’s, but he loathed the ragged, countercultural tone of the show’s early years, and would be astonished if he knew that SNL’s creator was now calling the shots at his old redoubt. Carson wisely kept his political excesses in check, rather than alienate half of his potential audience. In sharp contrast, I wonder if Michaels whose shows, like him, wears their politics on their (Armani) sleeves ever ponders having any responsibility for the rise of Trump and the alienation so many of us now feel towards old media, the Democrat’s palace guard (or garde.)
As Steve Martin’s recurring Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber character would have said, “Naaaaah.”