Chris Rock’s monologue from this past weekend’s “Saturday Night Live” has struck a chord with the nation’s populace after he made jokes about the Boston bombings and 9/11, which begs the question, “When does a controversial topic still come ‘too soon’?” Rock joked about never going into the Freedom Tower, known as One World Trade, which opened this past Monday, and that those who built the tower were fools just asking for trouble. While the tower has many different meanings to Americans, its symbolism as hope, pride and “a nation rebuilding” after tragedy remains ubiquitous. As I watched Rock joke about the two terror attacks, my jaw dropped.
I have been a faithful viewer and supporter of “Saturday Night Live” for the majority of my life. But, for the first time, I find myself truly appalled at “Saturday Night Live’s” and Lorne Michaels’, the show’s creator and producer, decision to allow Rock’s jokes during the show’s opening monologue. Many consider “Saturday Night Live” New York City’s show; it has been produced in renowned studio 8H in Rockefeller Plaza since its beginnings in 1975, credited it with keeping New York’s television industry alive and influencing public opinion. How, then, could a show so inherently linked to New York City and adored by New Yorkers poke fun at the greatest and deadliest attack to strike not only New York City, but the United States as well?
Needless to say, it should not. This desperate attempt by Rock to be ‘edgy’ and to draw in viewers to “SNL’s” weak 40th season was completely unnecessary. Rock joked, “They should change the name from the Freedom Tower to the ‘Never Going in There Tower’ because I’m never going in there.” The audience was reluctant to laugh, but warmed up near the end of Rock’s monologue. For a show that so carefully and beautifully handled the terrorist attacks by having a special tribute segment with then-mayor Rudy Giuliani and many first responders and firemen on its season premiere episode a mere 13 years prior, I was surprised to see the direction it has taken.
“SNL” is no stranger to controversy. Sinead O’Connor’s musical guest appearance in Season 18 was also a shocking moment when she tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II at the end of her musical set in an act of defiance against the Church. Also, a sketch parodying victims of the 2008 recession showed an allegedly fictional couple, responsible for much housing turmoil in northern California, labeled as “people who should be shot.” Negative feedback flooded in when it was discovered that the couple in the sketch were found to be real people. Lorne Michaels apologized about mistakenly approving the sketch without checking its facts and then pulled the sketch from all online sources.
The difference between these incidents and Rock’s is that Lorne Michaels knowingly approved this monologue, which made it through days of rehearsal and the dress rehearsal show immediately prior to its live airing.
For a show that owes much of its support and success to the city that helped make it iconic, allowing these jokes was not only distasteful but out of line. Making light of the Boston Bombing incident the night prior to the New York City marathon simply furthers the hysteria and fear people already had surrounding the event, and did nothing to appease people’s anxiety about the events that took place in Boston in 2013.
“Tomorrow’s the New York City Marathon. What could go wrong there, right?” Rock said. Continuing the joke, he referred to the very act of running a marathon as terroristic in nature, then moved onto the Freedom Tower spiel.
I am a firm believer in free speech and respect Rock’s right to say what he wishes. That being said, I do not believe “SNL” to be the appropriate platform for such jokes. Save it for stand-up, do not plague the airways of public television and “SNL’s” audience which, ranges from 11-year-olds and up, with such distasteful commentary. Lorne Michaels should have exercised much better judgment.
It was Rock’s job to make people laugh, not to make light of the U.S.’s tragedy where over 3,000 of its people in the very city Rock was performing were blown up in cold blood.
He did attempt to highlight a flaw in American society, stating that Americans commercialize many holidays that are supposed to call us to remembrance. “Hey, hey I’m not joking about 9/11, but we live in America and in America there are no sacred days because we commercialize everything.” Rock stated. Though this may unfortunately happen, for now this is still “too soon” and using “SNL” and New York City as vessel to deliver this social commentary was not appropriate.
I am not one to quickly take offense, but remarking on a society still recovering from this awful attack that has affected so many people on a personal level, and a nation as a whole, was in poor taste. Don’t just stay away from the Freedom Tower, Chris Rock; stay away from “SNL.” The Freedom Tower serves to show the world that we will not give into aggression, but by Rock joking that he plans to avoid it, he is essentially bowing into this terroristic aggression. Jokes like this will always exist, but I do not think they belong on a show with such cultural influence.
Have a little class, “SNL.”