Friday, February 29, 2008

The media outdoes the SNL parody of the media

You'll need to read the whole thing yourself; you'll need to see that the Washington Post actually sustains this theme for over 800 words without cracking a smile.

But here's the tee-up:

When Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president last year, some observers questioned whether the senator from Illinois was "black enough" to embody the hopes and aspirations of African Americans.

Now a variation on that theme has emerged: Is Fred Armisen, who is not African American, "black enough" to embody Obama on "Saturday Night Live"?

Debate over that question has been pinging around the Internet since Armisen, a veteran cast member, donned darker makeup to portray the Democratic candidate for the first time Saturday.

Yes, you read right: The WaPo has actually hung an article on the presumed moral equivalence of these two questions.

The article continues:

Nobody much cared about Armisen's racial background (he is of white and Asian heritage) when he played Prince and Steve Jobs during seasons past of the NBC show. Nor did it seem to matter that "SNL's" Darrell Hammond, who is white, has impersonated the Rev. Jesse Jackson for years. Or that decades ago on "SNL," Billy Crystal played Sammy Davis Jr.

But in 2008, Obama isn't just any politician or celebrity. Which is why Armisen's DNA became something of an issue when he became "Fauxbama" in "SNL's" first show back since the writers' strike ended this month.

Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune put the question bluntly: "Call me crazy, but shouldn't 'Saturday Night Live's' fictional Sen. Barack Obama be played by an African-American?"

In fairness, I have no way of knowing if Ryan is crazy.

But her question certainly is. (Does she understand what the word "fictional" means?)

Scarcely mentioned in the article is the content of the sketch itself: Fawning television reporters, yearning to trash the professional rulebook and declare their utter adoration of Obama, are finally given permission by him to do so--while Hillary looks on, unable to get a word in edgewise. The irony of that overlooked point, in an article that goes out of its way to provide a platform for touchy Obama supporters, is pretty ripe.

Sigh. Okay, let's quickly go to the footage:

The objection can't be that this is somehow a racist portrayal of Obama (despite the bizarre insistence of one British commentator, quoted in the article, that the sketch had a "minstrel" aspect). The Obama character is played for laughs (we do all still remember this is satire, right?), but certainly not with disrespect.

The problem seems to be a kind of Obama Exceptionalism--that, as the article says, he "isn't just any politician or celebrity." (Later in the article, an academic warns that, "when you have a figure as historically important as Barack Obama . . . people can get mighty protective of his image.")

Toughen up, Obama supporters. Obama Exceptionalism only gets you so far in this world.

It will also mean that, if he gets the nomination (to say nothing of the presidency), McCain, the GOP, their allied 527 groups, and the right-wing media, no longer having to divide their fire between him and the hated Hillary, will step up their well-honed code-word and surrogate attacks on him, including and especially on his race, to a 24/7 operation like nothing we've ever seen.

At that point, Fred Armisten's skin color will seem like the least of Obama's problems. And it is.

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