Commentary

Dakota, Isis, And 50 Shades Of Cray-Cray

Last weekend, Dakota Johnson’s appearance as host of “Saturday Night Live” sparked intense shock, despair, and agitation -- if not high dudgeon -- all over the Internet. But not for the expected reason: her role as Anastasia Steele, the naïve college student and virgin in the movie “50 Shades of Grey” who ends up collaring her Mr. Bondage, Christian Grey.

The extreme success of both the book (100 million copies sold worldwide)  and the movie (nearly $500 million in sales and counting), would seem to normalize the world of BDSM (bondage/domination/sadism/masochism) as played out in Grey’s fabled “Red Room.” Yet in the end, Steele is able to tame this “fucked-up” bachelor. And that makes those sexual practices seem part of an almost mainstream fairy-tale romance -- practically P.G.-rated.

Indeed, the thought of parental guidance turned out to be a big issue in Johnson’s SNL controversy as well. With little embarrassment, Johnson, the actress daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, made tremendous fun of the bad writing and stupefying details of “50 Shades” throughout the episode. In her cold open, she even introduced her own parents in the audience, who covered their faces. “It’s the kind of novel that will make you never want to touch your mother’s Kindle again,” she admitted to big laughs.

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The trouble came when Johnson also appeared in a parody of a Toyota Super Bowl commercial, deftly playing the newly grown-up little girl leaving her crying father.  

The real ad was one of several golden-hued ads that focused on the joys of committed daddyhood for this Super Bowl season. In this particular spot, the padre’s heavy-handed voiceover included lines defining fatherhood as “to show them right from wrong with your words and your actions.”  In the end, there’s a twist: he drips tears as he drops his girl off in his red Toyota sedan at the airport, seemingly to go to college. Instead, she’s shown meeting up with fellow army recruits.

In the SNL parody, however, she leaves the protective bubble of Daddy and the family car to join some crazy, bearded, shoot-em-up terrorists in their vehicle of choice: a flatbed Toyota truck. Yes, she's joining ISIS.

While I’m no fan of “50 Shades,” I thought this ad parody was one of the more brilliant sketches in SNL history. The anger comes from those who see it as going “easy” on ISIS, minimizing the horror of the group’s beheadings and murders of innocent Americans.

But the ad’s power actually comes from the reverse: slyly showing the sad reality of the duped, naïve young women who join these terrorists as if on a romantic adventure, and satirizing the group’s brutality and insanity -- all wrapped in the comfort of a happy car ad.

It’s interesting that, in their reactions to SNL's 40th anniversary special, the family of viewers -- those who’ve grown up on it and their children -- seemed to be riveted, while still mocking the show's excess and sometimes-lack of funny material. It was like sitting through a fractious family meal lasting way too long, indulging in way-too-much food.

But as time has gone on, we’ve begun to realize that the special was filled with delicious bits that define us as a culture. And we will want to return and snack on them again and again.

In becoming America’s daughter in the SNL skit, Johnson made us ponder our values, families, politics, and the idea of freedom.

It’s important to satirize the bad guys. Because in the end, we all want the same thing -- to hold our families close, as the world gets ever-less controllable and more frightening. And arguing and disagreeing is what freedom -- and watching TV -- is all about. That’s why SNL has once again become a relevant home -- and magnet -- for working out our national family issues. The public mother-daughter bickering that Dakota and Melanie got into on the Oscar red carpet (about Mom seeing the "50 Shades" movie) is another story.

10 comments about "Dakota, Isis, And 50 Shades Of Cray-Cray".
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  1. Jon Currie from Currie Communications, Inc., March 4, 2015 at 6:20 p.m.

    Right on, Barb!

  2. Susan Klein from Oculus Marketing, March 4, 2015 at 6:35 p.m.

    Good for SNL for bravely wading into the tricky+topical waters, and for dropping this commercial parody at the very top of the show when they traditionally have the most eyeballs. And thank you Ms. Lippert for supporting their decision to do so.

  3. Marke Rubenstein from Skull Communications llc, March 4, 2015 at 7 p.m.

    Totally agree. I sadly think a big percent of America doesn't understand satire. Be more French.

  4. david marks from self, March 4, 2015 at 7:02 p.m.

    Love this, Barbara. I’m in agreement about the SNL ISIS skit; thought is to have verve and wit, not to mention a homegrown charm. We need to poke folly at the evils of the world, at the things that go bump in the night. This one hits me right at home, for a variety of reasons.

  5. Jane Farrell from Freelance, March 4, 2015 at 8:22 p.m.

    Great analysis. This was a very tricky topic for a sketch, and SNL handled it with the utmost deftness. After 40 years, they've still got it!

  6. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, March 5, 2015 at 7:27 a.m.

    SATIRE, George S. Kaufman said, is what closes on Saturday Night. Apparently it also has troubles on Saturday Night Live.

  7. Paul Van winkle from FUNCTION, March 5, 2015 at 3:43 p.m.

    Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines, and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive, than at any point in the last three decades since SNL began. Trends like these manifest themselves in lots of ways, in politics, in media, in everyday life. Both sides repeatedly say in polls and across social media the other party’s policies are so misguided that they threaten the country’s well-being. An even higher % among Republicans think Democratic politics and policies "threaten the nation". So methinks any perspective that reveals a particular strain on the hated "Other" gets roundly trounced and attacked. It's the Polar Vortex Effect, the new cold culture war.

  8. Melanie Howard from self employed, March 5, 2015 at 4:29 p.m.

    The first SNL skit I remember was the Claudine Longet Skiing Invitational, which had Andy Williams's ex-wife popping off skiers as they attempted to cross the finish line. (In real life, for those too young to remember, she'd "accidentally" shot and killed her pro skier lover). My mother was appalled. You just didn't see things like that on TV.I found it hysterical and have been a fan since. Now, SNL has to take it to another level to remain smart and relevant. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings I am glad they still have the guts to make us all uncomfortable.

  9. Patrick Scullin from Ames Scullin O'Haire, inc., March 5, 2015 at 9:31 p.m.

    Great POV, Barbara. If we don't laugh, the terrorists win.

    I'll be damned if that happens. The fact that so many were outraged only proves how scared they are. Lighten up, America!

  10. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, March 7, 2015 at 7:58 a.m.

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/hollywood-racist_867579.html
    Might be an interesting read....

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