Thursday, October 24, 2019

Shark Jump

The Fonz representing the end of a cultural moment. Via

Roy (subscription) ties the ongoing shift in public opinion on impeachment to a phenomenon he's been interested in for a while:
The What Liberal Media has us a bit brainwashed with its endless thinkpieces about the how weird and alien and unreachable Trump voters are supposed to be, and the Nazi goblins and dinner-table racists who make up a large chunk of his base certainly are. But most Trump voters are no more weird than other Americans like you and me. I think we spend so much time worrying about how to convince them of the error their ways that we forget most of them are normal adults, able to make judgments on their own. They didn’t need our input to find out that Trump was not a good long-term investment. He was indeed like the pet rock, or maybe more to the point Big Mouth Billy Bass — a funny joke that over time got obnoxious, then disgusting, and had to be taken down.
Which gives him some hope that the bottom could really be dropping out of the Trump market and the Republicans could be forced to ditch him, the sooner the better (for them, not us).

I had similar thoughts back in the initial trauma of the election, when I was thinking of Trump voters as Beavis and Butt-Head fans 25 years older, but finding them in a darker place, suicidal nihilists chuckling themselves to death. But what if they're just good old Americans with a lot of personal preoccupations, marriages and kids and debts and crappy jobs, who consume crap in their spare time, Arby's and Taco Bell, fidget Spinners and The Apprentice, because it doesn't give them a lot of stress?

And with a calamitously weak sense of why it makes a difference who's running the government, so that they're just annoyed by the pieties and rages of people who take it very seriously (whether it's you and me or David Brooks and Bill Kristol)? Why shouldn't they be innocent Trump voters, who didn't mean any harm, or at least no more harm than the websites that encouraged people to vote for really horrible performers on American Idol, a series that certainly deserved any mockery that came its way?

And why shouldn't they get sick of it, as the stars and writers start fighting with each other and the show gets too incoherent and silly?

And what if—hear me out here—what if it wasn't just Trump himself who has been seen too much jumping that shark in recent months but the whole enterprise of reality-TV politics which began, perhaps, alongside reality TV itself, MTV's Real World beginning in 1992 and the release of D.A. Pennebaker's War Room in 1993?

Once upon a time politics was a kind of unburdensome duty that didn't take up too much of anybody's time, and boring and even unattractive performers Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson could win presidential elections. Then it became part of TV.

What if we're seeing a new transition analogous to the transition in fictional television, where the cheap contest crap into which the original reality TV concept degenerated in the late 1990s has been giving way to the expensive, binge-watchable maxi-series; what if we're going to get a psychologically richer, aesthetically more rewarding kind of politics than we've had in a long time? What if it's already begun, and the Trump Show, much as it may look like Netflix's Nailed It (the contest for incompetent bakers) is actually The Sopranos? To be followed by who knows what, I don't watch that stuff, but I see HBO is starting a dramatization of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, a project as ambitious and unlikely (and potentially uplifting) as Elizabeth Warren's domestic platform.

Netflix/Nailed It

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