Betty White’s muffin on the boob tube

Which came first: the Snickers ad, the Facebook group, or SNL’s crowdsourced mandate to fete American sitcom icon Betty White? American as Apple Pie
To me this blonde’s netroots smack of a publicist’s hand, and White’s performance Saturday night all but validated SNL’s reluctance until now to spotlight the octogenarian’s one note routine. The SNL tribute could laud only her age, raising the specter that a proverbial domestic bread might have been named for her.

Betty White was a broadcast fixture, not a luminary. On the plus side, she hasn’t stooped to pitching life insurance on infomercials, although I suspect her screen persona lacked the gravitas. It does look like the Snickers “Divas” campaign wants to boost White’s brand recognition up to the visibility of its other stage and screen legends.

Of course Betty’s first name predates namesake archetypes of American comedy, but it’s no indication of her contribution. When a McGruber sketch had the title comic break character to wend an impassioned I Love You to grandmother White, I was horrified to predict that the actress’s persona had no stretch to stray from her signature negativity.

White may have begun her career in the age of the Honeymooners, but her caricatures belong squarely to the American sitcom as it devolved into cynicism. The high notes of Mary Tyler Moore and Golden Girls were achieved in spite of muddy cutouts like Betty White. The social relevance of every sitcom that followed was twilighted in my opinion by Oliver Stone’s brilliant parody of American television in Natural Born Killers.

Seeing Betty White on SNL reminded me of attending a celebration of another show business icon Shirley Jones. Both larger than life, both admirably spry, and both masters of well-honed chops, but we’re talking pork chops, with no more hue than the rosy cheeks of Paula Dean. Luminescent as they come, Jones could emote with a twinkle, but that didn’t make her Lena Horne. I know, apple pie is not an art medium.

Betty White can play the ditz or calculating shrew. Where else was SNL going to go with her but convalescent home vamp? I’m not sure the jokes made at the expense of her muffin weren’t clammier than Alec Baldwin’s Schweddy Balls. Hohoho, the ultimate promise of the boob tube.

Like surviving veterans of the wars quickly receding in our memories, White deserves honors rekindled with every new generation. Like the soldiers’ contributions, I’d say her deeds in particular were forgettable. We don’t ask our aging vets to reenact their killings. Bad jokes are worse than reenacted, they’re swung around afresh.

Leave Betty White to shill for candy bars, she’s part of America’s cultural pantheon and deservedly so. Laugh track optional.

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Eric Verlo

About Eric Verlo

On sabbatical
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1 Response to Betty White’s muffin on the boob tube

  1. Avatar Brother Jonah says:

    1,000 channels and nothing on.

    Not that i would know, we’re off cable for right now. But what would 3D HD do for the actual content?

    I’d say a good film noir short-take would be to have a picture started in 3D-HD at the pixel level, which is supposed to be closer than a micron. Keep zooming out until you see the Star of the Show.. a cow-pie.

    Then the fanciest font of Text you can manage saying “Bullshit in HD is still bullshit”

    Then keep sneaking it in to MalWart and all the other stores that carry the “Top of the Line Mucho Expensive! You got to have this teevee before the next model comes out in 3 months and makes it 1500 bux worth of obsolete” and playing the Cow-Pie video systemwide. 40 screens in a row showing the same thing.

    But yeah, she plays the one character she developed over the years, not the first one either. John Wayne played his ONE role across a few decades of cinema, likewise Charles Bronson.

    Maybe it’s the Commercial Nature of entertainment, the producers will be interested in only one thing, how to glom onto a moneymaker and then slowly beat it to death with a small thin stick. For all I know, Ms White could very easily have once played Ophelia, or Lady MacBeth, but you’d never know from how she typically gets cast.

    But they’ll sell their commercial time, for Beer and Soda and Potato Chips and cheaply made cell-phones. Sell it for big money if enough people are watching. “Art? We don’ need no steenkeeng Art!”

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