Pop culture in the new political era

OK, everyone. Obviously, on the list of “things to be worried about now that a  white supremacist with no political experience and the emotional maturity of a potato is about to become president,” the way we consume and respond to pop culture is pretty far down. But it’s a real thing, and I think it’s worth exploring a little bit.

Before November 8, I LOVED TV and watched quite a bit of it. It was pretty much my default relaxation and entertainment outlet. That’s changed dramatically. I have trouble even thinking about tuning back in to some of the shows that I enjoyed so much just a month or more ago. Consider:

Saturday Night Live. Yes, I have heard that Kate McKinnon signing “Hallelujah” as Hillary Clinton was stunning and beautiful. I know that Alec Baldwin’s impression of Donald Trump is excellent. But I can’t bear to watch right now. It was just about a year about that SNL had Trump on to host, and I can’t help but think that they were at least a little bit complicit in his success. Ah, youth! Remember when people thought Trump’s campaign was a hilarious joke and we should milk it for all it was worth?

The Mindy Project and New Girl. Here are two reliable, solidly funny sitcoms that I’ve enjoyed for a while. Both shows made jokes about characters (Mindy and Schmidt, respectively) being Trump supporters. On New Girl, Jess and Cece were campaigning for Hillary Clinton and arguing with Schmidt about his deeply conservative political leanings (which honestly were never that convincing–Schmidt is a Jewish guy living in LA, let’s not pretend he wouldn’t at least be a grudging Clinton supporter). And Mindy had a line that I don’t remember about why she was voting for Trump. In both cases, the Trump line was a gag that I kind of rolled my eyes at and didn’t think more of. Not anymore. Both shows, like SNL, were fine with treating the campaign like a joke, and we all know where that got us.

Designated Survivor. This show didn’t do anything wrong, it just turned out to be badly timed. New this fall, it’s a solidly middlebrow drama about the guy who becomes president after the Capitol gets blown up during the State of the Union address. He’s the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a former academic, soft-spoken, and thoughtful. He is reluctant to retaliate against the country that’s most likely the culprit in the bombing until there’s 100% proof that they did it. Aw! Doesn’t that sound…nice? Literally the worst thing about this guy is that he doesn’t have much backbone. But he’s smart! He just has to dig deep for the leadership qualities that you know are inside him! His wife–now FLOTUS–is a hard-working, compassionate immigration lawyer! This show can no longer be the dystopian what-if story it was in September and October. I haven’t watched it since the election because it would probably throw me into a deep depression.

Hamilton. No, it’s not TV, but I’m including it here because it’s ticking the same “this feels different and bad!” boxes as the shows above. This is hard–I have the incredible good fortune to have a ticket to see Hamilton in Chicago in a few days. It’s going to be great and I’m really excited to go. That said, this show resonates so differently now. Hamilton made me feel–at least to a reasonable level–like our political system is a basically good and inspired institution. Its characters, among their many flaws, are intelligent and passionate people. Many of them are quite terrible (never forget that our founders were mostly slave owners!), but AT THE VERY LEAST they can write an eloquent essay defending their terrible beliefs. You know? This is the level of political discourse that we’re not going to get from PEOTUS. There’s a certain standard that I’m afraid we’re not going to get back.

To end on a somewhat higher note, there are a few things I can still appreciate. Parks and Recreation has been a comfort, though in this latest rewatch we haven’t made it into Leslie’s campaigning days, so who knows how that will go. Bob’s Burgers is still great. Drunk History is great, though I’ve avoided their special election episode so far.

But as I mentioned in my last post, there is nothing like Stardew Valley to take me out of the bleakness for a little while. That’s where I’m heading right now. Good night, sleep tight, hug your people, and play your games.

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