Influence of TV SNL Satire on Political Identity – Sarah Palin 2008

I am sure by now you’ve seen one of the Saturday Night Live (SNL) spoofs of Sarah Palin. If you haven’t, it’s definitely worth a good laugh. (And you can find some of the videos below on this post). Tina Fey’s impersonation is excellent and by all means looks just like Sarah Palin. SNL has been part of the political landscape imitating politicians since 1975. This year has been no different as millions of people have tuned in to watch Tina Fey impersonate Sarah Palin, the Republican Vice Presidential Candidate. SNL ratings have skyrocketed to the highest in seven years and the sketches have been seen all over the internet as well as replayed in all the major news stations.

Knowing Palin as Painted by Tina Fey
However, these sketches have never had such an impact on a candidate’s image. Sarah Palin came in as someone virtually unknown, so unfortunately most people had a blank slate when it came to her image. Very few people even bothered to watch her now famous interview with Katie Couric. However after the mocking sketch went live on SNL, the interview has now become infamous and has permanently painted Sarah Palin’s image. Though she had much more success in the next few interviews including handling herself well in the Vice Presidential Debate, the lasting impression of that first interview sketch continues to dominate her image even now. I would dare say many have not even seen these real interviews or debates at all. Many people who finally did tune into watch Palin live, their view and understanding of who she is and what she is like, has already been influenced by the sketch. It’s what they would call in psychology “confirmation bias”. This is where every little thing she does that is similar to what we believe to be true about her, continues to confirm our initial impressions which in this case is not very favorable. It is understandable if people form an opinion of her after listening or watching her live, but I still run into a lot of people who simply associate negative impressions because of what they have seen in the sketches without ever seeing her live. It is truly unfortunate for Palin as SNL has formed her image before she herself was able to do so in the eyes of the general public.

Sarah Palin commented “I love her (Fey), she’s a hoot and she’s so talented.” She later added that “It would be fun to meet her, imitate her and keep on giving her new material”. SNL did follow up and Palin made an appearance on SNL recently, but that is beside the point.

The point I wanted to bring up is that these sketches has had a tremendous impact on Palin’s image and there is a huge segment of the population that only knows Palin as Tina Fey. The power of media has never been so stark.

“I think it’s a tremendous help to the Democrats,” said John Leo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and popular culture expert. “It doesn’t create a feeling about Palin. But I think it solidifies or magnifies what’s in people’s minds. It’s probably fairer to say people who were leaning or already going to vote democratic just solidified their vote.”

With the growing use of the Internet, Tina Fey’s interpretations will probably impact this election tremendously. Videos of these sketches online have already had 10+ million views. The last time an comedic impression even came close to matching the impact it is having today is Chevy Chase’s impression of bumbling Presidential Gerald Ford in 1976. Many have claimed this comedic caricature could have cost him the election.

Below are some of the sketches. Though the original sketch with “HIlary Clinton” was probably the funniest, I found some of the comments made there a bit crude so I did not include it in this list.

If you have any opinions on this matter or just want to comment on the sketches, please comment below!

Vice Presidential Debate – Sarah Palin & Joe Biden

Sarah Palin Cameos on SNL

CNN Criticizing SNL Going too Far

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  1. It has certainly influenced people’s opinion of her. I even have trouble identifying the real from the imitated Palin – it helps when they talk as the imitation is over the top.
    These have been good for a laugh, and are every time I watch them. I think it a sad truth that satirical information is where many form their opinions. Personally, I’m not a fan of the McCain / Palin ticket, but nonetheless want people to make a good decision based on fact.

  2. That article raises an interesting question : do you think such sketches or simply jokes can affect the result of a political election ?

    My guess is, it can, if shared widely accross social medias.

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