Donald Trump is on track to become the Republican Party's nomination for President of the United States, which makes it official: America has lost its damn mind.
And I have a theory about how this happened.
The line between reality and reality TV has blurred in this country.
And it can all be traced back to Jerry Springer.
Springer - a mayor-turned-talk-show-host - was the love child of entertainment and politics. In 1994, when faced with low ratings and impending cancellation, Springer retooled his standard daytime talk show to engage younger audiences. He was already familiar with the mechanics of pulling focus, so he hijacked the microphone stylings of such legendary hosts as Phil Donahue and Sally Jessie Raphael, then infused it with a shot of crass, butt-ugly humanity - all in the name of entertainment.
Jerry Springer set loose on his stage the under-belly of our society: his show was (is) a modern gladiator fight between white trash one-night stands and their barroom conquests: a fight to the death of their dignity.
And we ate that shit UP! We screamed at the TV, casting spittles of glee and judgment onto the screens of our cathode ray tubes. We engaged in the guilty pleasure of ridiculing those idiots/whores/junkies as they threw chairs at each other and got physically restrained by bulky stagehands in bad jeans.
We didn’t even care that much of the Jerry Springer show was staged. It was just so much fun to watch the bickering , the name-calling and the gratuitous nastiness – no harm, no foul, right? Because that’s entertainment!
Then televised reality started 1) getting plots and 2) giving away cash prizes. The “Survival of the Fittest”-style reality shows took our networks by storm! Big Brother! Survivor! The Bachelor! Even Trump got in on the reality bandwagon with his show, The Apprentice.**
The rules for these shows were simple: kill or be killed! Trust no one! Everyone for himself! There were no participation trophies, and the stakes were high: fame, fortune, or both. (Bonus: No moral standards were required! You didn’t have to be kind. You didn’t have to be honest. Truth be told, honesty might hurt your chances in the brave new world of reality TV)
The only things that really mattered were:
a) That you were an entertaining individual – the more strange/devious/diabolical/quick-witted, the better.
b) That you won.
In 2002 American Idol made its debut. Talent momentarily replaced scheming as the contestants’ primary weapon. And as much as we loved the musical performances, we really loved watching Simon Cowell roll his eyes at the audacity of the performers in being less than spectacular.
Oh my gosh…what a breath of fresh air Simon Cowell was! How we tingled when it was his turn to tell a young hopeful to go back to the karaoke bars... and stay there. How encouraging it was to hear someone say what was on their mind - to be brutally honest, even if it was harsh. And rude. And soul-crushing.
Who cares? That's entertainment.
That brutal honesty was like a waft of fresh air floating over the plasticity of the sit-com in whose mold we felt trapped. Finally, someone was real enough to say the snarky, mean shit that we had been keeping to ourselves in polite company. It was like being back at Jerry Springer’s show: Oh snap, did he just say what I think he said? WOOT.
Up to this point, reality shows had featured the lives of celebrities. The Osbournes were the first to show the world how famous people really lived. Then came the B-listers: Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie were suddenly more than they had been after The Simple Life was aired. (Those girls also set the stage for the Socialite Queens of WTF who were to come a few years later: The Kardashians)
Then, finally, reality TV began to feature "outsider" celebrities: people who were just like us! Suddenly, "our kind" were just one audition away from TV greatness (Yes, of course we knew those shows were all scripted and edited for optimum effect. Doi. That's entertainment!)
We were made to feel like we knew them - or at least COULD know them: The Duggars, Kate and her 8, Honey Boo-Boo! They were regular people and they were ON TV. (Many of them were horrible people, but they were horrible ON TV which made it okay, because that’s entertainment!)
Little by little, the fame of the mundane began to eclipse good character in this country. Fame began to adjust the currency rate of our modern values. Kindness was delegated to second place – trumped by having power over others, and VICTORY AT ALL COST.
