With three weeks to go before the post-election lull ends and we enter … what comes next, I continue to be fascinated by our President-elect’s struggle to get anyone remotely “A-list” to perform for his inaugural.
It isn’t just schadenfreude-rich pleasure of the embarrassment to Trump of not being able to coerce stars like Celine Dion (via his casino buddy Steve Wynn) or bribe (with offers of seven-figure pay-outs for what is traditionally a volunteer gig and ambassadorships for talent agents who can land someone who isn’t Ted Nugent). It really isn’t, I swear.
Because what’s more interesting than cheap embarrassment is what this nearly universal rejection of Trump by America/the world’s pop culture heroes and role models means for youth coming of age in the era that begins on January 20.
Based on what we’re seeing from very mainstream pop heroes like Elton John, Lady Gaga and even (for chrissakes!) Garth Brooks we are entering an era during which the single most prominent authority figure on the planet will be consistently treated as an object of shame, contempt and derision by the people — singers, comedians, film and TV actors — who have far more influence over the imaginations of young people than any talk radio or cable TV host, newspaper columnist or droning pundit.
This wholesale abhorrence/rejection/contempt is (yet more) uncharted territory. Every president is routinely lampooned. It comes with the turf. But Trump, as a result of the cartoonishly sleazy way he’s conducted himself throughout his adult life, how he campaigned by inflaming ignorance and racism and how he’s surrounding himself with a freak show of know-nothings and profiteering billionaires, is already burying the needle in terms of contempt from our pop culture icons of fairness and decency.
Trumpists will sneer at the hypocrisy of “sleazy Hollywood” reviling Trump, their swamp-draining change agent and darling of evangelical puritans. But who really cares? What they’re ignoring (this time) is the far larger imprint of pop culture on qualities of imagination, generosity, courage, acceptance and common grace. Qualities at the core of the vast majority of “Hollywood’s” greatest successes, from “Star Wars” to “La La Land” to Beyonce and Bruce Springsteen.
By the starkest of contrasts, there is no “La La” to Donald Trump.
Based on everything we know from his decades in the pop culture spotlight, he is a man uniquely lacking in grace. There is no dignity to him. Nor even a hint of literate sophistication. What’s more, his well-earned reputation for double-dealing, crass manipulation and shameless dishonesty fully defines him as the classic villain of pop culture story-telling, the character to always be resisted and defeated.
It’s hard to imagine any scenario that doesn’t further aggravate this level of contempt.
And that’s if he just confines himself to dismantling popular liberal programs. Imagine if you will what goes down, in terms of response from popular culture, (when) he or his cabinet of trolls attempts to exert military force on someone (they say) poses a threat to us?
With gross dishonesty being the most distinctive facet of his reputation, Trump simply has no standing, no credibility at all in terms of committing the military to war. Oh, American generals will follow orders. It’s what they do. And the troops will do as they’re told. It’s their job. But on the streets of the USA? The reaction will be immediate and intense.
Overall, the world’s artistic community has a remarkable opportunity/obligation with Trump. It’s easy to foresee an explosive reaction from serious artists to a Trump era filled with deception, profiteering and comic book-style mendacity. But “serious artists”, painters, dancers, novelists, “art” filmmakers and cable comedians like John Oliver and Samantha Bee preach to the choir of Trump’s adversaries. (How many Trumpists do you think have ever been to a performance art show, or read Ian McEwan)?
The far more substantial undermining of Trump’s legitimacy will come, I believe, come from artists with vast crossover appeal. People like, for example, Beyonce, principled country western stars (oxymoron alert on that one) and mass appeal filmmakers of the Spielberg school deft enough to weave anti-Trump themes into large-scale box office attractions.
By the time this is over your average 12 year-old is going to have a radically different attitude toward America’s ultimate authority figure.