Saturday Night Live Has Important Influence

Josey MacDonald, reporter

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Saturday Night Live is a television show that puts on live comedy sketches, and it is highly anticipated by many Americans each week. SNL debuted in 1975 and has aired for more than 40 years. Their segments cover a variety of topics, including many that are political. The show’s platform, humor, and frequent featuring of celebrities have drawn in millions of viewers. Today, the show has 9 million Youtube subscribers, and it’s most watched video has 57 million views. It’s popularity has given it a large amount of influence. It’s effect on the public’s perceptions can be both good and bad, but SNL adds some needed humor to American politics. 

The actors and designers at SNL do a good job of creating convincing impersonations. In 2017, a national newspaper in the Dominican Republic actually mistook Alec Baldwin’s impersonation of Trump for the real man, printing a photo of Baldwin, captioned as “president of the United States.” This makes the show humorous, and creates a more lasting impression in people’s minds. 

Humor can be a powerful tool. SNL has the ability to judge politicians in ways that traditional news sources wouldn’t. It can also be more memorable. For some people, the SNL impersonations of politicians are more familiar than the actual people. An SNL parody of a debate most likely lasts longer in people’s minds than details from the actual event. 

A frequent criticism of SNL is that it is too partisan. A 2019 poll by the Hollywood Reporter found that 68% of respondents believe the show tries to make political statements in its sketches. A majority view it as more left-leaning than politically neutral, and 39% of respondents now see the show as “too political.” Chevy Chase, who played President Ford in 1976, told CNN in 2008 that even he thinks the show was partisan. “Obviously my leanings were democratic,” he said. He wanted Ford out of office, and realized that making fun of him could be a way to encourage that. “…I figured, look, we’re reaching millions of people every weekend, why not do it,” he said in the interview. The show has targeted both Democrats and Republicans, though, and there is no significant bias towards either party. 

SNL can have a particularly strong effect on people who don’t follow the news. Since it uses exaggeration and satire, it can create beliefs that are less well-rounded and comprehensive, but it can also make people more aware of important policies, and possibly cause them to research these policies further. Of course, it’s better if people learn about important issues through more serious and well-researched media sources, but it’s important for people to be aware of what’s going on, and SNL is one tool that can keep people generally informed. 

Despite the controversy over its effect, the role of SNL is important, because it can lighten up political issues that are serious and divisive. People don’t expect the same of SNL as they do of traditional news sources. It’s meant to be a break, a chance to relax, and an opportunity to laugh at some of the things that typically cause stress or frustration in our lives.