This past weekend, SNL’s Weekend Update featured an interview with New York Governor David Paterson during which, Fred Armisen portrayed the legally blind head of state in a less than flattering manner. I know, that’s hard to imagine for SNL. Usually, they’re so kind to the politicians whose every character flaw they mercilessly thrust into the spotlight. Two days later, Paterson’s office is none too happy about the skit which referred to the governor’s blindness in a mocking tone throughout the skit (again, SNL? mocking? really!?).
According to the New York Times, “Gov. David A. Paterson’s office criticized a skit on this weekend’s “Saturday Night Live” in which Mr. Paterson, who is legally blind, was portrayed as disoriented and buffoonlike.” Hold on . . . “disoriented and buffoonlike” . . . I think they’ve done that before . . .
Before we proceed any further, internets, there’s something you should know. Like Governor Paterson, I am legally blind. Unlike Governor Paterson, I am only legally blind in one eye and can see almost perfectly out of the other with the help of some very expensive corrective lenses. Yes, okay, his disability is far more severe and maybe it was a lot harder for him to go to school and maybe unfair accomodations for the visually impaired made him fail the bar exam BUT if I close my right eye I can only see large objects and colors–just like David Paterson. AND I’ve been wearing glasses since I was four and one half years old and you know what? Pre-schoolers are MEAN. So are kindergarteners. And first graders. And you know what the only thing is that mean 4-7 year olds love more than a peer in glasses? A peer with an EYE PATCH. That’s right, folks. I was forced to wear an eye patch. Everyday. To school. And maybe three years of humiliation is better than a lifetime with a lazy eye but it STILL SUCKED. Not only did it make me look silly but it made me walk into things and fall a lot and develop a life-long fear of “the ball.” Softball, football, kooshball–I don’t care what it is PLEASE DON’T THROW IT IN MY DIRECTION.
Anyway, back to Governor Paterson. He’s pretty blind and SNL made some jokes about this. Now, the dude’s office is fahhhh–reaking out. Which is strange on a few levels. The first being that the governor is a pretty funny guy and is known for making jokes about his vision problems (I believe that’s called a coping mechanism). The second being that if you watch the skit (and I’ve kindly allowed you to do so below) you may notice that the jokes are more about Governor Paterson’s cocaine use and hatred of New Jersey than his blindness. Including my favorite moment when Seth Meyers asks the Governor what he has against NJ and he replies “unfortunately, a southern border.” That’s funny. And so are most of the other jokes where SNL pokes fun at Paterson’s inexperience and scandal-ridden career. Yes, Fred Armisen does squint his right eye and let his left eye wander and yes, he does hold up the graph of unemployment rates upside down. Will Ferrell does the same thing when he portrays President Bush. For goodness sake–it’s satire, it’s overdone, live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!!
I think that the bigger problem here is that as the nation’s first legally blind governor, Paterson represents a group of individuals who are affected daily by prejudice and discrimination. At an event in New York City Sunday night Paterson spoke on the issue without directly addressing the SNL skit saying,
“I run the place that I work in so I don’t have to worry about being discriminated against, I think,” he said. “But the point is that a lot of people who don’t get promotions and don’t get opportunities and don’t even get work are disabled in our society.”
That’s very true and I don’t mean to be insensitive but those people aren’t limited to the visually or physically impaired. There are gays, blacks, latinos, women, etc. who are in the same position . . . and SNL makes fun of all of them. But, oddly enough, it’s done lovingly and it often progresses the national dialogue. That being said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cringe once or twice when watching this skit and I don’t think SNL should be protected by a “but they make fun of everyone” clause. I understand Governor Paterson’s frustrations (believe me), but at the end of the day he’s just another politician to be ridiculed on SNL. Ultimately, he wasn’t picked on because he was blind but because he wasn’t supposed to become the governor, because he used to do cocaine and cheat on his wife, because he hates New Jersey, because he’s there. Maybe years of being called “four eyes” and “Captain Hook” (which didn’t even make sense, I know) have made me impervious to vision-related taunts and I’m not being sensitive enough. So please, watch and decide for yourself. Is this more offensive than I’m giving it credit for?
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