Will Ferrell hosted Saturday Night Live this week as he and the cast members addressed the nuances of the #MeToo Movement in multiple sketches.
With each sketch, they confront a different way that sexual harassment and abuse have manifested themselves in our culture and our history. We are still learning and evolving in our ability to discuss it fully, as evidenced by these sketches.
The first sketch tackling the issue may be the funniest because it focuses on the uneasy feelings men as more and more serial harassers are outed. It's enough to make you break a sweat. "I work hard and I play hard. Something's coming out about me real soon, because I'm next," Ferrell says as he holds up the product Next: For Men. It's for men "who are feeling the heat because their time's up." We see a comedian, an actor, a businessman whose careers are crumbling under the weight of their actions, but hey, at least they don't have pit stains.
It works in part because it is shown to us in a format that has been notoriously sexist; men's deodorant and fragrance commercials that objectify women and encourage men to persistently pursue women even if they are not initially interested (looking at you, Axe). They suggest that if men try just one more time using their product, that woman who has previously rejected your advances will change that no into a yes.
I found myself laughing because of the clever reference to the fragrance advertising tactics; however, I couldn't avoid hearing the echo of "Not all men..." while watching this sketch. You know, the retort for making a statement that deserves the attention of all men, whether or not it is about all men.
Next, Ferrell portrays a singer from days gone who wrote a lot of songs fetishising young girls. Taking aim at the history of sexualising and pursuing underage girls, Ferrell croons about his progressively younger and younger love interests. Making Ferrell's character a famous musician from '50s also points to the often overlooked history some of the most iconic men in rock and roll have with dating girls as young as their early teens. "So obviously this guy's a pervert and we need to stop the commercial," Kate McKinnon's character asserts. Her co-host played by Beck Bennett is quick to defend the singer, saying, "I just thought it was a different time back then."
Only in comedy can you say what you think that bluntly. As someone who loves the music of so many of the industry icons who have been accused of this behaviour, it is hard to reconcile their music with their actions. The uncomfortable sketch also reminds us that this view of young women and girls is still held by some men. Roy Moore being accused of pursuing underage girls brought that discussion to the forefront once again.
Sexual harassment takes on many forms, some of which are difficult to notice right away. A nod to Top Gun, Will Ferrell plays a fighter pilot convening with a new team. They take a moment to introduce themselves. "I'm Wild Card," says one. "Sidewinder," says another. "Viper," introduces the third before we come to Ferrell who introduces himself as Clown Penis. As the sketch continues, he insists that everyone including Cecily Strong's character a part of ground control call him by his chosen call name.
The undertone of this sketch is more subtle than the others, I didn't pick up on it at first. Only after watching it a second time did I hear the message Cecily Strong was trying to get across. In fact, it almost makes you wonder if it was meant to be a message about sexual harassment or merely be a childish joke. Nevertheless, it is unacceptable to talk about penises at work, and asking your co-workers to refer to you as Clown Penis is sexual harassment in the workplace. This is the nonsense women in some fields still have to put up with under that old "boys will be boys" crap.
Finally, in a dinner table sketch, the host and cast members come up against their own limitations. It begins with someone bringing up the story about a woman who went on a date with Aziz Ansari and felt pressured into a sexual encounter she didn't want. Like everyone at the table, many struggled to place Ansari's story in a line up next to the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and countless others who have a history of predatory sexual misconduct. After the news broke, I had so many conversations like this. It took widening the scope of the discussion to understand where Ansari's actions fit.
I found this sketch too realistic to be able to laugh at it. The cast tried to take on a conversation that is murky and filled with questions with humour but ended up saying nothing much. Changing the way our society defines and respects consent, as well as how we view people who disrespect it, will involve a lot more complicated and potentially awkward conversations just like this one.
This series of sketches underscores a significant change that has happened over the last several months. Sexual harassment, assault, and what constitutes consent have been at the forefront of conversations both on a larger scale and around the dinner table. There is a problematic theme amongst all these sketches that could easily go unnoticed. The weight of being the moral compass falls solely on the women. Even in the sketch around the dinner table, while everyone struggled with how best to talk about it, it was the men at the table that wanted to stop the conversation before it started or go back to easier subjects. Maybe someday, we'll see a sketch about men initiating the conversation about harassment and assault.
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