Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr was right. He coined the phrase plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose—the more things change, the more they stay the same—and watching Saturday Night Live’s new parody ad for “woke jeans” proves it.
The ad features various SNL cast members along with Ryan Gosling making fun of the whole idea of wokeness—the byword for social awareness. What makes the ad funny is that it turns on the single ludicrous idea that to give offense to any group—that is, any group defined as deserving of protection—is the gravest sin man can commit. Offending individuals is no problem according to the creed of wokeness. Nor does the dogma apologize for offending certain groups it deems the enemy to its social progressivism—i.e., Republicans, conservatives, religious believers, pro-lifers, gun owners, women who choose to raise children rather than work a second job, etc.
“Woke” jeans, the ad explains, are “sizeless, style-neutral, gender non-conforming denim, for a generation that defies labels.” The jeans have no pockets because “who says I have hands?” The “uni-fly” is the first “gender non-conforming 180 degrees” opening. What color are the jeans? Gosling responds “I’m triggered.” Indeed, the jeans are a nonexistent color called greb. The ad explains how “defining someone by their style, that’s offensive.” So the jeans “have no style” They fit “#everybody” because they fit “no body”.
It’s a hilarious send-up of a current, progressive sacred cow. Making fun of being woke means poking holes in the idea that defining people or groups by particular attributes is morally corrupt and evil. But this type of satire isn’t new to the comedy show, even though the needle has moved 180 degrees. Let’s review an earlier parody ad from SNL that aired nearly forty years go for “Jewess Jeans.”
The 1980 ad featured Gilda Radner as the “Jewess in Jewess Jeans” and made fun of that year’s fashion in denim as well as all the supposedly particular attributes of a cultural icon, the Jewish American Princess. Jewess Jeans are “skin tight and outta sight,” the jingle goes. The woman who wears these jeans “shops the sales for designer clothes, she’s got designer nails and a designer nose. She’s an American princess and a disco queen. She’s the Jewess in Jewess Jeans,” the ad continues.
The commercial was striking at some obvious stereotypes. Jews as materialistic, status-conscious and beauty obsessed, hence the reference to plastic surgery. The 1980 parody is also hilarious because it is focused on particular stereotypes whereas the 2017 commercial skewers the whole idea that one can escape stereotypes at all. The one constant is the jeans and the satire directed at the core of SNL’s audience.
Popular culture has shifted dramatically in the forty years between Jewess and Woke jeans. But the more things change—from skewering the particular to bursting the balloon of universalism—the more they stay the same; thank god for that, and for the good laugh such satire can still provide.
Image: Video Capture – SNL/NBC