The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Charlton Heston dead at 84
Was that my imagination, or a deliberate affectation, but was Christopher Walken really fixated on the cue cards on SNL last night? Odd.
All right. Yes, I think SNL is in the tank for Clinton. Their former head writer, Tiny Fey, is obviously strongly for Hillary, and she is close to Lorne Michels. The fact that SNL is notorious for weak minority casts (how long has it been since they had a strong black cast member? Even Tim Meadows was just "o.k.") and that now they have a white guy playing Obama (Kenan Thompson is an embarassment). Does anyone think that this show is going to go even vaguely beneath the surface?
In this instance, the "Color-blind casting" does no discredit to the actor playing Obama. It does play into the Clinton camp's narrative that Obama was given advantage during the debate (I'm not saying they're wrong. I'm saying I disagree with some of their arguments. Even IF Hillary was asked questions first, couldn't she just as easily have complained if she were consistently chosen second?) The fact that they don't have a black or mixed-race cast member talented and capable enough to play Obama says something about the weakness of their cast, and the blindness Lorne Michels has to black talent. Listen to Chris Rock talking about his difficulties getting anything through their writing staff, and you'll know what I mean. Oh, you didn't remember that Rock was on the show? That was because he could never get anything past their head writers. Disgusting.

To get a feel for how I find this problematic, imagine if there was only one female member of the SNL cast, who was obese. When Hillary began running, instead of finding a good female cast member, they put one of the guys in drag. That's an approximation of the problem here: no matter how the drag queen struggles to bring some internal consistency to the role, the fact that he is in a context where they groomed no actual women for the role suggests a grotesque lack of sensitivity.
From the beginning with Garrett Morris, Lorne has the habit of choosing weak minority players. Eddie Murphy is the only one who ever broke out, and that was LOOOONG ago. Twenty years? Considering that SNL grew out of the National Lampoon, and the Lampoon, which I subscribed to, so far as I know NEVER had a black person in the magazine without making a specific, and generally derogatiory, reference to his race. (There were plenty of sexist comments in Lampoon as well, but also plenty of female figures without specific references to gender or sex--just background or characters being human beings). MAD magazine, during the same era, would have black characters without pointing out their race or making a specific racial joke, so I know the difference.

On SNL, the episode where Obama actually appeared was a Halloween party, where Hillary was, if I remember, dressed like a witch, and Darryl Hammond as Bill pretty much called her a bitch. Funny-but wouldn't have been had they repeated the same pattern later.

But since that time, there have been numerous references and sketches, and I've noticed a real pattern. Obama is presented as being pleasant but completely ineffectual (the debate sketch, the "3am" sketch) while Hillary is presented as being a hyper-competent bitch. But as Tina Fey said "Bitches get things done!" and more specifically, taking a crack at the race-gender controversy in some strange way, "Bitch is the new Black!" I'm not even sure what that means, but it was clearly some kind of attempt to boost Hillary. The sketch last night about her money was a laid-back "Wow we're incredibly smart" when SNL also mused about "what would be wrong with having two really smart people running the White House?" I other words, in terms of the election, Hillary has flaws but they actually make her a better potential president. Obama is pleasant but empty.
There is nothing wrong with SNL taking a favorite. They're only human. But I think they should be honest about it. The fact that I smell a pattern over the 30 years I've watched the show is unfortunate. But it's not their pattern, or Hollywood's pattern, or Washington's pattern. It is America's pattern. It is a human pattern. And it pisses me off when I see women with the power to hire, fire and put words into the mouths of black men suggesting that those black men have some kind of advantage.
My honest sense is that women in America experience more statistical problem at the higher levels of accomplishment than at the lower levels of survival. But it is natural for people to discount their advantages and pay attention only to the work remaining to be done as they reach for the stars. I would bet that Fey and Michels consider themselves good liberals, and therefore above such things as racial discomfort. They're wrong. There is good research that women tend to be LESS bigoted than men, but that doesn't mean there is no problem at all. And it is my position that I've seen FEWER bigots and LESS bigotry among liberals, but that doesn't mean it isn't there, as well.

But when someone suggests that Obama is winning because he's male, Hillary losing because she is female, they are reducing human characteristics to two dimensions. When Hillary was slaughtering the field, was it because she was a woman? if Obama had been crushed, would it have been because he's black? Really? Where is individual responsibility or characteristic in all of this?
If the press likes Obama better, this is supposedly because...they don't like women? Really?Couldn't it be because they like HIM better? As an individual, separate from gender or race? I see the Clintons and their surrogates raising the issue of race as often as they can, knowing that Obama's game plan involved keeping people's attention on the future we can build together and OFF his race as much as he could.

