Nearly four minutes long, the skit is carefully filmed and edited, previously recorded and hosts a cast of criticisms as Conway hassles CNN correspondent Jake Tapper for airtime. The skit lays bare everything from Conway’s transparent willingness to pathologically lie (“You made up a massacre,” Bennett’s Tapper stammers) to her desperation for airtime (“Is this the tie you wore on the news today?” — Conway grabs his jacket lapels and licks Tapper’s tie — “It tastes like the news!”) to her total disregard for the conflicts of interest and her nearly inhuman ethos of dead eyes and shriveled grins. Conway even snaps herself back together after she falls out of Tapper’s apartment window. Gone are the days of the SNL that poked momentary fun with “A Day Off” or their Chicago musical parody, “Kellyanne Conway.” Make no mistake: President Donald Trump’s adviser was not just the fodder for another laugh. She was eviscerated, artfully and purposefully.
Coupled with SNL actress Melissa McCarthy’s own two masterclasses in Sean Spicer impressions and Alec Baldwin’s continued badgering of Trump via impression, it appears that the writers, producers and actors all have turned their focus away from lighthearted humor. Attention is now focused on an echoing, precise review of what is slowly shaping up to be the regime of an autocratic demagogue and his cast of goons. The show was not always destined to be only political commentary — it was social commentary first, political commentary second. Clearly, that changed during and after 2016. More than any other political comedy on air today, SNL is beginning to fulfill a very important and pertinent historical role in response to a regime deaf to criticism.
The French Revolution saw its own satirists and cartoonists illustrate the much-hated monarchy in twisted and sharp manners. It is characteristic, unfortunately, of satire to emerge front-and-center when traditional written criticism is suppressed. It is in this same fashion that the Trump administration has encouraged the mistrust of traditional, unbiased news, to the point where even CNN is largely questioned and The New York Times seems almost entirely dismissed.
Thus it comes as no surprise that, with Trump’s ties to Russia, comments about women and the “inner cities,” egregious Muslim ban, comments toward public officials and habit of hanging up on world leaders and now the Flynn scandal, that we are facing a regime that will almost certainly not respond to intelligent written criticism. The best denigration of autocratic regimes throughout history has always been image-based. Just as we watch the erosion of our democracy and democratic values, so too do we watch the natural emergence of responses that are only too telling about the political climate at hand. So we’ll enjoy SNL — at least until Trump bans it via Executive Tweet.
The Trump regime’s masterful ability to goad the American public into a complete distrust of the fourth estate — the one respectable, democratic institution consistently responsible for maintaining an accountable democracy — has resulted in the discrediting of the traditional centrist media. Said regime is a circus of buffoons that don’t care about the nation’s values, the purpose of their offices and certainly not about the intellectual think pieces and credible news accounts that, because of their 100-IQ minimum required for reading, are carved out only for those peskily intelligent “liberal elites.” But they do care about their portrayal on SNL — which Donald Trump makes a habit of bashing on Twitter at around 3 a.m.
And that’s the best part of SNL’s commentary, and what makes it so popular. SNL merely takes the administration as it is, and forces its eyes to meet the mirror. The impression is more telling than the thinkpiece. It forces viewers to think — to compare the two, the impression and the man, and ask themselves if the two are really that different.
And SNL knows it — if its commitment to female actors portraying all of Trump’s misogynist goons is anything to go by. McKinnon herself tackled professional racist Attorney General Jeff Sessions last Saturday with one very piercing stand-alone line in an over-the-top Southern warble: “So, we all know there’s two types of crime: Regular and black.”
When we study revolutions and regimes of the past, the most telling sources to describe how the people felt are always art. The impressions go on and on, each one sharper than the last: Trump, Spicer, Conway, Sessions, Vice President Mike Pence and First Lady Melania Trump. It is certainly an interesting time to be alive — that is, when a parody show is more transparent and telling than the regime it seeks to embody.
Lily Vaughan is a sophomore majoring in history and political science. Her column,“Playing Politics,” runs every Friday.