ISIS on SNL: How Far is Too Far?

By Emma Buchman
Opinion Editor

On Saturday, Nov. 1, “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) performed a skit, parodying the hit TV show “Shark Tank” where hopeful entrepreneurs display their business plans to four seasoned veterans of the business world, called the sharks (hence the title). The skit seemed like any real episode of “Shark Tank,” until they introduced the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as a business seeking $400 million for a one percent stake in their rapidly expanding brand.
The skit continued as ISIS gave out pamphlets (mislabeled as ISIL) and tried to convince each of the sharks to invest in their business.
Obviously, this skit cannot go easily unnoticed given ISIS’ current position on the world stage. SNL has always been a show of controversy. The writers and actors find a way to make the audience laugh with borderline-offensive jokes without being actually offensive.
I am an avid supporter of using comedy as a weapon. Used correctly, humor can demonstrate a range of emotions and points of view. Additionally, it can provide a softer light on bleak world events and strengthen the power of controversies.
However, when it comes to an issue as delicate as that of ISIS you have to be very careful how you approach it. And while this way was funny, it was also not that tasteful.

The SNL skit where ISIS made a business proposal to the sharks on “Shark Tank” featured (from left) Taran Killam as Mark Cuban, Kenan Thompson as Daymond John, Beck Bennett as Kevin O’Leary, and Kate McKinnon as Barbara Corcoran.
The SNL skit where ISIS made a business proposal to the sharks on “Shark Tank” featured (from left) Taran Killam as Mark Cuban, Kenan Thompson as Daymond John, Beck Bennett as Kevin O’Leary, and Kate McKinnon as Barbara Corcoran.

There were many wonderful qualities to the skit. For example, during the initial pitch, one of the terrorists states their “business plan,” to exterminate Westerners and Jewish people. The other terrorist then continues the pitch by stating that after only a few years, “our small, hateful perversion of Islam has grown into a multi-national brand.” This statement does reinforce a fact that most Americans fail to remember: organizations like ISIS do not represent the view of Islam as a whole, nor do their actions demonstrate the characteristics of everyone who practices Islam. Furthermore, it can be said that the reduction of ISIS from its status as a “state” to a power-hungry corporation dimishes their actual importance.
The sharks do the right thing in the end. While they seemed genuinely interested in ISIS’ pitch throughout the skit, shark Daymond John (portrayed by Kenan Thompson) states at the end that he called Homeland Security as soon as ISIS had come in, and the skit ends with the group being arrested by Homeland Security officers (too bad for John, seeing as ISIS was going to make his clothing line “Fubu” the national clothing line of the Islamic State.)
The actual John has since spoken out about SNL’s skit. He said, “I found it a little insensitive but I liked the fact that I was the one who saved the world.”
The more I watch this skit, the more I love it. I think that the main reason that I didn’t like it at first was because of the shock. While ISIS remains a prime target for shows like SNL, the set-up of ISIS in the shark tank threw me off-guard. It simply seemed like it wasn’t treating the effect that ISIS has had on the US and its allies with the respect it deserves.
It was insulting in regards to the lives that have been destroyed by ISIS. The beheadings of Western journalists and aid workers on camera and the mass-killings ISIS has committed throughout the region were not well-respected by this skit. By bringing ISIS down, they are also bringing what they do down. In one sense this is a good thing. When thinking of those who have been hurt or killed by ISIS, they do not deserve to be lowered to such a standard.
Other than this, the skit was actually very effective. It reduces ISIS to a petty, power-hungry business organization who can’t take “no” for an answer. Plus, they were dumb enough to think that no one in that room would call Homeland Security, or the police, or even Chuck Norris. Once you get over the initial shock of what you’re watching, it truly is just like any of SNL’s other controversial skits.
Just be careful next time SNL. Try putting ISIS on “Naked and Afraid” next time.

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