Obama Played By a White? Papers Imply SNL Skit Was Immoral

The media’s tender loving care of and hypersensitivity in protection of Barack Obama is going to put a real crimp in attempts at Obama humor. The latest survey of late-night jokes from the Center for Media and Public Affairs found 18 Obama jokes, about a fourth of Hillary’s (68) and a tenth of President Bush’s (175). Then there’s Saturday Night Live. Chicago Tribune TV critic Maureen Ryan started whining early in the week that Obama should not be impersonated by a white comedian (Fred Armisen). She huffed: "Obama's candidacy gives us solid proof of the progress that African-Americans have made in this country. I guess SNL still has further to go on that front." A reader poll alongside these complaints asked if Obama should be impersonated by an African-American: 74 percent voted for "Doesn’t matter," and a cranky six percent said "no."

But the media elite seems to be in the minority. Friday’s Washington Post carried a story by Paul Farhi further ginning up the "Fauxbama" controversy. He not only carried Ryan’s demand for a black impersonator, but added the radical-left British newspaper The Guardian, which screamed minstrel show:

"Casting a black actor wouldn't have guaranteed the quality of the sketch, but it would have made the whole thing a lot less shoddy," Pool wrote. "Let's get one thing straight. The moment anyone starts reaching for 'blackface,' they are on extremely dodgy territory. Anyone who thinks it's either necessary or, for that matter, remotely funny to black-up needs to have the gauge on their moral compass reset."

What overreaction! How desperate is the Guardian to always locate American backwardness. Impersonating Obama isn’t "blackface" a la Al Jolson. Armisen’s makeup was just a few shades away from white. Farhi underlined how the Post is a liberal newspaper by having no one object to the wild left-wing rants in Obama’s defense – or even having the average man or woman on the street expressing the "doesn’t matter" majority. For that matter, Farhi could have cited the Trib’s poll, which has stayed at a solid three-quarters-don’t-see-the-outrage majority all week.

Holding up the other end of the debate is SNL boss Lorne Michaels saying he liked Armisen’s impression, and it’s going to stay through the rest of the campaign. Farhi also found the outraged black academic:

Todd Boyd, a professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California, says viewers might have a different reaction if the roles were reversed. What if, he says, SNL had cast a black woman to portray Hillary Clinton? "Do you think there's ever going to be a day when we start casting Queen Latifah to portray Princess Diana?" he asks. "We just don't have the same representations going in other direction."

Now imagine the utter clumsiness of an argument as militantly clueless as Boyd’s. Imagine a white expert upset at Eddie Murphy blackening Mister Rogers in  in Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood (which was hilarious). Or Eddie Murphy’s hilarious skit where he plays white person for a day by reading Hallmark cards. Wouldn’t that look humorless, and perhaps racist? Then turn the argument around on the outraged experts like Boyd.

Maureen Ryan objected in part because Armisen’s impression wasn’t very good. That’s the best objection to have, that the impersonator isn’t very good. (I didn’t think he was, but Dana Carvey's Bush stunk for quite a while.) But what lingers behind these objections is the mounting suspicion that the Obama-maniacs in the press corps just don’t want anyone mocking Obama at all.

CORRECTION: Earlier today, I tried remembering the CMPA joke counts, suggesting Obama was the subject of 17 jokes, but it was 18. My error was worse in suggesting he had only one third of Hillary's number of jokes, when her number was higher than I remembered.

Here's the weirdest part, now that I look again at the chart in the March 3 Newsweek. Tommy Thompson! -- the Wisconsin governor who had a few cups of coffee in the GOP presidential race in 2007 -- was the target of 19 jokes, one more than Obama. (Kucinich had 21.) What gives?

(HTs to Ken Shepherd, Rich Noyes.)

Campaigns & Elections 2008 Presidential NBC Washington Post Chicago Tribune Humor Paul Farhi
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