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Alec Balwin holding Emmy for portraying Trump on Saturday Night Live

Coping With Today's Politics: Is 'Saturday Night Live' Our Drug of Choice?

Gettyimages | Kevin Winter
By Robert Safir

Saturday Night Live is a late-night comedy and sketch show created by Lorne Michaels, and is referred to by most people today as SNL. And in case of the unlikely possibility that you've never seen and episode, it usually goes something like this.

The show's delivers comedy sketches that are often parodies of contemporary culture and politics, and are performed by a large and varying cast of repertory and newer cast members. A celebrity guest usually delivers an opening monologue and also performs in sketches with the cast. There are also featured performances by a musical guest each week.

An episode normally begins with a "cold open" sketch that ends with someone breaking character and proclaiming, "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!" And thus begins the show.

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SNL cast members of old and new
Gettyimages | NBC

Over the years, SNL has had its share of ups and downs. Cast members left and later came back. Skits sometimes hit the mark and at others fell flat. The writing has a similar history - great parody that could trigger belly laughs or skits that left viewers scratching their heads. Lately, under the influence of lead writer, Colin Jost, the conistency of good scripts has improved and has taken on new importance - namely, how it has focused to a large degree on today's political climate. Now we might consider if the result of this focus might actually fill a role as therapy, or medicine, or general stress relief.

Current Events

Giphy | Saturday Night Live

The most obvious change that has propelled SNL to new heights is Alec Baldwin's impression of Donald Trump. The impression isn't perfect. He doesn't have the right voice or facial expressions. But it works, probably because the writing is on-point and it's good satire that sometimes is biting. In addition to that, the show is very, very timely. Each week's show is as current as can be, summing up the significant events of the week. In school we called it current events. Now you might call it current entertainment.

SNL and Political Decision Making

Two laser beams shoot into sky at World Trade Center site.
Unsplash | Jesse Mills

SNL has had a direct effect on American elections, especially presidential elections. Political sketches on the show have been shown to have a direct effect on voters when they go to the voting booth. Two-thirds of voters responding to a poll said they had seen a broadcast of politically charged content on SNL, and of those, ten percent said this had an effect on their final decision.

Political content was suspended for a period following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attach on the World Trade Center in New York City. Highly political content did not appear for a period of four years.

Political Stress Can Affect Cognition and Behavior

Donald Trump has delivered chaos, combativeness, and hostility to the operations at the White House. Millions of people around the globe have been puzzled by the nature of the personality at the center of it all, and many are alarmed by his tactics and policies that appear not only erratic but often undermine traditional democratic practices. He was impeached and is now talking about actually suing the people that impeached him.

For many Americans, a new anxiety surfaced on election day in 2016. An American Psychology Association survey on "Stress in America" states that 56% of the country are stressed by the current political climate. A clinical psychologist by the name of Jennifer Panning characterized the phenomenon as "Trump Anxiety Disorder," a specific type of anxiety in which symptoms "were specific to the election of Trump and the resultant unpredictable sociopolitical climate."

Some have argued that a lot of people have been seriously disturbed and distressed by President Trump's policies, speech, behavior, and tweets, so much so that it has affected their cognitive and behavioral functioning. In reality, some people may need mental health support.

A Dose of SNL Can Affect Your Health (in a good way)

Many people have found relief by the medicine known as laughter. The old saying, "laughter is the best form of medicine," likely has some roots in our real-world experience and how it manifests in our culture. SNL has transformed politics into something that Americans find relatable, engaging, and yes - pretty darn funny.

Lorne Michaels has said,“If a culture doesn’t allow you to laugh at the leaders or at things that your eyes and ears tell you are actually happening, that’s not good.”

I can say anecdotally that many people I know actually feel better, healthier, and more optimistic after a Saturday night of Saturday Night Live. It's free and readily available. You don't need an identification card or be of a certain age to obtain it. After all, it has earned its place in our society. Saturday Night Live has become our national drug of choice.

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