A few years ago, which now feels like utter decades, I wrote a small piece on Facebook about how Trump didn’t win, but television, in particular, the spectacle won the US election.
With the recent admission of Gene Simmons to speak at a podium from the Pentagon—some three years since my original push that TV and the spectacle won the election—my nihilistic hypothesis feels to have nightmarish new weight to it.
Below is my original text from Facebook on November 15, 2016.
President Trump is the climax of postmodernism and the invention of the television. We have moved nigh seamlessly from reality to TV to Reality TV to a new TV reality.
When I saw Trump in the Oval Office with Obama, I knew we were about to be glued to our sets in a way that we haven’t been in a long time. Watching Trump speak from that mighty and historic epicenter felt like watching Netflix — “It’s going to become a show,” I caught myself saying aloud. Not that American politics wasn’t a media-free holy bastion before; but that now, now it is going to be something altogether more vivid, bizarre, vulgar, regular, and psychedelic.
And then I thought about virtual reality. We thought that we were going to enter the televisual and cinematic medium through virtual reality. That once the screens were pressed up against our retinas and our hands shoved in gloves, then we’d be part of that televisual universe. That’s how we’d finally walk into the Screen that has so dominated our attention. Younger than the paper page, and yet so utterly dominating.
But nay. We have entered the screen not by walking into it, but by IT walking into our world. IRL. Trump’s invasion from The Apprentice, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Home Alone 2 into the desperately real (that is: supremely consequential) set of the Oval Office is how we’ve crossed the rubicon into TV Land. It’s not by strapping pixels to our eyes, but by it moving like a Stephen King curse from the boob tube to the White House.
Long before the recent Wikileaks release, we all knew that much of politics was scripted. That there were several versions of events in play at all times. That there was an outer theater of what The People are told and an inner theater of murmurs, secrets, deals, and special interests. Some events are willfully molded for the good of The People and The Country. Leaders lie — that’s just what they do sometimes. But now it will be impossible not to experience it all as entirely scripted. Entirely and absolutely “A SHOW.” The America Show hosted by Donald Trump. Watch him and his wacky pals try things! In vivid Real-o-Vision! Transported through the magic of technology from his desk to your social order.
This is what we’re getting. This is what is here.
If America wasn’t a show before it is certainly a show now. But because this show now effects both this country and indeed the entire world — it has pulled us all in with it. We have been sucked into another universe. A universe that many of us believed on a bone marrow deep-level could not exist. Too queer. Nothing within the boundaries of not what human beings would permit, but what the Universe Itself would permit. But it did. We did it.
It is TV Land. We are all in it now. We finally made it over. We crossed the divide. We did what our parents dreamed of. We’re not just all on TV now. We’re all in TV too. The camera is not just on the White House and our kooky host. The camera is now on every single American. We are all inevitably characters on his show now. And it all began with the fiercest election in modern American history — easily the most bizarre and memorable. Easily the rustlings of the new American middle-class political awakening for sure.
There was a phrase coursing through the country at the lead up of the election — “I can’t wait for the series finale of America.” Series finale of course means the final episode of a TV show. Very, very few people commonly refer to America as “A Show,” yet many agree that much of it stagey, scripted, with characters, and plots. But no one thought much in terms of “Next Season on America.” So, though it made sense at the time and was immediately understandable, the phrase, “I can’t wait for the series finale of America,” was actually totally preemptive. The America Show is not over. It has only just begun.
Truth is this is actually the First Season of The America Show. Everything up to this — from the creation of the television in 1927 to the 2016 white-knuckle house of mirrors election — has been but one long Epilogue. Last Tuesday and Wednesday, November 10th and 11th, 2016, the day of and the day after the election, that marked the First Episode. That’s when all this overwhelming disorientation began for us all. And I think we can all agree that the title of this episode could be nothing other than those foreboding words “Make America Great Again.” And you can find it by googling Se.01. Ep.01.The.America.Show-MAKE.AMERICA.GREAT. AGAIN.avi.
So… That feeling we’re all feeling. That vertigo and unbelievability so well-known to those that have touched bad acid. You feel it partly because we’re all in TV Land now. We all know it. We all feel like we’re in an episode of Black Mirror now. The reason why it feels so weird is because everybody knows that anything can happen in TV Land.
So, in the spirit of Leonard Cohen: Everybody knows that it’s strange as hell. Everybody knows who could have won. Everybody knows that the engines fail. Everybody knows the show’s not over. Everybody knows it’s tough to tell. Everybody knows the kingdom’s not comin. Everybody knows there’s blood in the well — that’s how it goes.
It is good to see you all on this strange other side. I hope we manage to rise to the occasion as they say in the script meetings. It is very good to see so many of you already are.
This might be a good time to read The Lord of The Rings… I know I am for the first time.