October 24, 2008

The Power of Satire

I've long believed in the power of satire. The Daily Show has re-popularized the art form in recent years, but mostly by preaching to the choir. Stephen Colbert took it to the next level, confusing Republicans enough that they invited him to speak at the White House Correspondents Dinner, where he excoriated the President - who was sitting about three feet from him at the time - for about 20 minutes.

Tina Fey is poised to trump those accomplishments. If Barack Obama wins this election, which is looking increasingly likely, history will look back and realize that Tina Fey SAVED THE UNIVERSE with her impression of Sarah Palin. She rendered the woman indistinguishable from the joke, and vice versa. She accomplished this by refusing to turn the impression into a caricature, by sticking close to the source material, and by transposing the essence of Sarah Palin into a context that revealed the absurdity of her presence on the national stage.

Saturday Night Live still holds a crucial timeslot in the American psyche and can still have tremendous power, particularly when Americans are collectively focused on a single event or issue. When done well, a sketch can reframe problems and personalities in a way that influences national sentiment. I believe Tina Fey's trio of Sarah Palin sketches are just such an instance. Tina Fey made people feel ashamed of their initially warm reaction to Sarah Palin. When they watched Sarah Palin speak, they were influenced by their own emotional and political prejudices. When they watch Tina Fey imitating Sarah Palin, they were able to more clearly see what a joke and a fraud she really is.

So I say to you Tina Fey: Thanks a million (cracks in the glass ceiling)!

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