SNL, Satire, and the Invisibility of the American Working Class
A recent episode of Saturday Night Live featured a sketch called “Working Class Drama” that was based on a caricature of the BBC’s programming tropes. The sketch, which features Daniel Craig and is pretty funny, is about some ridiculously Cockney guys in an equally ridiculous English working class town. Think Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 taken to Monty Python extremes. While it’s a good piece of satire and a reminder that SNL can actually be funny, it serves another purpose as well.
It’s pretty telling that an American TV show needed to locate a working class sketch in England rather than in the US. Granted, they had an English actor they wanted to utilize, but why not wait another week? Are there not some caricatures of the American working class they could trot out?
The sad answer to this question is no. The American working class is so invisible that we can’t even make fun of them.
So many middle class obsessed Americans see class as either a tool the Left uses to create class war (which I sincerely wish was true) or as a European phenomenon. The idea of a rigidly defined class structure is directly opposed to the supposedly classless arrangement of the American economy. What qualifier always gets attached to the word class in the American media? Middle. What class is in trouble? The middle class. Who needs more jobs? The middle class.
There is no national labor party in America as there is in most European countries and even American unions spew that middle class nonsense created by the two party machine in Washington. The more vibrant European Left can force class consciousness into the dialogue thereby preventing their working classes from disappearing from the narrative. This is why SNL had to locate their working class sketch in England – a European nation that has a different political milieu but a culture similar enough to satirize.
The American working class is invisible, often even to itself. The non-rich are divided into the vast and largely mythical middle class and the poor, who are often painted as undeserving and self-indulgent. Thus we have the long suffering middle class family that is contrasted with the poor inner city masses and the comical rural redneck buffoons, both of which are often blamed for their own poverty. This false dichotomy robs the political narrative and the individual identity of any kind of realistic class consciousness.
How can a group agitate for its interests if neither it nor its enemies acknowledge it as a reality? I’m afraid what we have here is a failure to communicate. As long as the political dialogue is held hostage by the hegemonic middle class ideology, the working class will suffer. I mean Jesus goddamn Christ, we can’t even make jokes about the working class here!
One of the chief jobs of the American Left should be to foster class consciousness not just in workers, but in everyone’s minds. We should inject class into every political and social issue because it’s already there, whether or not we choose to admit it. Now go out there and stir up some class war.