People can generally agree on one aspect of the world: It is not harmonious. Beyond that, no one agrees on much of anything in America. The major political parties each believe that the other threatens to destroy the United States. Political division today is often equated with hatred or even violence. Just yesterday, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow called Donald Trump an “existential threat” to America.
In times of particularly tense conflict, art can clarify what is right in front of the nose of a society. Saturday Night Live often holds a comical mirror up to America, revealing how ridiculous it really is. In every election cycle, SNL mocks presidential candidates, soothing the audience by poking fun at the very cause of the tension. Although that can be cathartic for disaffected people engaged in politics, the most comforting SNL skit this year had almost nothing to do with politics. Instead, it was an active escape from the political world. Usually, escapism in art does nothing for me, but I can make an exception for America’s new sweetheart: David S. Pumpkins. Pumpkins, a Halloween-themed SNL character, is the heartwarming, momentary distraction the United States needed to maintain its wellbeing.
The skit, entitled “Haunted Elevator (ft. David S. Pumpkins),” follows a couple as they enter a Halloween theme park ride. The ride takes them up a hundred floors of frights, stopping at a few floors for a momentary scare like the girl from “The Ring” or a ghostly woman. At first the couple jumps at each scare, but the third scare they encounter utterly confounds them. Instead of horror, an orange suit-clad Tom Hanks stands in between two dancing men in skeleton suits. He introduces himself as David Pumpkins and promises to scare the couple, yet he is oddly charming and seemingly harmless. The ride continues, but Pumpkins does not go away, nor does it ever become clear who he is. The second time he appears, for no apparent reason, the skeleton dancers reveal David Pumpkins’ middle initial. The rest of the scares on the ride seem normal until they all inevitably revert back to David Pumpkins. So much of the scene’s humor is derived from Pumpkins’ signature tagline, “Any questions?”
Of course, there are many questions. Who is David S. Pumpkins? Is he supposed to be a reference to something? Why are there men in skeleton suits dancing to catchy music? Most importantly, does any of it matter?
The entire appeal of the skit is its nonsensicality. The American political stage is tumultuous and startling, and the media is busy trying to rationalize an irrational political reality. David Pumpkins has a different solution: For two minutes, SNL transports its audience into a world in which nothing has to make sense. The skit is designed to be nothing but bizarre, and therefore the audience is left with no choice but to accept the skit’s absurdity.
Other skits on SNL comically portray reality to gain a deeper understanding of it. Another skit from the same week displayed a Southern white Trump supporter named Doug competing on the fictional gameshow “Black Jeopardy.” The skit’s message was that even diametrically opposed people can find something in common. This type of skit plays into a culture of analysis in America. News networks continually analyze and create forecasts for politics. But this can be fatiguing, especially when contemplating the potentially unstable future of the United States. How do you analyze the politics of a country close to electing a political leader they hate? Is it possible to predict the future of this country when no one predicted Donald Trump to get this far in the first place?
David Pumpkins is not someone to analyze or predict. He just is. The couple even asks, “What is David Pumpkins?” Pumpkins resoundingly answers, “He’s his own thing!” For viewers like me, watching the skit was a relief from the constant anxiety of the real world. In this alternate David Pumpkins dimension, there is no 2016 election and there is no sense of impending doom in the world. There is just America’s dad, Tom Hanks, dancing with two skeletons, which the audience can mindlessly accept, escaping from America’s political reality.
Divorcing oneself from politics is a privilege, however. Many people cannot separate themselves from politics because their identities and their bodies have been politicized. The joy of forgetting about politics is not equally afforded to everyone.
But even if just a momentary distraction, David Pumpkins gave America a much-needed break from dismal reality. Through the skit’s absurdity, the audience can release the political tension building this election. With the election in only a few days, America needs a David Pumpkins now more than ever before. In fact, depending on who wins the election, America may need a lot of David Pumpkins over the next four years.
Aberle is a member of the class of 2020.