SNL's "Lil Poundcake" Misses the Joke on HPV

What Women Really Think
Oct. 4 2011 11:04 AM

"Lil Poundcake" Misses the Joke on HPV

In all the conversation about SNL’s “Lil Poundcake” parody yesterday, why didn’t anyone point out the real reason the mock ad (for a doll which sneakily injects its owner with three doses of the HPV vaccine) was a comedy misfire? Lil Poundcake isn’t funny, and it’s not satire. As so often happens, SNL writers only made half the joke.

Beware: I’m going to kill even the faint humor of  Lil Poundcake by overanalyzing it. The little girls dancing around with Lil Poundcake are only funny if you accept that it’s ridiculous to inoculate a child that young against a sexually transmitted disease—presumably because those girls should be playing with dolls, not playing doctor. But targeting girls who play with dolls is, in fact, the idea behind the age at which the HPV vaccine is recommended. It’s just true (if a little sad), and there’s nothing that funny about mocking it.

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Now imagine the addition of a single scene: a prototype liberal doctor slipping the girls Lil Poundcake under the benign gaze of the oblivious conservative mom. Lil Poundcake, the doll that inoculates and indoctrinates! If the girl herself is in on the ruse, it really plays to the controversy—one that’s only going to get larger. The New York Times reported on a study this morning showing a sharp rise in throat cancers caused by HPV.

We’re still figuring out the extent of the damage caused by the HPV epidemic, and my guess is that it’s going to take a few more years of tragedy before attitudes change. As people on all sides of the policital spectrum watch family members succumb to cancers that we can prevent in our children, they’ll recognize that the HPV vaccine doesn’t push children to have sex, but protects them when they do, whether that’s in the back seat at 14 or in the honeymoon suite.

Meanwhile, that’s the kind of change in American attitudes that SNL is supposed to skewer. The trouble with Lil Poundcake wasn’t just that it embraced the conservative line on HPV. Funny is funny on either side of the political spectrum. The trouble with Lil Poundcake was that it stopped just short of what’s really “funny” about the confusion over the HPV vaccine. How about that conservative mom giving the gift of Lil Pancake to her daughter as she heads into chemo, Michele Bachmann-T-shirt-wearing husband at her side? Now that’s funny. Or maybe it’s not. But it’s a whole lot closer to the point.

KJ Dell'Antonia is a writer living in New Hampshire. She writes the EcoLiving column for Kiwi magazine and is the co-author ofReading With Babies, Toddlers and Twos: Choosing, Reading and Loving Books Together.