Justin Timberlake celebrated his fifth time hosting SNL last weekend by opening the show with a sketch parodying late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Playing Elton John, Timberlake rattled off “hilarious” facts about the late president to the tune of “Candle in the Wind”. The sketch poked fun at Chavez for brandishing pistols at a press conference, increasing his country’s kidnapping rate and having a parrot with a beret. Since the clever writers at SNL apparently limited their research about Chavez to Wikipedia, here are some more “facts” left out of their sketch lampooning President Chavez:
- Venezuela has about five times the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia. In 2001, President Chavez signed a law establishing government ownership of the oil stock, using the revenue from oil sales to reduce extreme poverty and enact social programs in his country.
- Hugo Chavez was kidnapped at gun-point as part of a coup orchestrated by U.S. oil companies, angry over their loss of carte blanche access to Venezuelan oil because of Chavez’ new law. He was returned when armed Venezuelans angrily stormed the capital on their leader’s behalf.
- President Chavez offered to donate 120 rescue personnel and 50 tons of food to Katrina victims during the recovery of that disaster. George W. Bush (who hated Chavez because of the treatment of his oil cronies) refused the offer. Through Citgo, his nation also donated millions to build community centers and co-ops in the South Bronx (way to be grateful, New Yorkers).
Hugo Chavez wasn’t a perfect man, but he deserves more nuanced remembrance than that afforded by this silly sketch. I’m a little disappointed (though not terribly surprised) that a show like SNL would so enthusiastically adopt the false narrative of Chavez as a crazy dictator and the failure of Venezuela as socialist state. Like Castro before him, the only reason the U.S. government hated Chavez was because he closed his borders to American companies that were making a killing from exploiting his people. You know–like WalMart and Apple are currently doing? Moreover, it requires a little hubris and a lot of naivete to throw out statistics about Venezeula’s murder and kidnapping rates as evidence of the failures of socialism when you hail from a capitalist nation with rampant gun violence, overflowing prisons, record-breaking wealth inequality and flying death robots. Still, even a super-liberal like Bill Maher had to back down from the meek suggestion that the Venezuelan president might not be have been totally evil on his show over the weekend, going on to staunchly reaffirm his belief in capitalism.
Comedians like Maher and shows like SNL are supposed to use humor and pastiche to deconstruct the bullshit our politicians say. Granted, the target demographic for SNL didn’t live through the coup in Iran or the Bay of Pigs debacle, but the farcical Iraq War should be fresh in everyone’s mind; fresh enough to raise suspicions any time the U.S. government starts picking fights with leaders of oil rich countries that don’t play ball. We’re all aware of how the collective willingness of the mainstream media to unquestioningly corroborate White House claims about Saddam’s secret, super-villain arsenal lead to the Iraq War folly and yet, as evidenced here, many on the Mainstream Left are still willing to regurgitate this kind of rhetoric.
This is representative of a larger problem in the Mainstream Left. As I wrote previously, though Liberals/Democrats are far apart from Republicans on subjects like gay marriage and rape, they are just as delusional in their belief in the infallibility of capitalism. The American liberal’s imagination is limited by an inability to conceive of alternatives to capitalism, so the best their leadership can manage is placing incremental road blocks between Republicans and their radical privatization efforts. This is precisely why the mainstream media perpetually demonizes socialist nations and their leaders. If the American Left knew, for instance, how co-ops in Venezuela transformed that country, some of those ideas might to appeal to some of us or at least broaden the discussion. Many Americans are already turning to local food co-ops due to demand for healthy, organic food. This is socialism in its purest form, without the dictatorship and violent purges that animate the American psyche whenever the scary “S”-word is uttered. And it works.
SNL could’ve gotten bonus points by dropping one or two positive facts about Chavez during their parody. Anyone can make fun of Sarah Palin; a sketch that challenged the chorus of voices reminding us how scary and evil Chavez was would’ve been truly subversive. Congratulations on being mediocre, SNL.