Sometimes it seems like there’s a conspiracy to enforce middlebrow tastes in America, especially as award season ramps up. (Full disclosure: Slate is not always part of the solution!) This week Saturday Night Live showed us the gritty underside of the culture industry, a police interrogation room where Beck Bennett and Cecily Strong grill Aziz Ansari for not liking La La Land enough.
The conversation will be familiar to anyone who’s good friends with a big fan of La La Land, or really any movie, but the specific details make this maybe the sharpest writing all season. Take Strong yelling “Ryan Gosling didn’t learn piano from scratch so some little prick can come and nitpick!” In one sentence you get a joke, a sort-of-true fact offered up in support of the movie and a sideswipe at the tendency for audiences to confuse a difficult performance with a good performance. Bennett and Strong aren’t exactly wrong about La La Land; Bennett’s defense of the Griffith Observatory sequence with, “It’s just lovely, and that’s OK!” is spot on. It’s the relentlessness of their belief that everyone should be as enthusiastic about it as they are that rings truest.
But the moment that really sends this over the top is when Ansari brings up Moonlight. Instantly Bennett and Strong put on their earnest faces and praise Barry Jenkins’ masterpiece as “so good” and “so important.” But, as they reluctantly admit, neither one has seen it, because, according to Strong, “I know it’s gonna be a whole thing.” This is how garden-variety intellectual laziness becomes a consensus around overpraising unchallenging art. Now let’s all agree that this short comedy sketch from Saturday Night Live offers deep insights into our culture, our minds, and indeed, our very souls, and share it widely on every social network. What else are you going to do, go see Moonlight?