By Sam Klaassen
Tom Hanks opened the fourth episode of Saturday Night Live’s 42nd season by embracing his role as “America’s dad” and giving the nation a pep talk. Speaking to America like he would to a son, Hanks assures America that it will make it through this “rough year.” Mentioning immigration, gun control and the national debt, Hanks reminds America, “You got a big decision in the next couple weeks.”
His monologue summed up a lot of Americans’ feelings about the current political climate and the 2016 presidential election. SNL continues to play an integral part in interpreting elections as they once again take public perception of a current event and turn it into entertainment.
Donald Trump is not a new face to SNL: he has hosted twice—once in 2004 and again just a year ago in 2015—and been impersonated countless times. After hosting during the Republican primary race last November, Trump tweeted, “Amazing evening at Saturday Night Live!” However, his attitude toward the show seems to have changed. After the Oct. 15 show of SNL hosted by Emily Blunt, Trump tweeted: “Watched Saturday Night Live hit job on me. Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks. Media rigging election!”
Targeting SNL is Trump’s latest effort in claiming the media is at fault for his poor polling numbers. Ever since Hillary Clinton started to pull ahead after the first debate, Trump has cried for a rigged election—SNL is just his most recent target.
There is no denying that SNL is a big player in the world of media. The NBC comedy show’s 42nd season premiere on Oct. 1 had 8.3 million viewers, 31 percent more than their 41st season premiere in 2015 due to this being an election year. With such a big audience tuning in to see the show’s treatment of the presidential election, the show definitely has the ability to influence its viewers’ opinions.
Political satire is not a new concept to SNL. Since the show’s inception in 1975, SNL has satirized presidential candidates. With weekly broadcasts, the show has the ability to clarify or reinforce public understandings of political events. The show can also define a politician’s public persona, such as Jon Lovitz’s emotionally detached Michael Dukakis and Tina Fey’s ditzy Sarah Palin.
This unprecedented election, and especially the recent debates, has essentially written the script for SNL. Trump’s claim that “nobody has more respect for women” than him was quoted verbatim by Alec Baldwin’s Trump on the show, followed by video clips of people around the world laughing. The unscripted nature of Trump’s campaign allowed SNL to take a direct quote and turn it into a punchline.
Trump’s disapproval of the show comes across as immature, especially seeing as Clinton does not come out unscathed. Kate McKinnon’s Clinton is cold, rehearsed and desperate to become president of the United States. Her emails and her husband’s affairs are also commonly mentioned. During the cold open featuring the final 2016 presidential debate, Hanks’ Chris Wallace asks Kate McKinnon’s Clinton about the WikiLeaks disclosures of her emails and she goes off on a tangent. When Hanks’ Wallace says, “You’re never going to answer a question about your emails,” McKinnon’s Clinton replies, “No, but it was very cute to watch you try.”
It’s not just the candidates being made fun of. SNL’s “Melanianade” is a parody of Beyoncé’s “Sorry” music video featuring the women in Trump’s life: his wife Melania, daughter Ivanka, “mouthpiece” Kellyanne Conway, “other daughter” Tiffany and “one black friend” Omarosa. The women say that they are fed up with Trump’s behavior and the recent allegations being made against him, singing, “without us you wouldn’t be standing there, you’d just be that guy with the weird hair.” Candidates in the primaries were also satirized by SNL: Larry David’s Bernie Sanders upsets his supporters in “Bern Your Enthusiasm” and Jay Pharaoh’s Ben Carson falls asleep during a debate in the GOP debate cold open.
SNL has a history of helping shape perceptions of politicians and they ultimately sum up Trump’s relationship with the media through their representation of the candidate: “Frankly this whole thing is rigged,” Baldwin’s Trump said. “Even the media. Every day I turn on the news and all of the newscasters are making me look so bad … by taking all of the things I say and all of the things I do and putting them on TV.”