SNL’s jawdropping sketch about the ‘World’s Most Evil Invention’
So this aired during the finale of ‘Saturday Night Live’ season 42 on 20 May, 2017, hosted by Dwayne Johnson:
The sketch went down with mixed results, as was evident from the audience’s stifled laughter: detractors argued the sketch trivialised sexual abuse. While not as effective as the shockingly bloody “Farewell Mr. Bunting”, it’s just as bold.
What’s fascinating is the dissonance between the cartoonish expectation of a supervillain, and the banality of the Rock’s scientist and his creation. So much of our image of evil people is rooted in outdated stereotypes: say, burglar or bank robber, and you may imagine a man in a domino mask and striped jail uniform. Parodies of supervillain groups like these are based on simplistic 1950s comic books that were best adapted by the Adam West Batman series.
Comic books became gradually darker, culminating in the seminal year of 1986 with publications like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, but also led to the nadir of the 1990s, the mockingly termed Dark Age where a “grim and gritty” tone dominated but only led to stories that were as mature as an angry teenager.
Most relevant to this comparison is Batman’s nemesis the Joker: he had been introduced as a killer who “smile[d] without mirth” in 1940 but then evolved into the harmless prankster played by Cesar Romero on TV. The Dark Age brought back the Joker’s killer instinct, the nadir of which was Batman: The Killing Joke, where he cripples and sexually abuses Batgirl to drive Gordon insane and to provoke Batman into killing him. Batgirl’s own reaction to her assault wasn’t even explored by writer Alan Moore, who later disowned the story and expressed regret at how subversive comics became the norm.
So for me at least, it was a brave pull of the rug from the audience’s feet, and a commentary on how writing your story into a logical corner can really deflate the fun. Evidently, even bad guys have standards. As the Riddler once said, “The Joker’s killing people for God’s sake!”
Turning out to be a White Castle commercial was rather weak though.