SNL’s ISIS Recruitment Commercial

There is supposedly a big social media controversy over this gag SNL ad, starring Dakota Johnson, that simultaneously parodied an Army recruitment promo and satirized the disturbing trend of brainless teens running off to join that terrorist organization that has nothing to do with Islam.

It’s not a controversy when one side is ignorant, censorious, politically correctness- addled, humorless and wrong and the other side isn’t.

The ad is brilliant black comedy and satire, one of SNL’s all-time best. Those who object to it don’t get black humor and satire, which makes their objections as irrelevant as someone allergic to shellfish saying that Legal Seafoods stinks. Nobody’s making them eat there, and they don’t have to watch Saturday Night Live or think it’s funny either. But I don’t care about their opinion, which is uninformed and useless to anyone who understands and appreciates the issues.

Here’s what was good and funny—and ethical– about the parody:

1. It caught the saccharine tone of its model exactly.

2. Its ending was a surprise.

3. It ridiculed ISIS, which deserves ridicule. President Obama claims that the way to withhold respect for the group is to lie about it being a group of Islamic extremists. This is much better, ethical, and doesn’t mislead anyone.

4. Making fun of evil is a time-honored activity, healthy, useful, and effective. I don’t recall anyone saying that Spike Jones was treading on sacred ground with this song:

or that The Three Stooges were trivializing the death camps with this…

5. The satire even cuts two ways. You know, that sweet young girl is also being sent off to kill people when she’s joining the military in the real ad. Like all great satire, this one is subversive and layered.

6. If black humor doesn’t horrify anyone, it’s not black enough. If satire doesn’t infuriate 50% of the audience, it is too timid. This made the grade in both categories.

7. The best way to undermine a deadly ideology is to make fun of it.

8. It made me laugh. For a comic, one is enough. Nobody has a right to forbid anyone from making me laugh, because they have a different sense of humor.

42 thoughts on “SNL’s ISIS Recruitment Commercial

  1. I was just hoping for SNL to CGI in some shattering glass as the bullets shoot out the windows of the buildings. Oh well, minor picky point.

  2. It pokes a good sharp point at the sick trend of western kids wanting to join ISIS (which I still don’t get), but it doesn’t quite reach the level of reducing them to the buffoons they are like “Der Fuehrer’s Face” or “We’re Gonna Have to Slap the Dirty Little Jap” did. Then again, if someone wrote a song poking fun at militant Islam and promising to kick their asses, and added mocking touches to the lyrics like starting them up like a pull-start lawnmower by pulling their headcloths or sending them to the place where they’ll meet pigs instead of virgins, I daresay the censors would REALLY go into a case of the vapors.

  3. I’m in agreement on all points. I was watching the CBS morning news this morning, where I first heard about the skit, and two of the anchors called it “cringe-worthy.” I was more than a bit disappointed there wasn’t a more nuanced analysis. I thought it was very funny and hit the sympathy points of the original Toyota commercial (it aired during the Super Bowl).

  4. Right. I’ll agree with the majority of this article, but really. Saying ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, really really threw me for a loop, and destroyed any enjoyment or respect for this article. Look. Islam as generally practiced today? Sure. I’d have accepted that. Islam as it has grown past it’s founding? Also accurate. But stating ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, is a grave disservice and error to your readers. ISIS, like it or not, is practicing Islam as they BELIVE (and to be fair, a LOT of scholars and historians will agree that this was the way it was practiced.) the Quo’ran requires them to. They’re the ultra orthodox version of Islam, but they’re still Islamic. Just a version we haven’t seen in at least an century. You may not like it, Islamics (the majority) may not like it, but the first step to truly defeating this threat, is to understand it… and your statement does everyone a disservice.

    Andrew

    • Wait, you seriously couldn’t detect the tongue in that cheek? Right after I wrote this??? Jeez, no wonder people don’t get the SNL satire…Tell you what: I’ll add a link for the similarly irony challenged…And did you actually read the damn POST? Was this not clear?

      “President Obama claims that the way to withhold respect for the group is to lie about it being a group of Islamic extremists. This is much better, ethical, and doesn’t mislead anyone.”

      How I loved being lectured about what I haven’t done, never would do, and that nobody paying attention could possibly think I’d do.

      • You do realize that not everybody who comes here reads every article you write, right? With (or even without!) online publishing, you can’t always count on articles being interpreted in the full context of your prior statements.

        • That post, however, was not at all ambiguous, and the phrasing there clearly ironic…AND there was the subsequent statement that was clear as a bell..

          No, I don’t require that. But it someone leaps to a conclusion that is unwarranted, I reserve the right to point out that you better be sure what you interpret me to mean before you start excoriating me falsely.

          • Except that it wasn’t clearly ironic… as, oddly, the very article you linked (and wrote) demonstrated: people are genuinely asserting that ISIS has nothing to do with “real” Islam.

            Without the context of your previous piece, it can easily come across as a serious assertion… leading to comments like Andrew’s.

            (And, to be fair, I have to claim a certain degree of responsibility for that: I’m the one who sent him the link to the article.)

            (And as a final post-script, I’m having a lot of trouble of late posting comments, and had to jump through a lot of hoops to try and post this. I made several attempts which didn’t work, and I can’t figure out why.)

