Monday, December 15, 2008

Your Black Life: SNL Bashed For Bigoted David Paterson Sketch

SNL’s Bigoted Paterson Sketch Falls Flat

By: Tolu Olorunda

Staff Writer –

In a highly distasteful Saturday Night Live sketch, depicting New York Gov David Paterson as a New Jersey-hating, wandering, drug-loving, blind buffoon, many found comedic value. As the studio audience applauded and cheered, even with the Paterson-impersonator equating blindness with “something awful,” the mock-fest increasingly drew deeper into the well of immorality. However, others were not so amused – including the Governor himself. In a Press-Conference Monday morning, David Paterson commented that, while he can “take a joke,” the SNL spoof came off more as a “third-grade depiction of [blind] people and the way they look.” Paterson was concerned that SNL misled its audience into thinking that “disability goes hand-in-hand with an inability to run a government or business.” Paterson noted that while he might not have any concerns to worry about, as someone who “runs the place I work in,” other visually-challenged individuals might be “discriminated against,” as a result of the SNL sketch.

In addition to Governor Paterson, the National Federation of the Blind also faults Saturday Night Live with pushing the envelope on satire. A spokesperson for the organization, Chris Danielsen, agreed with the Governor, noting: “The biggest problem faced by blind people is not blindness itself, but the stereotypes held by the general public.” Danielsen fears that SNL, through its infantile sketch, helped perpetuate the illegitimate conception that “blind people are incapable of the simplest tasks and are perpetually disoriented and befuddled.”

SNL’s immoral mockery notwithstanding, it was curious to see NBC degrade a man whose educational credentials, his visual impairment aside, trumps that of most executives at the NBC headquarters. With a BA from Columbia University, and a JD from Hofstra Law School, SNL’s depiction of Gov. Paterson as a helpless, incoherent clown should fall flat – if no racial undertones were embedded in the sketch. One couldn’t help but wonder if SNL would have, at the very least, entertained the thought of diminishing the once-deputy New York Governor, in such appalling style, to one who was “totally off guard and comically unprepared to take office” – following the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal – if he happened to be non-black.

Whether Paterson agrees with this assessment or not, he has encouraged the suits at SNL to attempt being “funny without being offensive.” Call me a cynic, but I’m not counting on an apology anytime soon.

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