An extraordinarily wealthy businessman decides to run for national office. He campaigns on a conservative platform of traditional family values and cleaning up the mess that America has become. And when a major network invites him to appear on a live sketch comedy show, more than a few people are irate.
Although this narrative perfectly describes the uproar precipitated by the announcement that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump would host Saturday Night Live on Nov. 7, it also describes a subplot in a movie released in 1992, when the 2016 election was barely a glimmer in the eye of a younger—and much less orange—Donald Trump.
In Bob Roberts, Tim Robbins directs and stars as the eponymous lead character, a businessman-slash-folk-singer running in the 1990 Pennsylvania senatorial race. Filmed in the style of a satirical mockumentary, the movie presents a very chilling profile of a politician who is something of an American fascist in the making—a comparison Trump and his supporters would dispute.
When Roberts is invited to perform one of his folk-songs-with-a-message, “Don’t Smoke,” on a much-watched live comedy show, the candidate makes a last-minute change and decides instead to play a blatant campaign song. In response, one of the show’s staffers, incensed that the network would endorse “a f—king commercial for a f—king political candidate,” cuts power to the recording, pulling the plug on Roberts’ performance.
That angry staffer’s attitude seems to have eerily presaged the outcry of many, more than two decades later, who have pledged to boycott SNL on Saturday. The debate seems also to have been presaged by one Oscar Wilde, writing a century before Bob Roberts even entered pre-production, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”