Wednesday, December 23, 2015

On God, Tina Fey, and Sarah Palin

Here's my side of an email exchange I had with some philosopher friends. This is in relation to whether Muslims and Christians worship/believe the same God. 

When Sarah Palin ran for Veep, she was parodied by Tina Fey on SNL. Fey's impersonation referred to Palin.

Some confused voters attributed to Palin things that Fey actually said. (I've read this is true.)

Did voter impressions of Palin based entirely on Fey refer to Palin? Did they believe in the same Palin by believing in Fey's impersonation? 

The relation seems to be indirect at best. Fey is clearly referring to Palin. Consciously targeting Palin. 

But the voters in question don't have that frame of reference. For them, the referent of Palin is Fey's parody. Their beliefs are about FeyPalin, rather than Sarah Palin.

Sure, their beliefs about Sarah Palin are wrong, yet that's not based on their viewpoint, but the viewpoint of someone who can compare and contrast FeyPalin with Sarah Palin. It's very roundabout. 

The belief of the voters in question is a crucial step removed from Sarah Palin. It's filtered through political satire. A deliberate misrepresentation of the object. Yet that's all they have to go by. So is it still about Sarah Palin? 

If they knew that Tina Fey was lampooning Palin, that would be different. 

What does it mean to be about something? On a standard definition, it means to represent or stand for something. 

Fey's parody is about Sarah Palin. But the belief of the voters is about Fey's parody. Is a belief about a parody about Sarah Palin a belief about Sarah Palin, or is that just a belief about the parody? Does it stop with the parody, or does it carry all the way through to what Fey had in mind? But the voters in question don't have access to what Fey had in mind. They don't realize this is political satire. And the parody is intentionally different from the subject. A caricature. 

A voter's belief about a spoof about Sarah Palin. A double about. Is it the same referent from start to finish? 

If the voter knew this was a satirical impersonation, then I'd say yes. If the voter had an independent basis of comparison, then I'd say yes. 

But it's not clear to me that the referent keeps on going as we shift from Fey to clueless SNL viewers. Can we switch out the perspective but maintain the referent? 

Regarding the confused voters, what makes it the case that their belief regarding FeyPalin is transitive with respect to Sarah Palin? In virtue of what is their belief about FeyPalin a belief about Sarah Palin? 

In the case of Tina Fey herself, I presume it's because she knows who Sarah Palin is, what Sarah Palin really said (or didn't say), and her intention to impersonate Sarah Palin. But those grounding conditions are absent in the case of voters whose information about "Sarah Palin" derives from an SNL skit. 


  1. Some confused voters attributed to Palin things that Fey actually said.

    So you read that was true eh? I experienced with all the liberal idiots at my university. Even the professor outed them and said it was all Tina Fey you're referring to.

  2. The referent of someone's reference to an act of Fey is that act, yes. That doesn't mean the referent of someone's false claim about Palin is Fey. You can talk about an action of someone and get the wrong person. The act you refer to in this case is a comedy routine, but the person referred to is Palin. If you were referring to Fey, you wouldn't be getting anything wrong. This is a quick recipe for Protagorean relativism.

    1. Jeremy, you're equivocating. I draw distinctions which you proceed to ignore and collapse, then raise an objection I anticipated and responded to in advance.

    2. Yes, then comedy routine is about Palin. But why make the misimpression of ignorant voters the frame of reference rather than Tina Fey's intentions? It involves comparing and contrasting Fey's impersonation with what Sarah Palin really said (or not). We can make that comparison directly. There's no reason that must be mediated by the confused voters.