This Saturday Night Live ad parody, in which a dad (Taran Killam) drops off his daughter (Dakota Johnson) to join ISIS, sparked a raging debate this weekend on social media.
The sketch lampoons Toyota's "My Bold Dad" Super Bowl ad for the Camry, which showed a proud father driving his daughter to the airport as she begins her hitch in the U.S. Army. In SNL's skit, the dad urges his daughter to "Be careful, OK?" as she climbs into a rough-terrain vehicle with three heavily armed, scraggy-bearded jihadi types. "ISIS. We'll take it from here, Dad" is the tagline.
Detractors argue that the radical Islamist group's atrocities are too heinous, and too freshly carved into our collective psyche, for the comedy treatment. They believe the parody is offensive, or at least in bad taste. Defenders applaud SNL's bold decision to court controversy in its quest for laughs. (This camp includes Arsenio Hall, who tweeted that the sketch was "#hilarious.")
Personally, I wouldn't use the word "hilarious," even without the hashtag. Its savage satire will, however, get under your skin—and maybe even make your skin crawl. That's a good thing. Western teenagers and young adults (like Jihadi John) who choose to join extremist groups only recently hit global headlines. We're in new and unfamiliar territory, processing gut-wrenching details and struggling, as individuals and as a society, to understand.
That's why the debate is so important. And so wonderful. We should never have to reach a "safe place" or stoop to group think as we parse provocative concepts. SNL is free to say whatever it wants, and viewers are equally free to express their agreement or take umbrage. Jousting in the marketplace of ideas, defending our opinions with fierce passion—that's what America is all about. Or should be all about, at any rate.