Did the joke go too far or not far enough?
When Tina Fey showed up to “Weekend Update Summer Edition” in a University of Virginia sweatshirt Thursday evening, her opening lines were drowned out by a cheering crowd. In a bit meant to address last weekend’s horrific violence in Charlottesville, Fey introduced “sheetcaking,” a “grassroots movement” in which you do nothing about white supremacy and instead eat cake.
“Wait, how is that supposed to help?” co-host Colin Jost asked.
“Love is love,” Fey said, mouth full of cake.
Because she’s saying this on a “Saturday Night Live” offshoot, you can most likely assume this is a jab at the hand-wringing white “activists” who flood social media with progressive commentary and then fail to show up for legitimate action. This jab seemed to be most apparent when Fey said, “‘Sheetcaking’ is a grassroots movement. Most of the women I know have been doing it once a week since the election.”
Not everyone saw the bit as an exercise in sarcasm. On social media, critics saw the joke as a dangerous call to inaction, giving those disinclined to resist a perfect excuse to continue doing nothing.
Others criticized Fey directly, calling into question her so-called progressive track record.
Jezebel acknowledged that while eating cake as a grassroots movement was clearly intended to be a joke, “it lands with a pretty deafening thud.”
The criticism that the joke didn’t land well is valid, but remember this bit is brought to you by “SNL,” where brilliant sketches go to taper off disappointingly. It’s also worth reminding everyone “Weekend Update Summer Edition” is a spinoff designed to capitalize on the outsized attention that the regular “Weekend Update” has been getting this year thanks to Trump. It was launched by a show that, by the way, decided to host Trump in November of 2015, propelling his presidential brand awareness to new heights.
Activist Brittany Packnett voiced on Twitter, “If the message you got from Charlottesville was to stay home + eat cake, quit Marie Antionetting and listen to people of color. Get to work.” In the thread that followed, Packnett explained that she saw the bit as a satirical portrayal of white people who loudly do nothing, but felt alarmed when she saw comments taking Fey’s joke at face value. If Fey can easily diffuse the confusion by underscoring the bit’s satirical purpose, why wouldn’t she? In the breakneck world of social media, it seems her time is running out to make the right call.
This should be obvious, but denying white supremacists attention should not translate into sitting at home and doing absolutely nothing about systemic racism in this country. Find a local Black Lives Matter chapter and see how you can best support them. When they organize a march, show up and listen. When they ask you to write your senators, write your senators. If you have the financial means to donate, donate. Black Lives Matter is an activist organization explicitly dedicated to social justice. Tina Fey is not. I think we know which one deserves more attention considering there’s no end to the work we can and have to do.