I’m not sure when it started, really. My earliest memory is of then-candidate Bill Clinton playing the sax on Arsenio, although I want to be very clear that I did not actually watch Arsenio. A friend told me about that. But I’m sure it all started well before that, probably on Carson or even Jack Parr.
I’m talking, of course, about political figures appearing on entertainment programs for reasons other than an interview. I’m talking about John McCain appearing on SNL a few weeks ago and making jokes about his age while appearing to give a Presidential TV address. I’m talking about HRC, Obama and John Edwards all appearing on the Colbert Report and reading prepared material and jokes.
I’m not talking about interviews. Although most of the interviews that politicians participate in on the Late Nite talk circuit are not what you’d call “hard-hitting”, they still serve a humanizing function, get exposure to a certain audience, etc. I’m fine with that.
I’m also not talking about Al Gore’s never-to-be-topped spoof of the West Wing on SNL, where after his crushing 2000 defeat he likes to pretend he’s the President. I’m not talking about that because Gore was not running for or holding an office at the time of the spoof, which makes it categorically different.
There is too much of a blur between these people as packaged brands, gloss and entertainment, and the fact that they are competing to lead the free world. I don’t want to sound all high-and-mighty, but I don’t want potential election issues to be lampooned by the participants themselves on national TV just for laughs. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a Democrat or a Republican–people seeking national office or holding national office should not appear in comedy sketches that lampoon politics or the issues in any way.
That’s what I’m talking about. Because while politics is absurd, and quite clearly needs to be the subject of many types of satire, it doesn’t really work when you have the politicians themselves doing the satire. When Amy Poehler parodies HRC, it doesn’t necessarily tear down HRC. It makes her larger than life in some ways, important enough to be parodied. When HRC herself parodies the process she has spent many years and millions of dollars on to get some laughs, where does that leave HRC or the process when the cameras are turned off?
Believe me, this trend will only continue. But watching very serious people, competing for the most important job in the world, stoop to get laughs (or not) by reading a few cue cards is awkward at best, and highly inappropriate at worst. It’s the logical conclusion of our fish-bowl, celebrity-obsessed culture-Take the most powerful person on the world, a job that is held up as the standard by which all Americans measure historical import, make them do a monologue in front of an audience on live TV, and scream “Ladies and Gentlemen, the White Stripes!”