Conspiracy Theory Rock: The Schoolhouse Rock Parody Saturday Night Live May Have Censored

You’ve prob­a­bly seen “Illu­sion of Choice,” a 2011 info­graph­ic detail­ing how six media con­glom­er­ates “con­trol a stag­ger­ing 90% of what we read, watch, or lis­ten to.” (The enti­ties named are GE, News Corp, Dis­ney, Via­com, Time Warn­er, and CBS.) Anoth­er “Illu­sion of Choice” info­graph­ic from last year doc­u­ments how “ten huge cor­po­ra­tions con­trol the pro­duc­tion of almost every­thing the aver­age per­son buys.” Are these webs of cor­po­rate con­nec­tion kooky con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries or gen­uine cause for alarm? Do the cor­re­la­tions between busi­ness enti­ties cause polit­i­cal cur­rents that under­mine democ­ra­cy and media inde­pen­dence? It’s not par­tic­u­lar­ly con­tro­ver­sial to think so giv­en the amount of mon­ey cor­po­ra­tions spend on lob­by­ing and polit­i­cal cam­paigns. It’s not even par­tic­u­lar­ly con­tro­ver­sial to say so, at least for those of us who aren’t employed by, say, Via­com, Time Warn­er, GE, etc.

But point­ing fin­gers at the cor­po­ra­toc­ra­cy may have not gone over so well for famed com­e­dy writer Robert Smigel in 1998 when his recur­ring ani­mat­ed “Sat­ur­day TV Fun­house” seg­ment pro­duced the “Con­spir­a­cy The­o­ry Rock” bit above for Sat­ur­day Night Live. A par­o­dy of the beloved School­house Rock edu­ca­tion­al ‘toons of the 70s, “Con­spir­a­cy The­o­ry Rock” fea­tures a disheveled gentleman—a stereo­type of the out­sider crackpot—leading a sing-along about the machi­na­tions of the “Media-opoly.” Fig­ured as greedy octopi (rem­i­nis­cent of Matt Taibbi’s “vam­pire squid”), the media giants here, includ­ing GE, West­ing­house, Fox, and Dis­ney, devour the small­er guys—the tra­di­tion­al networks—and “use them to say what­ev­er they please and put down the opin­ions of any­one who dis­agrees.” The seg­ment may have raised the ire of GE, who own NBC. It aired once with the orig­i­nal episode but was sub­se­quent­ly pulled from the show in syn­di­ca­tion, though it’s been includ­ed in sub­se­quent DVD com­pi­la­tions of “Sat­ur­day TV Fun­house.”

Now “Con­spir­a­cy The­o­ry Rock” is cir­cu­lat­ing online—ampli­fied by a Marc Maron tweet—as a “banned” clip, a mis­lead­ing descrip­tion that feeds right into the sto­ry of con­spir­a­cy. Edit­ing a sketch from a syn­di­cat­ed com­e­dy show, after all, is not tan­ta­mount to ban­ning it. While the short piece makes the usu­al com­pelling case against cor­po­rate rule, it does so in a tongue-in-cheek way that allows for the pos­si­bil­i­ty that some of these alle­ga­tions are ten­u­ous exag­ger­a­tions. Our unwashed pre­sen­ter, for exam­ple, ends the seg­ment mum­bling an inco­her­ent non sequitur about Lorne Michaels and Mar­i­on Bar­ry attend­ing the same high school. For his part, Michaels has said the seg­ment was cut because it “wasn’t fun­ny.” He’s got a point—it isn’t—but it’s hard to believe it didn’t raise oth­er objec­tions from net­work exec­u­tives. It wouldn’t be the first time the show has been accused of cen­sor­ing a polit­i­cal sketch.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

5 Musi­cal Guests Banned From Sat­ur­day Night Live: From Elvis Costel­lo to Frank Zap­pa

William S. Bur­roughs on Sat­ur­day Night Live, 1981: A Quick 100th Birth­day Cel­e­bra­tion

School­house Rock at 40: Revis­it a Col­lec­tion of Nos­tal­gia-Induc­ing Edu­ca­tion­al Videos

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Jane says:

    Michaels is right, it isn’t fun­ny? I must respect­ful­ly dis­agree. Truth­ful and fun­ny… no won­der it was pulled from the show in syn­di­ca­tion…

  • Stephen says:

    If Lorne Michaels pulled every bit that was­n’t fun­ny for SNL’s syn­di­ca­tion, the entire 45 year run of the show would be con­densed enough to fit on 3 Blu-ray discs…

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