• Betty White: Stereotype-Buster or Panderer? Who Really Won the Evening: SNL, Betty White or Facebook?

    Did any one else see the great triple paradox between Betty White, the 88-year-old “golden girl,” and her Mother’s Day Eve hosting of that “mother-of-all-Saturday-Night-Live episodes,” and her put-down of the gallant white Facebook horse she rode in on???

    The media is exclaiming about Betty’s stunning performance on SNL. RTT News, the Global Financial News wire proclaimed: “Betty White’s appearance on ‘Saturday Night Live’ this weekend was a hit with viewers. The NBC comedy series recorded its best overnight ratings in 18 months on Saturday. The show picked up an 8.8 share, according to Nielsen, making the episode the highest rated since November 1, 2008, when Ben Affleck hosted and Senator John McCain was a special guest.”

    While the NY Times “Arts Beat” blogger, Dave Itzkoff loudly proclaimed, ” All it took to reinvigorate a 35-year-old comedy show was the presence of an 88-year-old woman,” he also noted towards the end of his blog in a much quieter tone:

    “If you watched carefully, you might have noticed that many of Saturday’s skits were simply new variations on recurring “SNL” bits like “MacGruber” or its “Lawrence Welk Show” parody. …And if you really want to get picayune about it, most of Ms. White’s jokes boiled down to some version of her (a) saying something totally inappropriate for her age, or (b) making some kind of subtle — or blatant — sexual innuendo. But really, who cares, when so many of them worked?”

    This begs the question: did they really work or were some folks just dazzled by someone whom they thought was beating the “old woman stereotype” or in awe that SNL finally offered an old lady the role of host?

    My reaction is that Betty White was just fighting one stereotype with another and not too successfully at that.  I had a truly “feisty” grandmother and she never once pandered to deliver something “totally inappropriate for her age” or subtle or otherwise “sexual innuendo.” Betty White delivered what she or the folks at SNL wanted her to deliver, and I call that pandering not stereotype-busting.

    Robert Bianco, USA Today, also sensed something was askew as he wrote: “Betty White’s ‘SNL’ stint: Less than Golden.” …Perhaps no show could have lived up to expectations created for this week’s Saturday Night Live by the Facebook campaign that got Betty White her first hosting job after a 35-year wait… Yet in the end, Saturday’s over-hyped NBC broadcast mostly served to explain why SNL seemed so reluctant to bring White on board. Clearly, they didn’t know what to do with her. …So they had her make some blue jokes, bear the brunt of multiple “isn’t she old” jokes, and pump for the upcoming MacGruber movie — and then make a few more blue jokes. …None of this was White’s fault, who once again proved that she is both a pro and an extremely good sport. What laughs there were, outside of Weekend Update, were pretty much provided by her and her alone, and that’s not something you can say about every host. She just deserved better. And after a 35 year wait, so did we.”

    The final – for now – element of the paradox is: why did Betty skewer the horse (Facebook) she rode in on. My feisty grandmother taught me to never insult your host, but right out of the box, Betty did when she called Facebook a “waste of time.” Had she forgotten that she was finally offered the top SNL spot after her fans launched a hugely successful grassroots Facebook campaign.

    As the Christian Science Monitor noted, “In January, David Matthews, of San Antonio, launched the Facebook page “Betty White to Host SNL (please?)!” after Ms. White appeared in a popular 2010 Super Bowl ad for Snickers candy. By mid-March, several hundred thousand Facebookers had signed on to Matthew’s petition, and it was announced that the former Golden Girl would be hosting a special Mother’s Day episode on May 8.”

    How was Facebook a waste of Betty’s time: for the SNL invitation and for whatever her professional future – thanks to Facebook – now holds?

    It makes me wonder what other issues might be resolved through the power of a Facebook campaign!

    One more thought:  When I read in today’s Washington Post, Adam Bernstein’s tribute to Lena Horne, who died Sunday at age 92, I was reminded of her 1942, ground-breaking contract with MGM in which it was writ that she would “never have to play a maid.” Perhaps, Betty White’s next contract – be it with SNL or another – should stipulate that she “never has to ‘play’ at being an old woman!”

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1 Comment


  1. Holly says:

    I don’t call it pandering or stereotype-busting. I call it working.

    Betty White is funnier than SNL has been in the past 20 years, but she doesn’t write the show or produce it. (Perhaps she should… but that’s another Facebook campaign…)

    Just because she’s 88 doesn’t mean she’s got to represent all of the Nation’s seniors. I would hate to think that the many years spent honing my craft would be all but ignored in my senior years because my value had simply defaulted to my age. Oh, yeah… I would hate that…

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