With U.S. politics being nastiness incarnate, it’s rare that something political makes me smile.
James Austin Johnson of Saturday Night Live (SNL) parodied former President Trump this past weekend, delivering an impression of the businessman and politician that is second to none. In the cold open, Mr. Trump says he is “being persecuted on a level the likes of which the world has never seen, even worse than the late, great Jesus.” The five minute or so sketch has so many quotable lines, it’s impossible to report them all. Do yourself a favor and watch it.
In recent years, I’ve struggled to find comedy that can tackle approach political topics in a nuanced, sophisticated way on both the Left and the Right. Too often, the humor felt personal and nasty, making it too similar to the politicians, policies and behaviors it was satirizing and parodying. Therefore, there was little reason for those with different political beliefs to watch.
We need more humor in our lives, especially with regards to inherently draining topics such as politics. As I wrote in 2017, when Mr. Trump was president:
“SNL, like other forms of comedy and satire, humanize politicians and remind the average citizen that they are not omnipotent….when America is divided, as it is now, humor is essential.”
At a moment of intense political division in the U.S., the Trump Easter Cold Open manages to treat a polarizing subject in Mr. Trump with skill and respect. None of what the fake Mr. Trump says is personal or cheap. It’s plausible that the former president would call Jesus a “nepo baby” and that he would claim he could return from the dead faster than the Son of God because Mr. Trump has a penchant for braggery and narcissistic behavior.
Since the 2016 election and the COVID-19 pandemic, addiction to smartphones and social media, intense political polarization and negative news stories have combined, giving rise to a new phenomenon. Doomscrolling or doomsurfing is defined as “a habit of scrolling through social media and news feeds where users obsessively seek for depressing negative information” according to researchers writing for Artvin Coruh University or “when you binge on news or social media content about troubling things — like a tragedy, crisis or disaster” according to WebMD.
Most of us have unwittingly doomscrolled or doomsurfed at some point. It’s so easy to do when algorithms feed us constant negativity. Unsurprisingly, a steady diet of negativity has a similar effect to a poor nutritional diet, according to various studies.
For those who want to be informed about politics, current events and other matters, doing so while avoiding doomscrolling or doomsurfing seems almost impossible. You have to navigate which sources are reliable or not. Once you have a found some, certain subject matter remains depressing and negative, such the Russian-Ukrainian War, the Trump Indictment or environmental collapse.
That’s why finding content such as the Trump Easter Cold Open is so important. You have to counter-act the subtle effects of doomscrolling, doomsurfing and negative news with laughter, which has both short and long-term health effects.
Here are some guidelines that I’ve found helpful to find the right kind of humor:
1. Multiple political persuasions enjoy it. If your liberal/Leftist, conservative/Republican or independent friends find it funny, then you’re on the right track.
2. The content is accurate to the subject matter. It’s encouraging if you find yourself nodding your head and thinking “I can totally see this happening!”
3. The content is of a shorter nature. While movies and comedy specials deliver plenty of laughs, sometimes laughing within a few minutes is what you need. Plus, it’s far easier to re-watch 5 minutes than it is 2 hours.
4. Make the algorithm work for you. In the same way that YouTube, FaceBook and whatnot will send you more negative content based on your viewing habits, consciously look up things like SNL, which will suggest similar, happier content. Eventually you’ll find yourself ‘gleefreshing,’ which the opposite of doomscrolling/doomsurfing.
I thank SNL for making me laugh these past few days. We all need to laugh more.