Fame is a drug, both inside and outside of the screen. And as with all drugs, perspectives get warped - so much so that we shrugged off some ugly truths and behaviors that would devastate us if they occurred in our own families. We told ourselves, "Well so what if Josh Duggar was involved in a little molestation. And had an Ashley Madison account. He's just a person - no one's perfect." Being on TV gives people a bonus douche-shield. Because fame...
Wait. Did Trump really just have a Muslim woman escorted out of a political rally in the United States of America ..just for being Muslim? And he didn't stop it? or apologize? Oh well. Donald Trump's only human AND a TV star HOLD THE BUS. Did Donald Trump just lie about bullets in pigs’ blood..wait, wtf?
What just happened here? America has truly lost its damn mind.
The boundaries of good integrity on our “screens” have disappeared into the yuk-yuk stylings of reality show shock-jockery. We don't hold Donald Trump the TV star accountable for bad behavior because:
It’s easier to sit back and be entertained than to be a good person.
It’s easier to sit back and mindlessly judge others than to be a conscious human being who feels empathy for people who aren’t us.
It’s easier to blame and target than to come up with creative solutions with widespread appeal.
It’s easier to laugh at others than to stick up for them.
It's easier to align oneself with a bully than to create an enemy in that same bully down the line.
It’s easier to jeer, invisibly, in a crowd of hatred and bigotry when someone more shiny and powerful is the one leading the cheer. (Think Springer's studio audience..)
It’s easier to laugh at a racist joke when hundreds of others are laughing, too.
And let’s face it: it’s kind of fun to be mean, right? And since we are all so angry about the current state of politics in America, we have every right to be mean to others, right? No harm, no foul.
This is NOT entertainment, folks.
Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is the cumulative end-game of the American reality show landscape: the pop-culture juggernaut who has perfected the art of the reality show star.
He is the Survivor contestant who creates alliances only to use them, then smash them on their way out of the game.
He’s the foul-mouthed Big Brother contestant who proudly gives voice to his other-phobia, sputtering his filth behind a thinly veiled mask of “brutal honesty.” But in truth, his rhetoric is an emotional beat-down meant to humiliate and castrate the “other” in a public forum, all in exchange for a cheap army of supporters to help him advance his own cause.
He’s the Kardashian sister whose calculated mix of branding, stylists and daily sound bites on "Extra" gives her an illusion of competence far beyond her pay scale. The unrelenting flow of Kardashian imagery into our brain matter + her family’s friends in both high and low places = an imaginary credibility about everything.
And here is the real danger lurking in that ignoble crevice between the truth and escapism, between reality and reality TV: consequences.
In reality TV, we don’t have to see them because all the snarky zingers and feigned nobility end with “happily ever after” and “roll credits.” But in reality we aren’t saved from an uncomfortable endgame by an editing room floor.
So when the nasty jeers and the uneducated cheers of this ludicrous political reality show subside, the cameras will turn off, the grips will pack up the news trucks, and the real work will begin.
And the president will take his seat as one-third of this great country’s leadership – for a president is not a king.
And if that man wrote his own rules during the election year, then wouldn’t he also feel entitled to ignore those rules our forefathers risked life and limb to craft with such careful elegance, both in our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights, simply because he wants his own way?
And if he previously showed no tact or diplomacy with other leaders and colleagues, might he not put his own ego before the interests of our children when he sits across the table from a particularly divisive world leader?
And if that man had so completely changed his position on EVERYTHING, wouldn’t you think he is a man who says things to get what he wants? Why would you now think you are safe from his convictions.. just because you believe what he says right now?
How can America be successfully led by a man whose behavior would get him fired if he were a high school principal in any decent school in the nation?
Because that is the reality of this situation.
(Hmmmm… Donald Trump: High School Principal. Now that is a reality show I would watch.)
** (Full disclosure: I LOVED the first season of The Apprentice. Celebrity Apprentice , however, can go to hell)
That's my piece, and that's my peace. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my silly words. It truly means the world to me. Carry on...
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