Dear Governor Ducey,
I admit that I have been mentioning podcasts over-much in my letters to you but I spend an hour in the forest with my dogs and my phone every day. I may as well learn something while I run. The latest news? Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History reports that satire does not work. He pointed to studies that showed Stephen Colbert on “The Colbert Report” was beloved not only by liberals who thought he was skewering conservatives but also by conservatives who thought he was making fun of liberals. When Tina Few played Sarah Palin, Fey teased Palin for her accent and word choice more than her politics. When Saturday Night Live had Palin on the show, it became very clear: ‘This is all in good fun. You’re not so bad, Sarah!” Gladwell goes on to describe real satire where the audience knows who you’re skewering. You hit home. Real satire, is painful. Real satire is not ambiguous.
My friend Rebecca sent me a Facebook Message with a link to a Hulu show. The host is a plastic dog. The show invited real Trump supported and showed them fake advertisements for the Trump campaign. One ad had illustrations of Mexicans being locked in port-a-potties that were lifted onto a flat bed truck and driven them across the border. Another had a guns installed on the wall in women’s restrooms so women could shoot any transgender person that might happen in. Another had a cartoon where poison was dumped into Chinese rivers to make “China less competitive.”
The focus group nodded. They said, “That seems like a good idea.” They said, “Well, if Trump thinks it’s a good idea…”They did not laugh. This was not satire to them. I, viewer, did not laugh because I was like, what the hell? It wasn’t funny either. But what was I looking at?
I emailed Rebecca back. “Those are not real Trump supporters. They have to be actors.”
“They are. That’s the whole point.”
“Why would you let yourself be filmed nodding at looking at people being locked in port-a-potties. It’s not only wrong. Cranes lifting port-a-potties onto flatbeds. It’s ridiculous.”
“I’m sure they signed a waiver before they went in. Not after.”
I described this video to my 15-year-old neighbor and he said, “Well, they probably just go along with whatever Trump says. They just want someone to follow.”
I thought about this—that no matter how ridiculous things get, people will still support Trump. How did people get to this point? The world is pretty ridiculous. This millennium seems more ridiculous than most. It’s ridiculous that planes fly into buildings. Ridiculous that a war began over non-existent weapons of mass destruction. That in 2007 you had $100,000 in your retirement account and in 2009, $20,000. Ridiculous that winters are getting colder. Ridiculous that summers are getting hotter. Ridiculous that Los Angeles is running out of water while Louisiana floods. Ridiculous that the police shoot black people on video and still the police are not held accountable. It’s ridiculous that with every camera we have more evidence that you “can see with your own eyes,” the more Photoshop wizards change those photos and videos into what someone else wants your eyes to believe.
I don’t believe those people in the focus group really believe what those fake ads advocated but only because I don’t believe anything I see on TV. Advocates for Donald Trump say they like that “he tells it like it is.” But that “is” doesn’t exist. So desperate are people to escape from ordinary ridiculous, they’ll take extreme ridiculousness as salvation. We are all on Candid Camera all the time. There is something nice about the idea that someone is behind the scenes who unambiguously tells the cameraperson to shoot from over there, who knows the the “gotcha” scene should unfold right before the mark begins to think, “hey, something’s fishy here.”
It’s hard to imagine there’s no director. That we’re all on camera. We are each the mark.
As William Carlos Williams wrote in his poem Spring and All about loss and desperation,
“No one to witness
No one to drive the car.”
It’s a lot of work to drive a car. It takes a lot of knowledge. I wonder where someone would get some of that.