Saturday Night Live (SNL) is a sketch comedy show hosted by a celebrity guest each week. It first aired in 1975 and was created by Lorne Michaels, who is the show’s executive producer to this day. The show has won 81 Emmy awards but has been nominated for nearly 300. SNL is known for its liberal attitude, consistently giving the viewer a progressive take on current events. In recent years, it has garnered widespread praise for its persistent satirical commentary on the Trump administration and other American political failures. The show’s repeated attacks have cemented their notoriety as critics of emerging ultra-conservative agendas. Regardless, there is an undeniable contradiction between the show’s content and its business choices.
This discrepancy is most obvious with the people who host the show. Typically, a celebrity host is promoting their new movie, TV show, or album in their appearance on the episode. In 2015, SNL had Donald Trump host the show while he was campaigning for the presidency. Weeks before he made his appearance on SNL, he had given a speech where he called for a travel ban and mosque surveillance. How can something outwardly progressive like SNL give a huge platform to such a contradictory figure? This embarrassing decision by SNL reeks of hypocrisy and insincerity, as one of its most famous recurring bits is Alec Baldwin’s Trump impression. It was later found producer Lorne Michaels and Donald Trump were friends, and Michaels even requested that the cast tone down their criticism of the GOP candidate.
SNL has also made fun of high profile billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk in a satirical way, critiquing the shameless inequity in capitalist society. Yet, on May 8, 2021, Elon Musk was invited to host the show. The seduction of an opportunity that would capture the audience’s attention outweighed SNL’s commitment to its own ethics. This disappointing business decision takes a page out of Donald Trump’s own playbook: all press is good press. The worship of profit above all else, as seen with SNL, is rooted in capitalism. Despite portraying an image of liberalism, the show still conforms to the capitalist scheme normalizing the sacrifice of morals in the face of an opportunity for profit. It is concerning that even ‘left-leaning’ programs aren’t loyal to their supposed beliefs. Nevertheless, SNL is just like other major platforms, such as Instagram and TikTok, where it thrives on the attention economy; viewers and engagement are the markers of success for the program.
At the end of the day, this still is the entertainment industry. Financial gain will continue to take precedence over politics in many areas. We should be careful not to offer too much praise to SNL and similar programs for “challenging the status quo” when their practices don’t really match what they preach. In our world where money and eyes reign supreme, SNL proves itself to be a proponent of capitalist practices rather than a defier of them.