Saturday Night Live pulled Alec Baldwin back in this week for a sketch imagining that Donald Trump will still be president in the year 2018. It was lame, corny, and bad in the manner of all Baldwin-Trump sketches. No, the SNL moment that stood out for particular distinction was the fake ad for an Ivanka Trump-branded perfume called “Complicit.”
Having host Scarlett Johansson play Ivanka was probably an inevitability — the actor’s glossy beauty is itself a gloss on Ivanka’s: they both end up complimented by association. In the ad, ScarVanka is gliding through a posh party as an unctuous voiceover says, “She’s a woman who knows what she wants and knows what she’s doing. A feminist, an advocate, a champion for women, but like, how?” Viewers were supposed to hear the ad’s final sting — “Complicit: The fragrance for the woman who could stop all this but won’t” — as harsh political commentary.
The ad was nauseating but not because it “attacked” Ivanka. Why, then? Let’s begin at the end. Ivanka Trump could not “stop all this,” presuming that phrase refers to the nonstop assault on American decency launched by her father. The notion that Ivanka exerts an extensive influence on the president is one of the pro-Trump narratives that the news media launched during the campaign. It caught on and was repeated endlessly because it enabled the media to do two things: (1) say to its consumers, see, we’re being even-handed: We don’t attack everything Trump-related, and (2) it allowed the media to say, Look at how progressive we are: We would never insult a woman; that would be sexist!
So SNL apparently thinks that advancing the idea that Ivanka is complicit in her father’s agenda is a bold move, a blistering Oh, snap! moment. It’s not: It just perpetuates the idea that Donald Trump ought to be surrounded by people smarter than him who’ll keep him somewhat in line and rein in his worst impulses. This is a repulsive, frightening way to view the former Leader of the Free World. (I say “former” because I liked Jake Tapper’s tough joke about Trump made earlier this week at Austin’s SXSW festival: “I’d say [Trump is] ‘Leader of the Free World,’ but I think that’s Angela Merkel now.” Tapper’s a better writer than the political wing of SNL.)
One other point: It’s no coincidence that this SNL thing arrives during the same week that Dan Savage made the politically incorrect gesture of saying he doesn’t like what Melania Trump stands for. In coming out against Melania’s public image and political stances, Savage didn’t just launch a rare provocation against a first lady — on a more banal level, he accidentally opened up the media space for the SNL writers’ room to say, hey, the Trump family really is fair game now.
Then they wrote this lousy fake ad.
Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:35 p.m. on NBC. Watch clips and full episodes of SNL for free on Yahoo View.