The Truth Behind SNL’s Rock Skit
Wednesday - March 18, 2009
I’m a fan of NBC’s Saturday Night Live. SNL‘s calling card since 1975 has been and always will be irreverence. The original group was called the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players” which pretty much says it all. If the NRFPTP name wasn’t enough, “The Coneheads” and the “Bass-omatic” should have been a pretty good clue. The show goes for the extreme and the absurd, and usually is on the mark.
I was interested in the response to a recent SNL skit where Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson portrayed a mythical Kauai resort “Hawaiian” performer with Fred Armisen accompanying him on ukulele as his “brother.” Their caricatures without dialogue would have brought a chuckle, but it’s the biting and über-sarcastic script that has some locals wringing their hands.
If you missed the skit (and about 295 million Americans did), you can find it on nbc.com. I’d recommend you take a look at the whole thing to get the full story. But it’s pretty provocative, with lines like:
ROCK (to white couple): “Our biggest export is coffee and our biggest import is fat, white tourists.”
ARMISEN (Responding to a woman who says he must love working here): “$7 an hour. Yeah, it’s a dream job.”
ARMISEN (to another tourist couple): “Lemme ask you something. Would it be OK in Boston to wear Crocs and shorts into a restaurant?”
ROCK: “We have a word in Hawaii for people like you. Garbage.”
ROCK (answering a comment that it’s so peaceful to live here): “You wanna come visit? It’s real easy. You just drive through the shanty town, make a right at the meth lab and you’ll see a 15-year old girl who got pregnant by an out-of-town businessman. Then ask for her brother. That’s me.”
The skit goes on with what will be the new T-shirt catch phrase, “Aloha HARD.” You’ll have to see it to get it.
There were caterwauls coming from folks here at home after the broadcast. Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona said, “SNL went too far in its negative depiction of Hawaii’s native people and tourism industry.” Hawaii Tourism Authority chairman Kelvin Bloom said, “I find it extremely insulting, distasteful and humorless.” State tourism liaison Marsha Wienert added, “It’s distasteful, in my opinion. I find it very offensive. That’s just not pono.”
The underlying message is the skit is bad for business. The barbs tossed targeted tourists and, in this day and age, the perception of tourists treated badly just doesn’t fly. But in most humor there is truth. Let’s be honest. There are locals who have disdain for visitors. There are those in the hospitality industry who resent white tourists. Crystal meth is a scourge in the Islands, and some male visitors come here to have sex with “exotic” women.
What SNL did was to make Hawaii go to the store without its makeup. It may embarrass us, but as Shakespeare wrote, “Methinks thou dost protest too much.”
The SNL skit did what they do on every show. They strip away convention and present the under-belly of their subject material. This is not unprecedented. I wonder where all the outrage was when the SNL crew inferred that the GOP vice presidential candidate suffered from inferences that her daughter’s unborn baby was the result of incest? No fist-pounding then. No lamentations about the crass and tasteless treatment of a sitting state governor. Can we conduct outrage triage when it’s presented on a sketch comedy TV show?
Humor is subjective. One may not find SNL their cup of comedy tea. But the Dwayne Johnson skit will not lead to people cancelling their Hawaii vacations.
The real question is, “Who wrote the bit?” Perhaps it was a staff member who recently visited Hawaii and this was their impression of our islands.
Regardless, Johnson had been mentioned as a possible star in an upcoming movie about the life of King Kamehameha. After this, he can pretty much kiss that role goodbye.
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