Monday, December 19, 2016

 

Give the people what they want

Give the people what they want

To become viral, a product, a cause or, in Trump’s case, a celebrity must actually surrender to the wave of culture. One’s own identity is less important than what the greater culture wants to engage with. Michael Jackson was a virus in his time, spreading unresolved cultural fascination with underage sex, the difference between blacks and whites, and the quest to remain young. Madonna pushed buttons on everything from virginity and teen pregnancy to gay culture and Catholicism.

The Donald Trump media virus has exposed the unresolved, hidden agendas in our popular culture.

On the viral level, at least, it’s less appropriate to think of Donald Trump as a new Berlusconi than a new Charlie Sheen. He was the last celebrity to jump into the standing wave of culture, and ride it for everything it’s worth. Of course, Sheen puttered out when he tried to recraft his Twitter meltdowns into a stage show, since the memes he was spreading about online self-destruction really only worked online. Remember: The virus only works in the right environment.

Trump keeps on replicating because — as I was trying to warn back in the early 90’s — this flood of memetic contagion has broken the levees of cable news and the internet to swallow the rest of our media. Reality TV broke the first dyke. While we all know now that reality TV is scripted, it is done so almost passively by finding wannabe media stars willing to embody the current values of culture. The Apprentice’s breakout love-to-hate star Omarosa was to that show what Donald Trump is to presidential politics: the contestant most willing to be possessed by the conflicted rage of the crowd.

America has huge, unresolved issues regarding race, as reflected in the insulting memes that were widely circulated during the election.

None of this necessarily has anything to do with what Trump believes, does, or says. It’s not the ideas or facts he peddles, but the viral memes he generates. America has huge, unresolved issues regarding race. We haven’t had an honest conversation about slavery, much less Black Lives Matter; but neither have we engaged thoughtfully with fear and anxiety of white men who see themselves blamed for everything from income inequality to attacks on the Jedi. Whether it’s about race, sexual harassment, business impropriety, collusion with Russia, America’s lost greatness, climate science, or globalism, Trump’s memetic discharge invariably provokes an immune response on media left and right, top-down and bottom-up.

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Respect for the truth is almost the basis of all morality.
Nothing can come from nothing.



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