Culture Schlock – By Darren Garnick
Originally published: November 13, 2003
To be kind, Saturday Night Live stopped being worth the sleep deprivation about a decade ago – when Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman and Mike Myers abandoned the show. Oh, there have been bright moments since, such as Will Ferrell and Darrell Hammond’s hilarious mockery of the George Bush-Al Gore debates. But if SNL mojo were charted like the stock market, this month would be 1929.
Just how desperate is NBC to tap the Rev. Al Sharpton, esteemed longshot presidential candidate, to juice up its SNL ratings for the Dec. 6 show? Why would executive producer Lorne Michaels rave about Sharpton’s raw comedic talent to The New York Times, calling his debate performance “refreshing” and “theatrical?”
Well, let’s take a look at Sharpton’s credentials for hosting America’s premier satirical TV program:
— He’s inflamed racial tensions over a false rape hoax.
— He’s inflamed racial tensions over a car accident.
— He’s inflamed racial tensions over a landlord-tenant dispute.
— He can speak in rhyme.
“Lorne and I talked and he assured me that it was going to be apolitical, though there may be some digs at me.” Sharpton told The New York Times. “I said, ‘Fine.'”
Ah yes, “Al Sharpton” and “apolitical” go together like “David Duke” and “multicultural.” The apolitical scenarios we could see on Dec. 6 offer wondrous possibilities. Imagine Rev. Al and Drew Carey sharing an apartment together on the Upper East Side, the new “Odd Couple.” Or how about Rev. Al raising an infant with the parenting help of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell (“Three Reverends and a Baby”)?
Sticking with more familiar SNL turf, Steve Martin could pair with Al for a “Wild and Crazy Guy” routine. The Reverend could be making copies at the Xerox machine with Rob Schneider. Or “GAP girls” David Spade and Adam Sandler could get Rev. Al to ditch his suit for a nice pair of khakis.
The Philadelphia Inquirer is heralding the choice of the “funnyman preacher,” headlining a recent entertainment column, “Sharpton to turn up wit on SNL.” The newspaper leads off with Sharpton, then eases into breaking news about adult film star Jenna Jameson hiring the same management company as Jennifer Garner, hoping the move will lead to more non-porn gigs. Following that, a progress report on the pregnancy of Martie Maguire, the fiddle player in the Dixie Chicks.
But back to Sharpton’s history, before he was deemed as important as Jenna Jameson and the Dixie Chicks.
In 1987, a 15-year-old African-American girl named Tawana Brawley is found in upstate New York with torn clothing and covered in dog feces. She accuses six white law enforcement officials of gang raping her and writing racial slurs on her body and shoes. A grand jury later determines that the rape allegations are a hoax and the slurs “self-inflicted.” Sharpton acts as Brawley’s megaphone, smearing the names of the falsely accused in every media outlet in America.
In 1991, a seven-year-old African-American boy is killed in a car accident in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood. The driver is a Hasidic Jew in a motorcade for the Lubavitcher Rebbe. After the funeral, Sharpton organizes a protest march through the Jewish neighborhood. A yeshiva student visiting from Australia is murdered by a mob chanting “Kill the Jews!”
In 1995, Sharpton smells a photo-op at Freddy’s Fashion Mart on Harlem’s 125th Street, across from the famous Apollo Theater. Freddy’s white Jewish landlord wants to raise the rent on a black subtenant. Sharpton’s National Action Network, sometimes led by Sharpton himself, stages daily protests outside the store. Threats to burn Freddy’s to the ground are peppered with talk of “bloodsucking Jews” and “Jew bastards.”
In the midst of the weeks-long conflict, one of Sharpton’s disciples fires a gun into the store and sets it ablaze. He kills seven – five Hispanics, one Guyanese and one African-American – before shooting himself.
Tawana Brawley. Crown Heights. Freddy’s Fashion Mart. These are old recycled stories. Boring retreads. Obviously the mainstream media thinks so. No reporter yet has had the guts to bring up any of Sharpton’s greatest hits at the debates. Instead, they sheepishly listen to Rev. Al lecture Howard Dean on the pitfalls of arrogance. Coming up next: Pete Rose’s lecture on the evils of gambling.
Dean, as you recall, has been pummeled from all directions for his asinine cocktail party remark that he wants to be the presidential candidate “for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.” He likely was courting the “White Trash” demographic, but was smart enough to avoid that phrase. Sharpton, addressing the critical MTV “Rock The Vote” forum, declared that Dean is not a bigot, but is too arrogant to know when he misspeaks.
Sharpton is right about one thing. The Confederate flag is a racist symbol. Sure, there are millions of “Dukes of Hazzard” fans who don’t have a racist bit of hemoglobin in their veins. They watched the show to see Daisy Duke’s cutoff jeans and to laugh at police car crashes. But regardless of the Confederate flag’s innocuous incarnations, it was the flag flying for the pro-slavery side during the Civil War. And it was the flag raised over Southern Statehouses in the 1960s when “desegregation” was a dirty word.
Rev. Al might not want to hear this from New Hampshire, which he has dismissively brushed off as “the whitest state” in the nation, but he is a walking, talking Confederate flag. No one divides the races better than Sharpton. Lucky for him, no one really cares.
Thanks to Saturday Night Live, we can push aside the idle chatter of “bloodsucking Jews,” and focus on that rascally “funnyman preacher” who is “refreshing” and “theatrical.” And, oh yeah, “apolitical.”
Darren Garnick’s “Culture Schlock” column runs every Thursday in The Telegraph’s Encore magazine. Reader feedback and ideas are welcomed via e-mail at cultureschlock (at) gmail.com.