This week’s Saturday Night Live took a swing at the celebrity response to cancel culture, namely at celebrities who never seem to take accountability for their actions. The bit came during the Weekend Update segment, with host Colin Jost interviewing the iceberg that sank the Titanic, played by Bowen Yang, the entire spoof skewering the flippant attitude of celebrities who just want to move on from controversy without ever actually acknowledging their culpability in it.
It’s an ongoing pattern in celebrity culture, particularly in the wake of the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements. A number of high-profile comedians and actors have tried for a “comeback” in the wake of serious allegations of sexual assault, racism, and other problematic behavior despite never actually going away or having been canceled in the first place. When they do, their apology statements are often based on the same “apology without acknowledgment” PR template, with the celebrity dodging true accountability and then immediately dismissing it as the work of cancel culture. The fake apology has been so prevalent in celebrity culture in recent years that it even prompted The Atlantic to write about the phenomenon in 2019 and Consequence of Sound in 2018.
When Jost mentioned it was the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and asked Yang’s iceberg what had been going through its head on the night of the fateful wreck, the iceberg got annoyed, responding, “You know what, Colin, that was a really long time ago. I’ve done a lot of reflecting to try and move past it” before reminding Colin that its publicist said there would be no questions about its involvement in the destruction and death that befell the Titanic. It soon spiraled into the iceberg melting down and presenting itself as the tragic victim, downplaying the events: “All anybody cares about is that, like, 40 or 50 people died or whatever.” Jost corrected the iceberg with, “Well, it was fifteen hundred people…” prompting the iceberg to shriek, “Why are you attacking me?” and continually reducing the number of victims to an ever-smaller number throughout the segment, as well as redirecting the blame to the ocean and the Titanic‘s shipping company White Star Line.
The sketch also poked fun of the celebrity tendency to decide that simply because they are ready to move on, everyone else should be, too. “Why are people still talking about this?” the iceberg whined, reminding Jost it was there to promote its new album, not talk about the past or the Titanic. It was a line that underscored the irony and cynical disingenuousness of so many celebrity “apologies” in that far fewer people would still talk about celebrity controversies had the celebrities in question actually apologized sincerely and been accountable for their actions in the first place.
Yet, while the sketch targeted celebrities and their non-apologies, conversely, it also had the secondary goal of gently poking fun at the public’s obsession with celebrity culture, as well. Celebrities are too often asked to rehash the worst moments of their lives, such as public mental health breakdowns, embarrassing actions due to substance abuse, and past relationships that flamed out, often years after these events unfolded. Particularly ghoulish celebrity entertainment journalists have made a career out of it, prompting for some uncomfortable interviews and even, occasionally, actors walking out of interviews, often understandably.
The sketch ended with the iceberg previewing a track from its new album, adding yet another layer to the sketch: When celebrities are “canceled,” they’re almost never truly canceled. Instead, they merely lie low for a while before jumping into another lucrative project – see Louis C.K.’s defiant “comeback” comedy tour just two years after being accused by multiple women of gross sexual assault. Or, they’ll simply use their money and connections to easily break into another industry with a big payday – see all the former “disgraced” Trump officials who are suddenly inking book deals and signing multimillion-dollar contracts. Saturday Night Live‘s sketch mocked all of this, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear likely to impact things in any meaningful way.
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