Just when you think identity politics can’t parody itself any better (or worse), along comes a new set of race-mongers with an even more absurd set of grievances.
When Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president last year, some observers questioned whether the senator from Illinois was “black enough” to embody the hopes and aspirations of African Americans.
Now a variation on that theme has emerged: Is Fred Armisen, who is not African American, “black enough” to embody Obama on “Saturday Night Live”?
Debate over that question has been pinging around the Internet since Armisen, a veteran cast member, donned darker makeup to portray the Democratic candidate for the first time Saturday. Armisen played Obama opposite Amy Poehler’s Hillary Clinton in a sketch satirizing the supposedly cushy treatment his candidacy has received from the media.
“SNL” impresario Lorne Michaels said yesterday by phone that he thought the sketch played so well that the show intends to air another Obama/Clinton debate spoof tomorrow night, with Armisen and Poehler reprising their characters.
The p.c. police worked itself up into a lather:
Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune put the question bluntly: “Call me crazy, but shouldn’t ‘Saturday Night Live’s’ fictional Sen. Barack Obama be played by an African-American?” Ryan went on to conclude: “I find ‘SNL’s’ choice inexplicable. 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.”
Hannah Pool, a writer for the Guardian newspaper in Great Britain, suggested the whole setup had “minstrel” overtones.
“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.”
Never mind that both Obama and the “Fauxbama” actor, Armisen, are multi-racial.
Nobody much cared about Armisen’s racial background (he is of white and Asian heritage) when he played Prince and Steve Jobs during seasons past of the NBC show. Nor did it seem to matter that “SNL’s” Darrell Hammond, who is white, has impersonated the Rev. Jesse Jackson for years. Or that decades ago on “SNL,” Billy Crystal played Sammy Davis Jr.
Commenter Vizzini turns the tables:
“Would a black SNL actor be white enough to play Obama?”
The same kind of racial identity frenzy broke out over the casting of English actor Jonathan Pryce as the Eurasian pimp in “Miss Saigon.” Remember?
Actors’ Equity denied permission yesterday for the English actor Jonathan Pryce to appear on Broadway next spring in the role of the Eurasian pimp that he created in the hit London musical ”Miss Saigon.”
The action by the American actors’ union came in the face of a threat by Cameron Mackintosh, the show’s producer, to cancel the Broadway engagement of ”Miss Saigon” should Mr. Pryce be denied permission to re-create the role. The musical about an American G.I. and his Vietnamese lover in Saigon in 1975 was scheduled to open in March 1991 and has an advance sale of $24 million, the largest in Broadway history.
”After a long and emotional debate, the Council has decided it cannot appear to condone the casting of a Caucasian actor in the role of a Eurasian,” the actors’ union said in a statement that was read at news conference at its headquarters by Alan Eisenberg, the union’s executive secretary.
”The casting of a Caucasian actor made up to appear Asian is an affront to the Asian community,” Mr. Eisenberg continued. ”The casting choice is especially disturbing when the casting of an Asian actor, in this role, would be an important and significant opportunity to break the usual pattern of casting Asians in minor roles.”
That was 18 years ago. How pathetic to see the creative arts reduced to another self-pitying vehicle for the most unimaginative dullards of the racial/ethnic bean-counting mob. How little has changed.
Here’s the SNL vid of Fauxbama: