Career day, the time-honored tradition where young students get to bring their parents to school to describe what they do, has a special place in pop culture. This past weekend, “Saturday Night Live” went to that well, but in a cringe-inducing way:
In the sketch, J.K. Simmons, guest host and star of the (highly recommended) movie “Whiplash,” comes to career day to discuss his job as a Japanese “messy boy,” an American man who earns money by eating food in a piggish way for wealthy Japanese women. The odd career leaves the teacher scrambling to move on, but the students—and other parents—are left fascinated.
Simmons is adorable, but the sketch comes across as a reinforcement of a tired Asian stereotype about a Japanese penchant for strange things. There’s some weird stuff in Japan, but then again, Sunday evening, hundreds of thousands of Americans watched a football game played by puppies. Americans have spent hundreds of millions of dollars seeing all of the “Transformers” movies over the past decade. Americans invented Cheez Whiz. We don’t need to reinforce negative views of Japanese culture when we could mine our own weird culture.
This wasn’t the only sketch from the episode to bring in schools, always a popular topic for “SNL.” The show also offered a ( NSFW) digital short about teachers enjoying a snow day:
I winced at the line about tenure (a thing often mentioned without nuance), and I would guess that many teachers probably don’t love the lost instructional time created by snow days, but that’s not to sell the skit short. Because I’d also wager that a lot of children (and parents) think of teachers as strictly professional, mundane people, and at least “SNL” depicts teachers are human beings.
In high school, I remember a teacher lamenting that students were always surprised to see him outside of school, as though he didn’t need groceries or enjoy going to movies. Teachers have lives, too; so even as “SNL” revels in some tired jokes, the show does a nice job tearing other stereotypes down.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.