The 2016 presidential race may have the most intriguing candidates that Americans have ever seen. The controversial Donald Trump, former neurosurgeon Ben Carson and another Bush are all running to be the next leader of this country. As if that were not intriguing enough, there are also two women running for president: Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina.
The campaign took an interesting turn on Oct. 3, during NBC’s 41st season opener of “Saturday Night Live” (SNL), when comedy sketches poked fun at Trump and Clinton. However, it was Clinton’s skit that surprised many, as the real Hillary Clinton made a cameo appearance as a bartender named Val.
Actress Kate McKinnon played the presidential hopeful who seemingly got a little tipsy at a bar. When she asked the bartender for another drink, the bartender (Clinton) turned around and started up a conversation regarding political issues. The hilarious sketch seemed to portray Clinton as a normal person who just happened to be running for president, while the real Clinton cracked some jokes, sang along with McKinnon and was told by the actress that she was “easy to talk to.”
The skit showed Clinton’s lighter side, but no one should underestimate Clinton or Fiorina in this race. Both women could be considered fighters, and they seem more than capable of taking on a tough challenge.
“When it comes to politics, I’m all for a woman as the president,” Carlos Castro said, a sophomore political science major. “My only concern is that we don’t base our votes on gender, because a biased vote should not be a valid vote. We need someone to step up and bring a real change to this country.”
The real question that remains is: What could Clinton’s appearance in this skit do for her, and why did she decide to do it?
Perhaps it was to show people that she can be personable. Perhaps it was to redirect people away from the email controversy that she faced this year. Perhaps it was to gain votes and support from a younger audience.
“[Clinton] being on SNL… was her trying to get her voice heard and show people that she is approachable,” senior political science major Elizabeth Chavez said. “She wants people to see that she is an ordinary woman in today’s society who wants to be the first female president. At the same time, a presidential candidate going on SNL isn’t always the best thing to do, since she is trying to appeal to a younger audience. If younger people decide to vote for her, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to vote for the right reasons, and that can essentially degrade the [presidential] institution.”
It should be noted that Clinton also appeared in an SNL skit during the 2008 presidential election campaign, but as herself. If Clinton decided to take part in this new SNL skit for publicity and exposure to a younger generation, then it could help her. However, it isn’t always a wise decision for a politician to appear in an SNL skit—just ask Sarah Palin.
In 2008, SNL did multiple skits of Palin, who was running for vice president, played by actress Tina Fey. To possibly raise her status with a younger audience, Palin decided to appear in an SNL skit with actress Amy Poehler. However, Palin’s skits were extremely different compared to Clinton’s. The skits of Palin portrayed the politician as goofy, uninformed and incompetent. Many believe that these skits harmed Palin and her Republican running partner, John McCain, in the 2008 presidential race.
East Carolina University political scientists Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan Morris conducted a nationwide survey of college students from the 2008 campaign. This survey revealed that Palin’s approval ratings took a serious blow among students who had seen the impersonation compared to those who hadn’t. Thus, the “Fey Effect”—as it has been dubbed—was born.
The biggest difference between the Palin and Clinton skits is how the politicians were portrayed. The “Fey Effect” negatively impacted Palin, but Clinton may have benefited from SNL, since her character was more understanding and relatable to the American people. If Clinton decides to appear in more SNL skits or does something similar to express her personality and character, it could easily earn her more votes.
“I think it was a billing to make her appear more human and jovial because she has a ‘stiffness’ about her, and not every candidate will have that natural charisma,'” political science professor Steven Childs said. “Her poll has been taking some major dips lately, and I think her campaign staff said, ‘We need some sort of move to try and arrest that notion [in order to showcase her personality].'”
In addition, one must also wonder how much media bias played a role in the Palin and Clinton skits, especially since NBC is a more liberal/Democratic station.
CNN’s political commentator, Errol Louis, wrote an article regarding Clinton’s appearance on SNL. He believes there is a huge intentional difference between the Palin and Clinton skits.
“Had the SNL writers subjected Clinton to anything resembling the Palin treatment, she probably would have nixed the whole package,” Louis said. “This way, Clinton got a chance to slowly change the narrative and get the attention of key Democratic constituencies a week before the first Democratic presidential debate.”
Every politician is affected by how he or she is portrayed by different forms of media, especially comedy. The reason why comedy is so important is because it attracts a younger audience and has greatly impacted our pop culture. SNL is not the only show that has been known to mix politics and comedy. For years, shows such as “Real Time with Bill Maher,” “The Colbert Report,” “The Daily Show,” “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” and “South Park” have successfully blended politics with comedy. These satirical shows use their ability and power to influence young minds within the complicated world of government and politics.
Clearly, shows like SNL and other late-night comedies have the ability and power to influence many voters within a presidential race. However, it is important to understand that these shows will be biased, and that many issues will be based off of the producers’ opinions.
I, for one, believe that mixing politics with popular culture can be a good thing. However, it is important that we form our own opinions, rather than letting comedians or other pop culture influences decide them for us.