TV

Alec Baldwin Will Not Save Us

As faux-POTUS on “Saturday Night Live,” the outspoken actor’s shtick is a far cry from the Trump antidote we need

by

On this weekend’s head-scratching, forehead-slapping episode of Saturday Night Live, Alec Baldwin appeared, yet again, as Donald Trump. In the cold open, Baldwin-as-Trump strides, lower lip first, into the D.C. apartment of Paul Manafort (Alex Moffat) and pauses for the ritual applause before lamenting the scourge of political correctness and his inability to cut taxes for the super-rich. Later in the sketch, Baldwin quips, “What an idiot that Harvey Weinstein is. He could have gotten away with all of it, if only he’d gotten himself elected president.”

If, like me, you’ve been groaning through Baldwin’s bafflingly bad impression of President Trump on SNL for the past nine months, last night’s episode should have represented an apex of embarrassment for the apparently shameless 59-year-old actor. It aired just hours after Baldwin threw another of his patented public hissy fits, this one regarding the many women who’ve come forward in recent weeks with stories of sexual abuse at the hands of Harvey Weinstein.

On Friday evening, Baldwin appeared on PBS NewsHour and denied any prior knowledge of Weinstein’s predatory behavior. (Earlier in the week, he’d done the same for director James Toback, whom more than 300 women have accused of sexual assault, and who starred alongside Baldwin in a 2013 HBO documentary called Seduced and Abandoned.) “You heard the rumor that he raped Rose McGowan,” Baldwin said of Weinstein. “You heard that over and over. We have heard that for decades. And nothing was done.” The interviewer, Jeffrey Brown, pointed out that “nobody said anything,” to which Baldwin replied, “Well, but what happened was that Rose McGowan took a payment of $100,000 and settled her case with him. And it was for Rose McGowan to prosecute that case.”

It didn’t take long for McGowan to respond to the interview on Twitter: “Told you everyone knew,” she wrote. “No one cared.” Asia Argento, the Italian actor and director who has also accused Weinstein of raping her, tweeted at Baldwin, “You’re either a complete moron or providing cover for your pals and saving your own rep.” A few hours later, Baldwin responded to Argento, “If you paint every man w the same brush, you’re gonna run out of paint or men.”

On Saturday afternoon, on Twitter, Baldwin apologized for his victim-blaming tone in the PBS interview and announced that he would refrain from posting to his personal account “in the current climate.” In an ironic twist, he declared that he’d continue to post from the account of the Hilaria and Alec Baldwin Foundation — the philanthropic organization he runs with his wife — which has 1.17 million followers (his personal account has 235,000) and which the actor used just last week to go after a young writer, Kayla Cobb, who penned a damning piece about the “parade of creeps” on display in Seduced and Abandoned, which tracks Baldwin and Toback’s attempt to secure funding for a film in Cannes. (Don’t bother looking for it on HBO Go — it’s no longer available. HBO representatives have yet to respond to a request for comment.) “Why don’t you let prosecutors and real journalists investigate such cases and you stick to divorces and plastic surgery,” Baldwin tweeted at Cobb, a recent university graduate with 623 twitter followers. Talk about punching down.

By Saturday night, Baldwin was hamming it up as the Donald in Studio 8H.

Even before the PBS interview, there’d been plenty of reasons to feel icky about Baldwin’s renewed mojo under the Trump presidency. The notorious champion of liberal causes can barely hide his glee at this turn of events, taking every opportunity to center himself in the story of Trump. This week, Baldwin-as-Trump shows up in the pages of a new satirical book he co-authored with Kurt Andersen, You Can’t Spell American Without Me. With a cover photo of a pouting Baldwin against a faux Oval Office backdrop and chapter titles like “I Won, I’m a Winner, I’m the Winner,” the book is a groaningly obvious attempt to lampoon Trump’s mannerisms, a gag gift that Penguin Press surely doesn’t expect anyone to actually read. And, of course, Baldwin has appeared as Trump on SNL over a dozen times since taking over for Darrell Hammond in 2016 — a decision that shocked Hammond, a respected former cast member and one of the show’s most reliable impersonators, and whose Donald trumps Baldwin’s version:

The only context in which Baldwin’s endless mugging on SNL makes sense is that of his friendship with Lorne Michaels, which was the subject of a nasty joke Baldwin delivered in his monologue when he hosted the show back in February. Of his record seventeen hosting gigs, Baldwin jests, “That’s an achievement that only comes if you’re a comedy icon like Steve Martin, or an enduring character actor like John Goodman, or if you were lucky enough to be in the car in 1987 when Lorne Michaels ran over a man selling oranges on the side of the highway.” A punchline that takes it as a hilarious given that wealthy men enable each other’s criminal activity wasn’t funny in February 2017. It’s really not funny now.

The more I watch Baldwin stumble through his imitation of the president, the more I’m convinced that it’s not Trump he’s impersonating; it’s his own, worst self. Baldwin doesn’t need to personify another man to convince audiences that he’s obnoxious, egotistical, petty, and powerful. In a recent article in the Times, he boasts of the parade of grateful citizens thanking him for his send-up of Trump. “Constantly, all day long, they thank me,” he said, sounding not unlike the president himself. When the interviewer posits that Baldwin is “a conduit for American liberal anxiety,” he readily agrees.

Now that’s funny. When most of us wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, worrying about healthcare and North Korea and creeping authoritarianism, we can’t call up Lorne Michaels and ask for some stage time Saturday night to work through the nerves. We certainly can’t cash in with a novelty book. That Baldwin sees himself as representative of the jittery American masses scrolling, bug-eyed, through the president’s latest Twitter missive is a testament to the distorting effects of celebrity.

Again, for the cheap seats in the back: This issue isn’t about left vs. right. This is about the collision of male entitlement and a culture of celebrity worship, embodied by our opportunist-in-chief, Alec Baldwin. This kind of ego trip masquerading as cathartic entertainment is damaging to our culture, crowding out sharper, more effective political satire that doesn’t have as loud a megaphone. You can’t dismantle systemic oppression with its own tools.

When nice liberal men profess their support for gender equality, so often they fail to acknowledge that the problem isn’t just men saying and doing the wrong things. It’s that men — particularly white men, particularly wealthy men — inevitably get to say and do whatever they want in the first place. Men have taken up far too much oxygen, for far too long, in Senate chambers and the Oval Office, in boardrooms and newsrooms and, yes, on TV. When women say we want a seat at the table, what we imply is that we’re going to need a few men to stand up and make room.

In that cold open to Saturday’s SNL, the camera cuts to Cecily Strong as Melania Trump, enjoying the company of her husband’s stand-in: a blow-up-doll version of Donald Trump. Strong marvels at the change in her husband: “Who knew that just by keeping your mouth shut you could seem so — presidential?”

Most Popular