I love television. Always have. As a little girl, the concept of playing outside and interacting with fellow small humans never quite registered with me. Telling me to “go outside and play” became a cold, cruel phrase akin to “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.” You see, there’s the issue of being allergic to most insects, as well as the issue of interacting with people. Playing outside just meant ant bites, antibiotics, and anxiety. Each time I watched something I liked, I would mimic it. And not in a cute “oh look at her repeating the lines” kind of way. No, it was more of a “holy shit our 4 year old is acting out every character’s little mannerisms do we get help or encourage her to go into theatre” kind of thing. Thank god they went with the latter because I would have otherwise never discovered what was to be my lifelong obsession- Saturday Night Live.
One of the first sketches I ever remember watching is the most famous Wayne’s World bit with Aerosmith. I was probably about 10 years old watching the iconic piece in syndication. You know the one. It was ridiculous, original, fun and something I knew I wanted to be a part of. My lifelong love affair with SNL began.
I looked up to the greats, practiced impressions and made Saturday night sleepovers a must- you gotta practice in front of an audience. The dream to join the likes of Gilda, Cheri, and Amy would be the only one I would fixate on for years to come. That’s why this break between SNL and I is one I take with caution and much conflicted thought.
You see, I like to think of myself as woke- seeing and calling out social injustices, getting all riled up against the patriarchy and systemic racism. However, when it comes to things I grew up with and have loved for years, I tend to earmuff it. I know, I’m awful. I mean, we all know Friends lacks diversity and tends to err on the side of misogyny and homophobia buuuut the coffee cups at Central Perk were always adorably large and quirky so…we’re good, right?
Like Friends and most sitcoms- many of which I fucking love, mind you- television shows are wholly a product of their time. Take I Love Lucy or Seinfeld, for example. Though both are brilliant, neither would bode terribly well in the social landscape that is 2016. Saturday Night Live is no exception. The whole premise of the live sketch show is to literally comment on pop culture through comedy. While the batshit crazy 2016 election cycle has provided fodder on a golden platter, as most political seasons do, SNL- and I say this as a long time fan- get your shit together. It’s not 1987 anymore.
With time, the internet has gifted us with transparency. And what I see now is a writing staff and cast of predominantly *white* males– young, talented, socially and politically inclined, as most sketch writers are. But man, do you need perspective, SNL. You’ve had a diversity problem for years and it doesn’t just disappear by promoting writers and hiring a new, morally questionable, cast member. Even the most well meaning white man can be a feminist and join the fight as an ally in the Black Lives Matter movement but he will never know what it means to bleed or be fearful. This is privilege. This is where you earmuff it. And this is where I start listening.
Whether you like it or not, SNL, we need more content being created that reflects our country, not just our ridiculous, albeit terrifying, presidential election. Now before you get all defensive, I will be the first to acknowledge the beauty of the post-election episode with Dave Chappelle and A Tribe Called Quest. I applaud you for opening your door and minds to a perspective on the racial divide in this country from the man who does it best. It felt like I was watching The Chappelle Show once more, and I thank
him you for that.
However, the material in the weeks prior to the election was laid out for you and the unfortunate reality is that you didn’t have to do much of anything for the sketches. That’s not on you. Kudos on Baldwin and McKinnon, really. But man, you royally fucked up on the whole “having Trump on your show” thing. You remember that? Because a lot of us marginalized groups sure do. Keeping him on as a host following his immigration comments to boost ratings is cheap. When concerned and disgusted citizens protested outside of 30 Rock after Trump had said [fill in the blank with bigoted/sexist/ethnocentric/fucked up statement], you did nothing. Yes, he got the minimum amount of air time allotted but he should have had none to begin with.
Though you’ve made your stance on Trump clear in the episodes thereafter, particularly in the haunting Leonard Cohen tribute, your laziness and cowardice are a massive part of the problem. But hey, you should feel *something* knowing you’re not alone. The airtime that you and countless of other media outlets gave him is after all how Trump became our president-elect.
You’ve had 41 entire seasons. Forty one seasons to tackle diversity, be cutting edge, address inequality, write for the people and
establish maintain your integrity. Forty one. Yet you boast about hiring your “first Latina cast member” in 19- wait, no. It’s 2016. Twenty SIXTEEN.
We’re on a break now, SNL, because in those 41 seasons you haven’t made a concerted effort to change- your host does it for you- but I have. Sure, we’ve had some great times. I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. I’ve cry-laughed. You are a product of your time though. The fact of the matter is that I have outgrown you. And that introverted kid wanting to be on SNL one day should be able to see themselves on the screen. Sure, you can rely on your election coverage for ratings and a shit ton of Facebook shares but you only get this every four years. What’s next Saturday gonna look like? Are you going to earmuff it and go back to Koohl toilets (I have no words for that one)?
Your viewers are smarter and more diverse than you think. They want to see that their voice, their lives, their culture matters. Art matters. Words matter. And yes, comedy can be a form of escapism, but stereotypes are cheap and I genuinely think you’re better than that. You don’t have to wait for one of the most celebrated and proud Puerto Ricans to come on your show or for an iconic comic genius to host. Neither should be refreshing but it was.
Within the past five years, we have seen a resurgence, a renaissance if you will, of sketch comedy. So much so that in 2015, this type of programming was gifted their own Primetime Emmy category. For that kid who doesn’t like to play outside and has a whole lot of access to inappropriate TV, it’s comedy heaven. We have a choice to make. And so do you.
Though I hope this break is temporary and allows you time to mature, I won’t hold my breath. Goodnight and goodbye, dear friend.