Politics & Media
Oct 14, 2008, 08:36AM

"The Tina Fey Effect"

Palin's upcoming appearance on Saturday Night Live isn't going to make good politics. Hopefully it'll make good TV.

By now you’ve probably heard the rumors that Gov. Sarah Palin will spoof herself and look-alike funny-lady, Tina Fey, on an upcoming episode of Saturday Night Live (tentatively scheduled for October 25). It’s a pretty common move for politicians. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain and Mike Huckabee have all appeared on the program over the course of this campaign season. Al Gore hosted the show during his 2000 presidential run. Often the real-life politico will appear alongside his or her cast-member counterpart and awkward hilarity ensues.

Saturday Night Live, which has become increasingly hit-or-miss if not flat out bad in recent years, is always at its best when parodying political figures. And Tina Fey’s Palin is so fantastically funny and spot-on that I’m finally willing to watch the show live again, instead of just catching the best videos online Monday morning. Indeed her impersonation is so monumental that people are crediting Fey for the drop in McCain’s poll numbers.

According to the New York Post, the “Tina Fey effect,” as it has been dubbed, “is playing a large role in spoiling the McCain/Palin ticket.” Independent voters are apparently citing Fey’s impersonation as a reason for turning away from the Republican ticket. As UPI reports, Fey’s emphasis on Palin’s “folksy persona, her interview and debate performances, and her g-dropping, ‘gosh darnit’ speaking style...make Palin’s negative traits and image characteristics more top-of-mind for viewers, which can indirectly contribute to a more unfavorable rating.”

But as Dorothy James, government professor at Connecticut College noted, “Jokes and impersonations only leave lasting damage if they resonate with existing narratives the voter internalized.” Fey herself has credited Palin for making the characterization so easy, citing in particular the ease of impersonating the Governor’s voice. And while Fey’s no slouch in the writing department—see any good SNL sketch from 1997-2005 or her fabulous show 30 Rock—much of what is said in the Palin sketches is taken verbatim from the Governor’s interviews, debates and speeches. If Fey is digging the Republican ticket’s grave, then Gov. Palin is certainly handing her the shovel.

To assert that Saturday Night Live is responsible for the drop in McCain’s numbers is to give the struggling late night program far too much credit. I mean, really: Will Ferrell brilliantly portrayed George W. Bush in all his idiocy and imbecility for years and people still voted for that doofus twice. I hope the “Tina Fey effect” is simply the American people having fully learned their lesson.

  • I think instead of giving credit to Tina Fey and SNL for the drop in McCain's numbers, we should give credit where credit is due, to John McCain, for picking a VP candidate who is in no way prepared to be in one of the highest positions in the country. Sarah Palin is a rabble rouser who has a real knack for bringing out the worst in people, a politician found guilty of violating ethics codes while in office, a woman intent on undermining gains in women's rights, a governor whose energy plan is "drill baby drill"..... I could go on and on. What she is NOT is experienced, or ready to be a VP, or God Forbid, President. Americans are already gritting their teeth at her wildly erratic swings between folksy good ole girl and character assassin. It was a bad choice, a dishonest choice, and now, John McCain is paying for it.

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  • You're right about Tina Fey, in that a comedian doesn't move any significant number of voters. But I disagree about Palin--not she's unqualified, but that she isn't the reason McCain has tanked in the polls. It's 90 percent because of the financial panic, 10 percent because of McCain's ineptitude. With bank failures on the front page every day, on tv and the web, it preoccupies the country and quite naturally they want to evict the incumbent party. Had this current three-week panic occurred in, say, December, Obama would be leading, but not headed for a landslide.

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  • God, I hope the real Sarah Palin (and what do we REALLY know about the real Sarah Palin. I know she doesn't see America as I do) doesn't show up on SNL. The only time I can stand to look at her is when I know she's actually Tina Fey.

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