Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Book Is Better than the Movie

There is a classic Saturday Night Live sketch from the 80s called “Ronald Reagan Mastermind”. It portrays Reagan as a hyperactive, genius, micromanaging executive behind the scenes, tactically playing the role of the doddering, avuncular figurehead president in front of the cameras. 

It’s funny in concept because it plays directly against the stereotype of Reagan in the imagination of the media and much of the public. (From the theory of humor by Thomas Veatch, laughs derive from "a subjective state of apparent emotional absurdity, where the perceived situation is seen as normal, and where, simultaneously, some affective commitment of the perceiver to the way something in the situation ought to be is violated.").

It’s funny in practice because of the performance of Phil Hartman, and a supporting cast including Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz, and a cameo appearance by Dennis Miller.

Needless to say, SNL is incapable of reprising this sketch for the modern day. They don’t have the talent of the cast mentioned above. And they don’t have the ability to see the President as a true target of ridicule. To them, he is, in reality, a genius, micromanaging executive. Therefore, their attempts at Presidential humor are usually directed at the President’s opponents or at the public which doesn’t sufficiently appreciate him. This will resonate with some of the American public, but only a minority, more partisan bloc. The lack of a shared stereotype between SNL (and establishment media in general) and the public means they will not achieve the mass appeal, or be considered classically funny, in the same way their predecessors could.

What would it look like if someone tried to parody Obama in the same way SNL did with Reagan? I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job than Gavin McInnes at Taki’s Magazine, with his article “The Real White House”.  It’s the tale of what might have transpired behind the scenes as the Bowe Bergdahl-terrorist prisoner swap transpired. It imagines the President as a tough, dedicated, experienced, results-oriented leader with his country’s best interests always foremost on his mind. Excerpt below, but I encourage you to read the whole thing and prepare for a state of emotional absurdity where the perceived situation is seen as normal, while some affective commitment by you to the way something in the situation ought to be is violated.

“Sir, with all due respect,” Susan Rice boldly states, “you did say no soldier left behind.” 
Obama closes his eyes with regret. Why did he appoint this publicist to such a high office? “What was I thinking?” he says to himself. Then he gives her a look that almost sets her weave on fire. 
She stares back at him, defenseless. She decides to double down. “It’s not up to us to decide which soldier lives or dies. This isn’t a death panel.” 
The president looks pensively out the window. He would love to strangle her because she talks like the enemy, but he’s not on the battlefield anymore. He’s in the highest office in the land and he has to use his mind, not his immense physical strength and seemingly limitless tactical training. 
“Susan” he says calmly, “Every life lost is the result of myriad complex calculations. Of course I wanted to negotiate this man’s release. So did most Republicans. The fact that we are at the point where we may have to give five prisoners for one deserter is a bad calculation. It’s also a very dangerous one. This will be a net loss for American lives.” The president’s voice has been getting incrementally louder and Rice is visibly shaken. “When the war is over—and believe me, this war will end—we will negotiate the release of all our prisoners. However, the war is NOT over. And do you know what war is, ambassador?” 
 The president inhales before bellowing, “WAR IS A F***ING DEATH PANEL!” 
 Susan Rice bursts into tears and runs out of the Oval Office sobbing. She won’t be back. Barack Obama is instantly composed and continues the discussion with his advisors. “If,” he says, with one finger in the air, “If we are beyond the point of no return and we must give five prisoners for this, this, ass-clown, let’s do it with as little fanfare as possible. I want the exchange to go down under the wire and I don’t want to hear about it ever again. When Bowe—” The president pauses to shake his head. “Who spells Beau b-o-w-e anyhow?” he asks. 
Two officers dare to smile. Obama wipes the grins off their faces with one glance. “When this f***ing spud returns home, I want a full investigation. If he deserted his post, that’s treason and the punishment for treason in this country is the death penalty. We lost what, five men tracking this guy?” he asks. 
“More like eight, sir,” an officer replies. 
The president clenches his fist and begins to walk out. His dinner might still be warm and he needs another drink. “Oh,” he says, turning back after opening the door, “Make sure the prisoners we released are taken care of. I don’t want to hear about it either.” He smiles before adding, “Old school,” and walks out of the room.