Satire is a pointed weapon in the age of Donald Trump video


Melissa McCarthy's impression of press secretary Sean Spicer looks set to become a regular feature on Saturday Night Live.

COMMENT: It wasn't the expert skewering of President Donald Trump's bizarre obsession with crowd sizes and public adoration that reportedly most bothered the President about Melissa McCarthy's impression of Sean Spicer on Saturday.

McCarthy, one of the biggest movie stars around, dropped into the weekly sketch show Saturday Night Live to do a full-bodied, merciless impression of the President's press secretary.

She barked from the podium at a gaggle of reporters about a recent Trump audience: "Everyone was smiling, everyone was happy, the men all had erections and every single one of the women was ovulating left and right!

Melissa McCarthy nails Sean Spicer

Melissa McCarthy nails Sean Spicer

"Those are the facts forever!"

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White House spokesman Sean Spicer holds a press briefing.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer holds a press briefing.

What irked the President more than the content of this delicious sketch was that his supposedly tough-guy spokesman was being portrayed by a woman. "Trump doesn't like his people to look weak," a top Trump donor told Politico. Between this role and her part in the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters, it seems McCarthy has done more to wound fragile chauvinist egos in the last 12 months than perhaps anyone else.

It's increasingly clear that political satire - and Saturday Night Live in particular - has an outsized power in the era of Trump. There are a couple of reasons for this.

One, is that Trump is so uniquely obsessed with his public image that being undermined and mocked on television by famous people - or having his staff undermined - has the power to injure him in ways it couldn't with other presidents.

Alec Baldwin recreating Trump's brutal phone call with Malcolm Turnbull.

Alec Baldwin recreating Trump's brutal phone call with Malcolm Turnbull.

Waiting for Sunday morning tweets slamming SNL has become a ritual since Alec Baldwin started impersonating Trump in the election campaign. "Not funny, cast is terrible, always a total hit job," he wrote four days from his inauguration.

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Trump wasn't always so sensitive about the show, even controversially making a guest appearance in 2015.

Baldwin is a "big star", as Trump would put it, and for all his protests about the Democrats reliance on star power, it's obvious he would love just a bit more of his own.

Rosie O'Donnell has put her hand up to hand up to play Steve Bannon.

Rosie O'Donnell has put her hand up to hand up to play Steve Bannon.

The unflattering portrayal conjured by this celebrity rankled Trump like none other before him. As Willa Paskin pointed out in Slate, other impressionists portrayed the real estate mogul as rich, selfish and lecherous - only highlighting the things "Trump loves about himself". Baldwin zeroed in on his mendacity and ugliness - he's not a loveable weirdo in this portrayal, he's a malevolent, bigoted overgrown-toddler. It must also torment Trump, who holds television ratings as sacrosanct, to know SNL's ratings have surged.

I always found Kate McKinnon's portrayal of Hillary Clinton quietly searing too - an aloof and power-hungry pantsuit who was unable to connect with other humans. But if this portrayal hurt or offended Clinton, she never let it show. Instead, she became fairly self-reflexive about some aspects of this conception throughout the campaign.

Trump can't let it go. And the knowledge that an incisive portrayal of one of his men by a woman bruised him will only serve as an invite for more of the same.

What would Steve Bannon say if Rosie O'Donnell impersonated him?

What would Steve Bannon say if Rosie O'Donnell impersonated him?

His thin-skin was already on show, now comedians know his sexism can be turned back on him too. Already Rosie O'Donnell - absurdly, Trump's apparent nemesis - has put her hand up to play his alt-right svengali Steve Bannon. Personally, I'm hanging out for Ellen Degeneres, gay rights pioneer, to play Mike Pence.

Satire also feels particularly important now because in these extraordinary times, comedy feels increasingly like the best language to reflect what is going on.

Last week Spicer engaged in a twisted semantic battle with reporters over whether the executive order banning Syrian refugees for an indefinite period, and temporarily banning immigration and travel by people from seven Muslim majority countries, could be referred to as a "ban". It was silly, troublingly Orwellian, and McCarthy nailed it with only a slight exaggeration of the real thing.

"The travel ban is not a ban which makes it not a ban," she raged with all the fury of a two-year-old refusing to nap.

Most politicians could do with being taken down a peg by a good satirist - it's a shame Australia doesn't have its own SNL-style show, I would love Gina Riley or Magda Szubanski to don drag to take on Cory Bernardi - but the high farce of this White House make it more deserving than most.

So just how much power does satire have right now? Well, not nearly so much as Trump, of course.

But it has the potential to be more than simply an irritant.

Mel Brooks, the legendary Jewish director who had Nazis hoofing and high-kicking in Springtime for Hitler, the madcap musical in The Producers, believed in the political power of comedy as a tool of resistance, and it was one he used to take on anti-Semitism and Adolf Hitler (albeit posthumously).

"I just thought the only weapon I've really got is comedy," Brooks once said.

"And if I can make this guy [Hitler] ludicrous, if I can make you laugh at him, then it's a victory of sorts.

"You can't get on a soapbox with these orators, because they're very good at convincing the masses that they're right. But if you can make them look ridiculous, you can win over the people."

And if nothing else, it's good to laugh at a time when the politics can make you feel like the joke's on us.

 - Sydney Morning Herald


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