Right after the 2016 USA Presidential Election, we commented on the metamodernity of Saturday Night Live’s sketch where Hillary Clinton, as portrayed by Kate McKinnon, sat at the piano and sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in a touching tribute both to the songwriter’s recent death, and Clinton’s Electoral College loss.
In last week’s cold opening for SNL’s final episode of the season, they reprised “Hallelujah” in a way that may be even more metamodern than the first time around.
Alec Baldwin, performing his excellent Donald Trump, sings in a Trumpy, halting way, soon joined by Kellyanne Conway (Kate McKinnon again). As the verses roll on, many more of the cast who do the Trump team caricatures gather around the piano, culminating with Scarlett Johansen’s Ivanka.
The remarkable number of intersections and layers of meta going on there are almost hard to catalogue. The sketch intones that they are singing a kind of goodbye tribute to their soon-to-be-over regime.
I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah
Being that it’s SNL’s season ender, the sketch also seems to be saying farewell to these characters whose portrayals have offered a kind of refuge to audiences. It is inferred that we may not see them again. The surprising thing is the bittersweet feeling – it seems to us like the actors, who’ve cast barbs at these real people all season, who have held them accountable in the way only well-crafted comedy can, now also imbue the scoundrels with some level of ‘awesomeness’ (and we mean the metamodern awesome, i.e. a measure of humanity). Oddly, the viewer is put in the position to actually feel a little bit of sympathy for the real Trump team. Or at very least to feel moved by the pathos of the whole situation, such that one gets, for a moment, that they’re more than just despised villains; they are/were characters in our co-created play, all part of the human drama that we watched like the train wreck that it is.
We don’t mean that it’s a total Kumbaya fest up there. While it does evoke metamodern “everybody’s a person with a story” feelings, it is also a funny sketch, and it is effective political satire. When Donald Trump, Jr. (Mikey Day) flashes those psychopath eyes at the camera, the audience erupts in laughter. When POTUS/Baldwin lifts his hands from the piano and yet the piano music continues, it’s a signal that the sketch knows about its own hokeyness; and/or it’s throwing shade at the real Trump, alluding to the common perception that everything he does is fake. The reference back to the earlier SNL episode serves to set the stage for the poignancy of this sketch, but also works as clever postmodern self-reflexivity.
The way that this sketch braids together earnestness and irony, into a kind of ironesty, takes this SNL sketch beyond the show’s usual realm of postmodern jokiness and into distinctly metamodern territory.