Did NBC's Comedy Institution Cross The Line From Satire to Scorn?
Advocates for the blind piled on NBC and "Saturday Night Live" , seeing red about a sketch that mocked New York State Gov. David Paterson's handicap. Four separate national organizations called for "30 Rock" suits and "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels to apologize for a Fred Armisen "Weekend Update" bit.
*Update: 'SNL' Does It Again
As if the public outcry wasn't enough, NBC's 'comedy' show "Saturday Night Live" again lampooned New York State's legally blind Governor David Paterson on Saturday, January 31, and showed him aimlessly rolling around the 'Weekend Update' set, and mocking his inability to see. Making a public figure the target of satire based on the performance of their public duties is one thing, but making a joke out of his disability is just pathetic and shameful. And perhaps because the the public outrage, SNL decided to milk it - after all, even negative publicity is still publicity.
But Cleveland Plain Dealer Op Ed Columnist Connie Shultz put it best when she quoted what New York Times ethics columnist Randy Cohen told her in a 2002 interview, in which he described the philosophy of his former boss, David Letterman:
"[W]e are free to attack what is volitional, but not
those things over which a person has no control."
You can read the full op-ed piece here.
From the New York Post:
Registered nurse Tara Cortes, president and CEO of Lighthouse International, said the show should take a minute to apologize on air. "We applaud the courage it takes every day for people who are blind and visually impaired to live productively and effectively," said Cortes, who runs that group that advocates for the blind and vision health issues. "Saturday Night Live" has taken a cheap shot at that courage. They should issue an on-air apology."
In the "Weekend Update" sketch, Armisen's Paterson was disoriented, used an upside-down chart and wandered aimlessly in front of a camera. Gov. Paterson said in Albany that he can take a joke - but accused "SNL" of going too far in mocking blind people.
Paterson is legally blind. The governor has aides help him with some tasks, but he generally moves about a room with command of his surroundings. "The perception that disability equals an inability to be responsible is totally wrong," Paterson said.
"Now the number of people in America that have disabilities that are working is only 37 percent, so when you have an unemployment rate that is 10 times the national average it's very noteworthy."
Carl Augusto, president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind, said "SNL" is better than stock blind jokes.Augusto was particularly peeved that "SNL" took a shot at Paterson, who is known for his self-effacing humor.
"It is difficult to understand why 'SNL,' a show known for its clever, political satire, would take cheap shots at people with disabilities instead of coming up with better material - especially when mimicking a politician known for his sense of humor," Augusto said.
Executive Producer Lorne Michaels and "SNL" staffers, through an NBC spokesman, refused to comment on the avalanche of criticism.
Advocates for the blind fear employers will be hesitant to hire the visually impaired because of the "SNL" mockery.
"Convincing employers to give disabled people jobs is no joke especially in this economy," said Joseph McNulty, executive director of the Helen Keller National Center.
Another advocate for the blind asked "SNL" staffers to think of newly blinded servicemen and women wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Attacking [Gov. Paterson] because he is blind is an attack on all blind Americans, blind children, blind adults, blind seniors, and newly-blinded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan," said Chris Danielsen, spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind.
UPDATE: FAKE 'SNL' APOLOGY
A statement sent to Defamer purports to offer an apology from Lorne
Michaels, who regrets equating NY governor David Paterson's blindness
to garden-variety retardation last week on SNL. But wait, says NBC: He's not sorry!