In Hollywood, I've noticed that if I can keep an executive's attention on the project, I've got a chance. If race comes into the discussion IN ANY WAY I can almost guarantee that I won't get the job. A good tactic on her part. Smart.
Anyway, I'm wandering, still waking up this morning. The point is that SNL seems to back Clinton (fine), they won't cop to it (not so fine), and that they have a history of racial issues. These two things don't necessarily have anything to do with each other. But that "Bitch is the new Black" is an interesting line. Maybe it means that women who demand they be given their due are often called "bitches" by insecure men. And the term "black" supplanted "negro" as those of darker hue began to demand their due as well...Ah...I'm reading too much into it, I'm sure.
Charlton Heston died at 84. I met him once at a movie theater on the West Side. The Nuart, I believe. He was tall, and elegant, and regal. He could be a bit of a ham, but also had an unforced power that was fascinating to watch. A staunch Conservative, he marched with King in the '60's, something a lot of Hollywood types did at that time. I hated Micheal Moore ambushing Heston in his old age in that docu-thingie about gun control. That was inappropriate, and taking advantage of infirmity. A genuine, old-fashioned movie star, and a patriot, and so far as I know, a good man. I wish him swift passage.


Steve Perry said...

First time I watched SNL in years, and yeah, Walken never looked anywhere except the cue cards. Passing weird.

As to Heston, I've tried to separate actors roles' onscreen from their personal beliefs, but since I'm one of those oddballs -- a liberal with a gun -- I lean more toward the Second Amendment being for the people and not the militia, so I cut Chuck some slack on that.

And Moore's interview with Heston was vile. And he knew it was. I appreciate the guy's sense of absurd theater, but beating up on a senile old man isn't funny and makes no point save that people can be terribly cruel and will go to great lengths to rationalize it. Dropped him a couple notches in my estimation.

Anonymous said...

When I was younger I didn't notice it but now when I watch SNL I find it very conspicuous when the players read the cue cards. And it's not just Walken -- cast members sometimes are rather awkwardly found to be doing it. Anyway, I love Chris. Walken, especially when he visits SNL. Hilarious.

Mike Frank said...

In 1978 I was a messenger.

One day I was given a package of checks to take to Charlton Heston for his signature and I was to return them after that was done.

After being let through by a guard I went up to the house's front door where he greeted me.

He shook my hand and led me to a large office and put me in a seat in front of his desk, across from him.

On his desk were many small souvenirs of trips he had taken. He told me I could examine them and proceeded tell me stories about each of them, while he signed the checks.

There was one particularly nice small carved piece of African origin. While I was looking it it broke. He told me not to worry, that the piece had been broken for some time. This was obviously a lie, but it was a truly gentlemanly thing to say.

Dan Moran said...

I think the 2nd amendment's broken, but I don't think badly of someone looking to hold onto his gun, so I don't have a problem with the NRA at that level. As to Heston, he was clearly a gentleman. I never met him but know people who did; and never heard one bad word about him as a man.

Josh Jasper said...

Lorne Michaels (SNL producer) is a well known Republican donor.

DemetriosX said...

Eddie Murphy left SNL more like 25 years ago, and they haven't been consistently funny since. I'd completely forgotten about Chris Rock being on SNL. He may have been the last funny person they had.

As for "Bitch is the new Black", this is playing off of the old fashion cliche that has moved into hipster slang in the last few years. In fashion, black stands for timeless elegance, something appropriate for any occasion (especially for women's fashions). During the 80s and 90s, the fashionistas would declare some color the "new black" almost every year. A couple of years ago, they even declared black to be the new black. The phrase has oozed out into slang to mean that whatever is the new standard by which everything is measured. That said, the (rather obvious) racial implications of Tina Fey's line had escaped me. And it puts SNL's obvious support of Clinton in a whole new light.

Kukulkan said...


"I think the 2nd amendment's broken"

I'm not sure what you meant by this comment. Did you mean that the 2d Amendment is not being enforced as it should be, or did you mean that the 2d Amendment is no longer relevant to life in the 21st Century, or something else?

Steve Perry said...

Don't do it Dan, he said alliteratively. Gun control, abortion, politics, religion, all third rails on the internet subway system ...

Warning! Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!

asha vere said...

I generally like her work, but Amy Poehler's Hillary Clinton is pretty terrible. It's unfortunate. At least Fred Armisen has attempted to capture something of Obama's speaking pattern; she's done nothing of the sort.

I'd be willing to bet that most of the people at SNL are Obama supporters. Statistics show most Democrats are, right? But I don't think that support doesn't mean they can't be critical of press treatment of Hillary.

Dan Moran said...

Don't do it Dan

Who says you can't learn?

Kukulkan said...

From Steve Perry's post, I assume he believes that my question to Dan was a "trap." I post here not infrequently, and my posts frequently include questions. If you have assumed that my question to Dan was a trap, I would suggest that you look over my prior comments and see if I have ever attacked anyone personally or acted in a manner you find inappropriate.

I genuinely do like learning how other people think. The best way to learn what other people think is to listen to them and to ask questions. I asked the question I did because I really have no idea what Dan meant by his comment that the 2d Amendment is broken.

Steven Barnes said...

I doubt if the writers on SNL are primarily Obama supporters. The only positive comments that have been made about any candidate (in terms of an outcome if they reach the White House) has been supportive of Hillary. Tina Fey, former head writer, is clearly a Hillary supporter. Armisen catches the vocal rhythms, and a bit of head posture--but seems utterly empty (in comparison with "Hillary's" hypercompetance. I would say they've made their choice.