Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fred Armisen's Obama vs. Dana Carvey's George Bush

Jason Zinoman offered an interesting critique of presidential caricatures on SNL in yesterday's NYTimes. According to Zinoman, Armisen has less to offer in his portrayal of Obama than Carvey did with Bush I or even Will Ferrell with Bush II. One reason for the critique of Armisen's portrayal -- Obama gives comedians less to "work with" than his predecessors. He just doesn't say that many funny things or have that many compelling gestures.

Despite Armisen's less than hilarious version of Obama, Saturday Night Live still presents some very important political satire and is poised to play a pivotal role in the 2012 election. In 2008, Tina Fey's version of Sarah Palin grabbed more attention (especially virally) than the actual Vice Presidential debate.

Interestingly, Zinoman mentions the importance of Saturday Night Live as a venue for politicians -- making appearances in an attempt to charm voters with some self-ridicule or self-directed humor. My own research, forthcoming in Mass Communication & Society takes a look at the impact of self-directed vs. other-directed hostile humor on political attitudes. The results of the study suggest that voters cool towards politicians after viewing other-directed hostile humor (presented by Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and the like). At the same time, the study suggests that self-directed humor may hold some promise for politicians looking to improve their image and engage with a large segment of the voting public.

So look for more Armisen impersonations and perhaps even Obama himself (or even Romney) as we get closer to November 2012.

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