Why Betty White Is Too Great For A Backlash

Is there anything to be worried about in the wake of Betty White's wild resurgence? Will public opinion, fickle to say the least, turn on her? What if we're all laughing not with but at Betty?

Writing ahead of her forthcoming SNL hosting, Sara Libby thinks there's reason for concern. She writes,

It's not that I don't get [why White is popular]. No, it's more that I'm creeped out by the fact that despite being a gifted comedic actor and seemingly a great-natured human being, the hysteria over White seems to stem entirely from the fact that she is an old woman who jokes about sex....I'm glad that White, of the razor-sharp wit, deadpan delivery, and impeccable timing, is enjoying success; but it should be precisely because of those things, not because she's willing to crack wise about subjects we consider off-limits for old people.

It's true that much of White's recent appeal has to do with the fact that she does things we do not expect an 88-year-old to do — joke about sex or the Internet, or be tackled. It bears repeating that a central premise of something being funny is that it's surprising. But by all evidence, White, a highly savvy adult, is participating with gusto.

I get Libby's concern: are people who are laughing at White laughing at the very idea that someone over 40 is interested in sex or football? This is the same nagging worry that people had watching Gabourey Sidibe tell Hollywood heartthrobs she'd "hit that." Is the mainstream punchline that no one would ever want to "hit" either Sidibe or White, because they don't fit into what we're told is attractive?

When it comes to White, though, my hunch is that people love her not just because the idea of an older woman and sex is so gross. There is such a strong sense that she's in on the joke, and that she's enjoying every moment. And that you can fuck around with people's expectations even at 88. Call me an optimist, but it seems like her audience is responding to that as much as anything else.

The Case Against Betty White Mania [TrueSlant]

Earlier: Gabby Tells Gerard She'd "Hit That," Photobombs Jake G
Betty White To Host Mother's Day Special With Other SNL Ladies
Betty White's SNL Promo: Web-Savvy Cougar Jokes