Satire or flattery?

I knew there was something wrong with the current state of political satire when Sarah Palin agreed to appear on last weekend’s “Saturday Night Live.”
Satire is supposed to scald its targets not flatter them or boost their Q ratings with TV watchers.
The political send-ups on “SNL” are cut from the same cloth as the pop culture spoofing on the show — talented but shallow comedians who imitate celebrities rather than comment on what’s happening to our country.
Tina Fey’s much praised guest shots as Palin on this fall’s “SNL” episodes have added to the fame and charisma of the supposed target of the comic actress’s work.
If Fey had actually satirized Palin — rather than merely aped her — the V.P. candidate wouldn’t have come anywhere near the NBC studios in New York last Saturday night.
Oliver Stone’s highly touted “W.” inspired similar feelings when I caught up with the movie on Sunday afternoon.
Although the writer-director has said in interviews that “Dr. Strangelove” (1964) and “Network” (1976) were two of the models for “W.,” the movie isn’t a very tough look at a politican or his society.
Obvious targets for satire — the missing Bush brother, Neal, who was at the center of the Savings and Loan scandals of the 1980s and who is nowhere to be seen or heard from today; father Bush’s enemy-turned-running-mate Ronald Reagan; W.’s dirty campaign against Texas governor Ann Richards — are scarcely mentioned in Stone’s movie.
The blessing and the curse of “W.” is Josh Brolin’s amazing performance in the title role — he has the look and sound of our sitting president down pat but he also digs under the surface of the Yale party boy (above) who became the Leader of the Free World.
Stone and Brolin don’t appear to have decided if they were working on a comedy or a traditional bio-pic. The lead actor gets a few moments of sly humor in some of the White House meetings with Condie Rice and Dick Cheney et al, but the romantic interludes with Laura look like something conceived for the Hallmark cable channel.
It’s hard to construct a biting satire around real historical characters and a biographical narrative style that tends to leave us empathizing with the people on the screen.
When Stanley Kubrick made “Dr. Strangelove” he used stand-ins for American politicians and foreign nuclear strategists to make his points about the insanity of nuclear brinksmanship between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Sidney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky’s “Network” took apart the notion of news as entertainment through their fictional UBS network.
“W.” is a movie that George and Laura Bush could watch with a considerable degree of pride.