            • Here’s the issue: I think it is so obvious that an Islamic terrorist organization that calls itself the Islamic State is a radical Islamic group that simply stating that it as if it isn’t true is is irony enough. I’m not going to insult the intelligence of anyone by saying “Now, as you know, the President keeps denying this even though he knows damn well its a lie”, and my phrasing, sans commas, of “disturbing trend of brainless teens running off to join that terrorist organization that has nothing to do with Islam” is standard tongue-in-cheek style. If I write “our President who we all know is a devout Christian and nobody but hateful Republicans would doubt it”, I’m sorry, but someone who says “How do you know he’s a Christian?” isn’t paying attention.

              If I’m too subtle for some people, it’s not my problem. I’ve been writing satire and irony a long time: to take that sentence literally shows a reader’s training is lacking.

      • “Nobody has a right to forbid anyone from making me laugh, because they have a different sense of humor.”

        I think you need to end that sentence at the comma — the thought-surgeons who are trying to lobotomize everyone with their censoring scalpels do not have much sense, much less a sense of humor.

  5. 3&4… I suppose a brief half-second of shooting guns into the air counts as “ridiculing ISIS”…definitely enough to equate it to the clear derogatory nature of the 3 Stooges and the Spike Jones bit…

    call me humorless, but those aren’t analogous.

    • I don’t even see there being much ridiculing of the enemy in this at all…I don’t think that’s where the humor lies.

      It more or less makes fun of daft western teenagers running off to join a “romantic” cause, with a little bit of satire equating the US military to ISIS.

      The twist at the end IS where the laugh occurs, because like all good humor it is unexpected. But as a ridicule of Evil or our Enemy… this sketch hardly does that except maybe the wild yahoo drive shooting in the air for about 2 seconds.

      For something even remotely closer to the 3 stooges or Spike Jones satire:

      But alas, that will just be labelled racist.

    • Well, I’d say the SNL bit wasn’t sophomoric, like Spike and the Howard boys. The category is “making fun of bad people that do awful things.”

      Just so I can measure which kind of humorless you are, which of the three isn’t funny or is “offensive”? I’d rate SNL well over the other two. I’m a huge Spike fan, but TFF is not his best.

      • “Just so I can measure which kind of humorless you are”

        You might have missed this bit, that I said: “The twist at the end IS where the laugh occurs, because like all good humor it is unexpected.”

        As for measuring, 3 stooges is funny, not their best bit though, but laughable nonetheless. The Spike Jones bit…I donno, musical parodies are generally better done, it didn’t elicit any laughs but was amusing.

  6. Actually, I thought the thing was hilarious! And Jack is dead right, the way to defeat these barbarians is to make fun of them. They can probably deal with anything but ridicule.

    • I thought the skit was funny, but I doubt its value as a counterterrorism strategy. I disagree that “the way to defeat these barbarians is to make fun of them.” While widespread ridicule of ISIS might actually have some effect on US teen recruitment efforts, or discourage those merely curious or marginally supportive of ISIS, their “true believers” will not be swayed by humor or ridicule. I’m sure Hitler and his inner circle were not despondent over Spike Jones if they were even aware of his work. Ditto the Stooges.The way to defeat ISIS is to kill them. Kill them all. Some people need killing. They will certainly kill all of us if they get the chance. At least, that’s what they say.

      • Oh, it’s not much of a strategy, though Superman is credited with undermining the image of the KKK. It’s something. It’s better tham say, hashtags or a selfie of the First Lady holding a sign…

      • Yes, it was amusing, but hardly denigrating towards ISIS. Unless the 2 seconds out of the whole bit of them driving away like yahoos shooting in the air was meant to be a real jab at them…

  7. My controversy receptors must be broken. I’m much more offended by certain popular television shows and reality programming than by this sketch.

    The one comment by some blowhard complaining that it “equates ISIS with the U.S. military…” Seriously? The fact that they are not the same is why it works as a joke!

    • Which blowhard?

      The one who said this: “5. The satire even cuts two ways. You know, that sweet young girl is also being sent off to kill people when she’s joining the military in the real ad. Like all great satire, this one is subversive and layered.”

      or the one who said this: “It more or less makes fun of daft western teenagers running off to join a “romantic” cause, with a little bit of satire equating the US military to ISIS.”

      Because for the most part, there isn’t much difference, just in bluntness. I don’t recall mine being a complaint…yet…

      “The fact that they are not the same is why it works as a joke!”

      The fact that they are being equated is why it is called satire…

        • Jack Marshall channeling Alexander Haig. “You have the president, the vice president, and then me.” Very reassuring Captain Jack.

      • Yeah, I wasn’t clear…the link to the video had comments underneath, with certain people complaining that the video was out of line because it was disrespectful to the military by comparing them to ISIS. My point was that ISIS is clearly nothing like the U.S. military, and that’s why it’s a joke. Because it’s absurd.

  8. What I thought SNL did particularly well was give this seemingly random bit context later in the show; during “Weekend Update”, one of the headlines was the increasing number of western girls from the suburbs joining ISIS.

    “First Brooklyn, now ISIS – Man, white girls will gentrify anything!”

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