Monday, February 20, 2017
Can comedy save the nation?
In 1870 a corrupt mobster known as Boss Tweed led an organization that basically controlled New York City politics. Through his influence he was able to stack the city with elected officials who were in his pocket. He then used these officials to defraud the city the equivalent of billions today. Personality-wise, he was quite ostentatious, proudly wearing large diamonds while living in an opulent mansion on Fifth Avenue.
Harpers Weekly magazine wrote piece after piece denouncing this criminal, but most of his supporters were essentially illiterate so the articles were not widely read.
In the next election most of Tweed’s cronies were unceremoniously booted out of office and a few years later Tweed himself was convicted and sent to prison.
So why do I tell this story? Substitute SNL for Thomas Nast cartoons.
I can’t begin to applaud SNL enough not only for their stand against Boss Trump but for how well they are delivering the message. The writing is superb and the performers are amazing. Kate McKinnon is the next Lucy or Carol Burnett. Melissa McCarthy and Alec Baldwin have absolutely nailed their targets, as did Tina Fey in previous elections. And the rest of the cast is equally terrific.
This says two things to me. One: If you show something on TV that everyone wants to watch, large broad audiences are still possible. The argument that TV has to be niche now to succeed doesn’t necessarily hold water.
And two: Just as Thomas Nast’s cartoons got the population’s attention, SNL might just have a big impact. Lots of young folks who really didn’t care much about the last election are now opening their eyes to the chaos this administration has wrought. And we can only hope that they will react accordingly.
Boss Tweed tried to discredit Nast and even strong-arm Harper’s Magazine into silencing him. (Sound familiar?). To the publication’s credit, it stuck by its cartoonist. NBC is not backing down anytime soon, that’s for sure. Not with THOSE numbers.
Sure there are news commentators that are railing at the disarray in the White House. And newspapers are pointing out daily that the support team the president is surrounding himself with is every bit as corrupt and self-serving as Boss Tweed’s lackeys. They (Trumps appointees) have absolutely no interest whatsoever in serving the voters who entrusted Trump to lead on their behalf.
But that public is not reading those articles. Or watching those commentaries.
They are, however, watching SNL. Just as with Mr. Nast’s cartoons, COMEDY can reach people where other outlets can’t. At one time Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite delivered the message. Now it’s Kate McKinnon and Alec Baldwin.
Boss Trump continues to lash out at the press, but like everything else, he’s missing the point.
COMEDY is mightier than the sword.