Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Hyperreality TV

Undertale: Jungle Cruisin' by Joyous Lemons/DeviantArt.

Hi, it's Stupid to say I'm going to be disappointed if Omarosa ends up being what drags Trump down in the end.

I mean, it's true that the writers who thought up this plot twist are trivializing the issues we're watching the show for, the apparent collapse of the Constitution in the face of flagrant illegality in the White House, the pervasive corruption throughout the executive, the treacherous dealing with foreign governments, in favor of what? The backstabbing intriguer motif, the person everybody always votes off the island, who might get brought back on to revive interest as an underwritten storyline starts to sputter and flag, but in this case the storyline wasn't flagging at all, if anything there was far too much going on already without her. Isn't there too much Sopranos-style personal stuff as it is, with the mental illness theme, and the endangered marital and family relationships, and Trump's fraught backstory with his retainers like Cohen and Manafort and Lewandowski and Scavino and the rest, and the bizarre intimacy and crudeness of his connections with his fellow sovereigns Trudeau and Merkel and Macron and Putin and Abe and Kim and Xi and Erdoğan and MBS and Sheikh Tamim, as detached from all the millions of people it affects as if it were taking place in a treehouse?

But then it's much bigger than a reality show, in a sense, anyway, in that what Omarosa threatens is the show itself, not one of the competitors. There's a nonzero possibility she could take this sucker right off the air, in the middle of the second season. This is metareality TV, where the drama itself is the character whose fate is centrally at stake. And not just a character, but a character with a tragic flaw.

Because here's the thing: it's great TV and terrible TV at the same time. It's unbearably compelling, but it's gone somewhere too transgressive, and it needs to die, it needs to be killed, and it needs to be killed by its own internal logic, and Omarosa makes a terrific murderer in that sense, let's face it.

Remember that the storyline of the normal reality show, the thing Trump understands, is really extremely simple—a contest with a more or less arbitrary content, feats of strength and agility, baking cupcakes, negotiating a "deal", and audience members pick somebody they'd like to win, and they do or they don't—but the presidency can't correspond to that (as the election campaign, which Trump really enjoyed, did). Trump would like to turn it into a contest, or a hierarchy of contests, among the cabinet members, among the approval ratings, among the sovereigns, among the trade balances, but none of it will come into proper focus, and nobody ever leaves, or if they leave they have to be replaced. He must wake up in the middle of the night wondering why Australia's still there. Didn't he fire them already?

In the presidency, storylines rise and subside all over the place, true ones and the fictional ones shoddily constructed by liars like Nunes and Sessions and the president himself, and they're in all different sorts of genres, and the Omarosa theme is one of the well-made ones, a Jacobean revenge tragedy. She's a great figure—talented, attractive, and evil, kind of like Iago, but unlike Iago with a clear motivation, her resentment at Trump for his racist exploitation and at herself for her slavish acceptance of it for all these years. I really enjoy her TV presence, her intelligence and confidentiality and the way you know she's bullshitting you but not all the time, which is pretty original. Why shouldn't she destroy him, why shouldn't she prove that she, not he, is the greatest reality villain of all?

The tragic flaw of the President Trump show is its excessive hyperreality, its nauseating tergiversation between the real and the illusory. It's like a Disney Jungle Cruise where tourists keep getting eaten by the crocodiles and the boat is taking on water. It raises all these real issues, like the inadequacy of the Constitution, the responsibilities of government, the meaning of party and nationality, and it's unable to address them. We're all too busy watching the show to consider what it means. What I want is for everybody to stand up and say no, if you won't show us your tax returns, you're not allowed to take the Oath, or you can't own a hotel if you're president, or there has to be some kind of defense against president's selling foreign policy for their personal profit or paying hush money—$15,000 a month is the going rate—to your departed goons, but it's not going to happen.

Which is not to say that the Democrats have no chance of taking control of Congress and mounting a decent impeachment, I still think it's possible, but it won't be any more satisfying than Omarosa revealing Trump audio with the N-word would be. It'll be a clown show, with Devin Nunes and dark and absurd stories of Peter Strzok and Nellie Ohr, even if it comes out right. We won't be able to talk about reality until it's over.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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