Bitch is the New Black

Tina Fey started it.

In her hosting role on the first Saturday Night Live back from the recent writers' strike, Tina Fey appeared on the "Weekend Update" segment and capped her piece on "Women's News" with a pro-Hillary rallying cry. And in recent weeks, that's led to a charge that perhaps SNL is pushing the Hillary candidacy—and worse, doing it overtly.

And maybe Tina Fey was. Maybe. Her "bitch is the new black" speech (which was picked up by conservative talk-show hosts as racially offensive, though that empty complaint seems to have thankfully gotten no traction) was specific to the then-upcoming primaries: "It's not too late, Texas and Ohio, get on board!" There are two ways to take that line: either as a serious call to action, or as the statements of a character Tina Fey was playing for laughs, using some bitch-jokes that she had in her pocket. There's not much support for the former position, though, aside from the calling-out of Texas and Ohio. On the other hand, Fey was appearing on a parody of a news program, as part of a sketch-comedy series. Not the best place to do serious stumping. And furthermore, Fey's also said (as Liz Lemon, her character on NBC's 30 Rock) that "I will tell all my friends that I'm voting for Barack Obama, but will secretly vote for McCain." (Which was pretty damn prescient at the time, seeing as how McCain was far from the presumptive nominee at that point. But I digress.)

For those who've seen Fey's "Weekend Update" bits in the past, it seems clear that her comments on SNL that night were just an extension of that same act—this girl-power, fist-pumping sort of comedy in which she can say lines like "Bitches get stuff done" and talk about how nuns might hit you, and you might hate them, but by the end of the year you know the capital of Vermont. That's always been Tina Fey's gig—intellectual ballsiness. To suddenly start taking it hyper-seriously now seems like making fake news out of the fake news.

However Fey's comments are taken, that's just her talking. Not Saturday Night Live, for which she's not even a writer anymore. Even though the accusation that SNL has chosen sides started with Fey, it's been exacerbated by their recent cold opens. These featured Hillary and Obama in one-sided debates in which the moderators fawned all over Obama, and Hillary got no time or respect. Part of the problem was perhaps that this was same concept opened SNL for two weeks in a row—not a great comedic choice, maybe, but not evidence of agenda, either.

Chase played Ford falling down a lot. Ackroyd portrayed Carter as a drug-savvy man of the people. Hartman did Reagan as a secret intellectual powerhouse behind his doddering public persona. Were any of those things absolutely true? No. They were parodies. How is Amy Poehler's Hillary any different? Satire is always an attack on someone. In this case, the attacks are on both Hillary and Obama; its just that the sympathetic Hillary is getting the press.

But even if all these charges are true—even if Saturday Night Live and Lorne Michaels and the cast as a whole have agreed to openly advocate for Hillary Clinton's bid for the highest American office…who cares? It's not like they'd even be the first entertainment figures to do so. Last election, The Daily Show wasn't secretive about its support of John Kerry. This year, Oprah certainly isn't bashful about promoting Barak Obama. And Chuck Norris did everything but kiss Mike Huckabee full on the mouth when he won Iowa. So it's not unprecedented—it's even expected, in some ways. But if anyone in the nation is seriously taking its political cues from any entertainment outlet, be that SNL or The Daily Show or Oprah, they might want to grow the hell up.

By all means America, watch Saturday Night Live. Enjoy the political satire. But for the sake of the elections in November and the world at large in the coming years, don't forget to read the newspaper Sunday morning. -- Teague Bohlen

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sean Cronin