'TAPP into Democracy' event series a big hit
A political science professor encourages students to watch SNL.
Sep. 20, 2012
Tigers Against Partisan Politics doesn’t want students to tune out of the 2012 presidential election. They want you to watch "Saturday Night Live."
MU political science professor Bill Horner said watching the show was a “gateway drug” leading to more political education at the nonpartisan political group’s TAPP into Democracy event series Wednesday. The Honors College and Golden Key Honour Society helped put on the lecture.
According to a 2008 Pew Research Center report, voters who watched entertainment news were more knowledgeable about the election than those who did not.
Shelby Mann is one of those avid viewers. The freshman journalism major said she genuinely likes learning about politics and understanding the other side’s viewpoints, if only to disprove them. Also, like many of the attendees, she loves SNL.
“If I could hug Tina Fey, I would,” Mann said. “But that’d be weird, because I’m not her friend.”
Fey’s parody of Sarah Palin was also a key reason for Horner’s research interest in the longtime-running show. It reminded the author of his upcoming book on SNL during the 1976 election, the first one to be spoofed by the comedy show. He was 8 years old at the time.
“It was a journey of discovery going downstairs to watch SNL,” Horner said.
Horner said President Gerald Ford is seen today as clumsy largely due to Chevy Chase’s on-screen antics, potentially hurting his re-election chances. Yet he dismissed claims about the show’s influence in 2008.
“It would be hard to make an argument that SNL had an effect on the outcome of the 2008 election,” Horner said.
Critics of SNL have alleged that in fact the show was biased toward then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, although SNL writer Jim Downey’s right-leaning sketches provide balance, Horner said.
“If we were partisan, we’d lose all our power and inﬂuence,” the show’s producer Lorne Michaels said to Horner.
Many viewers agree. Bia Annunziata is a freshman in Professor Horner’s class, where they often watch YouTube videos illustrating the effect of entertainment news shows.
“SNL makes Romney look like an idiot and Obama an over-conﬁdent asshole,” Annunziata said.
TAPP’s mission, in this way, is similar to Horner’s; they both want to entertain and educate.
“I love being able to reach out to students,” TAPP Vice President Camille Hosman said. “And SNL’s nonpartisan like us too.”
Hosman said she's interested in being non-partisan because it's difficult to discuss politics when you just talk about labels--Democrat or Republican, LIberal or Conservative--instead of facts.
“Everyone can vote, everyone can learn,” she said.