There has long been some overlap of politics and pop culture, but the Trump administration and the 24/7 news cycle have made them inseparable.
The other day on national TV, and later again on thousands of internet sites, Press Secretary Sean Spicer made a jackass of himself by asserting that not even Hitler used gas on his own people the way Bashar Al-Assad has. It took all of three minutes for tens of thousands of retweets to disseminate that clip to the 300 million people who use Twitter. From there, it spread to Facebook, and Reddit, and Instagram. If you got on the internet, you most likely saw it.
The clip is almost surely going to be mocked by Melissa McCarthy on SNL this week, along with their other recurring Trump bits that are little more than to-scale reenactments of real life events. This, or whatever embarrassment to America happens next week will also be included in Comedy Central’s new half-hour-sitcom-that-will-get-cancelled-after-six-episodes. This is our reality now. Everything that happens within the Trump administration is now a part of popular culture, mostly because Trump is still more reality star than president.
The President of the United States made a name in business long before entering the White House. But where he really shined was in between, in prime time on NBC. Even as he weighs decisions like, whether or not to bomb Syria, or how to handle economic relations with China, Trump continues to find time to tweet about reality television. His grudge against NBC for replacing him with Arnold Schwarzenegger on The Apprentice is only one of the many symptoms of his sociopathy (Does he really, in his heart of hearts, believe he could have continued hosting while being president?).
The internet – and the theatrics of the Trump administration – have blurred the lines between political news and pop culture. The classic, “In a world where…” voiceover from movie trailers is now a common way to examine films, music, sport, and anything else of cultural importance in America. Super Bowl halftime performances are now graded on a curve relative to their effectiveness in speaking out against social injustice. Borderline backup-quality athletes now lead the news cycle because of the innocuous actions they take to share their beliefs. And albums are now graded, mostly unfairly, through a lens of political importance and social impact.
The 24/7 news cycle has existed since at least the W administration, and yet you could always manage to focus on something else if you wanted to. The paradigm has shifted now because of Trump, and it’s negatively impacting art in a tangible way. While the idea that, if you’re not against him, you’re with him, holds some value on an individual level, we need to quit framing culture through that lens. What made Dylan’s political records great, and what made people watch when Sinead O Connor ripped up a photo of the Pope, is that they were outliers. Dylan had his socially-minded counterparts, but they didn’t compose the entirety of the mainstream. We now have a president that feels like an attack on so many of the things that make our culture great, and we’re trying to defend it by pitting that same culture against him. Instead, we should let the art be. Let it live in the way it was intended to live – as a reprieve from the day-to-day insanity that is steadily stealing our collective attention. We don’t need to be reminded at every turn of our free time that awful things are happening.
Quit framing everything through the lens of Trump. It only benefits the people you don’t want it to, and it really hurts the people you want it to help.
Also published on Medium.