The internet went wild after Saturday Night Live’s summer spinoff Weekend Update aired Tina Fey’s witty commentary on the Charlottesville riots, dishing all forms of (seemingly) well-meaning criticism. Her satirical coining of the new political hobby “sheetcaking,” in which one purchases a sheetcake (“with the American flag on it,” Fey added) and consumes it whole to soothe feelings of political hopelessness, was for some all-too-similar to the laissez-faire politics of the privileged: Let them eat cake, in a sense.
Of course, if you’re totally unfamiliar with Fey as an expert satirist (especially concerning contemporary politics) such criticisms might appear persuasive. But aside from the ongoing reality of misplaced righteousness on both the political left and right — a separate conversation — Fey’s spot captured something far more important, both for the country and this campus: You have a right to feel fatigued.
Months after Inauguration Day, this country has been embroiled in a constant and ongoing national crisis, one political experts and analysts on both sides of the aisle have often characterized not only as a dysfunctional Oval Office, but also an empty one. Crisis after crisis has appeared in quick succession, each disappearing not after any real resolution, but after a larger, louder one appeared to overshadow it. What Fey’s satire characterized so perfectly was a hardly recognized national reality: The feelings of powerlessness provoked by our existing political landscape cannot simply be blamed on a lack of desire to make change. The idea of screaming into the ether as a last-ditch effort after months of ineffective donating, marching and protesting is not altogether an unrelatable one. After all, when can we admit that many of us have already felt our shock turn to a tired endurance, a marathon of civic obligation and moral prerogative? As Fey said herself: “Yell it into the cake.”
At a time when we are (rightfully) concerned with the measures each citizen can take to ensure the preservation of a legalist, functional democracy, we are also concerned with how much of that we can do, and how much we can urge others to do: Calling, protesting, canvassing, donating, protesting, calling, donating, over and over — doggedly following the news, awake at night to remain informed and vigilant. As a people, we are tired. As a culture, we are tired. That, of course, is the nature of crisis. From impulsive threats of warfare to dangerously rookie international diplomacy to domestic strife and encouragement of racial violence and intragovernmental collusion, the cortisol levels of this country are high. The feeling Fey satirized was one that resounds with many of us: If we stop resisting, we will suffer more. When we continue to rally the power of the people to muster necessary public resistance, we still, to a degree based in and varied by privilege, also suffer. Fey’s bit was not meant to ask us to stop — rather, it urged the opposite. However, it also gave due credence to a longstanding national feeling that no matter how we might try, some national tragedies are beyond help, inescapable — the willingness of hundreds of fellow Americans to exercise their democratic right to free speech to advocate authoritarian Nazism, for instance.
From what it seems, Fey’s satire was not meant to advocate inaction, but to represent the feelings of acute powerlessness on behalf of a nation that can feel its opposition to hateful ideology, from neo-Nazis to reactionary neoconservatives, becoming increasingly meaningless. When it feels like there is nothing you can do, perhaps, sometimes, there isn’t — try anyway. And if you need to scream into a cake afterward, don’t blame yourself. Somewhat ironically, Hillary Clinton herself accurately predicted this phase in our national consciousness. The final line of her concession speech: “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.”
Lily Vaughan is a junior majoring in history and political science. Her column,“Playing Politics,” runs Fridays.