This week’s SNL finale with host and alumnus Fred Armisen was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise disappointing season. The episode addressed everything from race to politics to jokes the cast was afraid to say earlier and featured a Lonely Island digital short.
One of the best skits of the season hilariously critiqued the kind of pseudo-activism done by some groups of young, privileged people. The skit featured a group of high school students who put on a play called “America the Beautiful?” consisting of 82 acts. Each act was a short skit with a very blunt message like “Being queer is good” or “We’ve actually all been Asian this whole time.” At the end, it was revealed that this performance allowed the high school theatre troupe to get into NYU.
Within 10 seconds of the show starting, Larry David got up and left, realizing that the show was ridiculous and would be frustrating to watch. His response was one I have often wished I could have with seemingly radical but actually elitist groups of people I met in high school and college.
The first part of the skit rang especially true when the students walked through an imaginary checkout line and named items like iPhones and iPads but were unable to recognize flowers. The message was “How about less TECHnology and more NATUREnology?!” The hilariously empty assertion had no acknowledgment of how and why people benefit from using technology but rather needlessly cling to nostalgia for an earlier time. I have seen arguments like this one against technology too many times to count, from the very rich, upscale bookstore in my neighborhood that is above having Wi-Fi to the clubs on my campus that urge “disconnecting,” as if the majority of the world that needs cell phones is all idiotic.
I also liked the part where the actors attempted to challenge visual stereotypes. A character’s parent asks her who her date is, saying they are excited to meet him, and she tells her parent that, actually, she is a lesbian so her date is a woman. A chorus in the background says, “That’s good!” Then, the date assumes that the parent is a man and the parent informs her that she is actually a transgender woman, to which the chorus again says, “That’s good!” Finally, everyone in the skit says they have “actually been Asian this whole time!” Everyone says, “That’s good!” after this “revelation.”
While talking about homophobia, transphobia and racism is incredibly important, of course, this skit shows how many activists attempt to address these issues without doing them justice, merely saying the words queer or race without acknowledging that with these identities come immense struggle. There is not always a chorus to say “That’s good!” when one comes out, and it is certainly not possible to claim one has secretly been Asian as a way of winning some kind of oppression Olympics. Essentially, when activism is done by very privileged people who are unable or unwilling to acknowledge that perhaps their perspectives are limited, the work often becomes empty, as caricatured in this skit.
Ultimately, when the mother of one of the performers lamented that the after-party was at her house because last year everyone stayed up until 6 a.m. complimenting one another, she perfectly summed up how self-indulgent this particular breed of activism is.
What did you think of SNL‘s activism skit? Let us know in the comments below.
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