Will Pop Culture Actually Criticize Trump?
11/23/2016 by Dylan James Harper
While I’m eternally grateful to the people who sincerely tried to find optimism in the hours after the election, one particularly note didn’t sit right with me: the idea that there will be great art (or comedy) as a direct result of the election and a Trump presidency. I truly want people to remain somewhat optimistic, and have things in their life to look forward to, but it is some revisionist history to think there’s a basis for believing good art is on its way to the United States.
Let’s start with comedy. A lot of people seem to think that shows like South Park or The Daily Show (both of which helped elect Trump, for what it’s worth), will start to get good again now that they have a big target to aim at. This has not historically been the case. The Bush years saw South Park endorse the War in Iraq, and denounce Climate Change as fictional. The Daily Show has a new host, so it’s a little less predictable, but, while Jon Stewart was often critical of Bush and Cheney, he also had skits that mocked Americans for not helping out with the war effort enough. More importantly, Stewart and co. did take a lot of broad swipes at Bush, but they were never on the front lines of culturally defending the communities that Trump denigrated to get elected.
As for stand-up comedy, think back on who the most successful comedians of the 2000s were: Dave Chappelle? Daniel Tosh? Dane Cook? Yeah, they were all successful. Remember their comedy? Tosh and Cook traded in the everyday bigotry that Trump trades in now, and Chappelle, while having some great things to say about race, was as much a misogynist as anyone. Comedy did about as much damage to the Bush era as Ralph Nader.
Alright, but what about music? Well, it’s funny you mention that because the 2000s were one of the least political decades in terms of mainstream hits. Many people cite the decade as the one that changed hip hop dramatically from a politically minded genre, to a club genre. There were exceptions of course, but even a brief scan of the pop charts throughout the Bush marks a lot of mediocre music, with no message.
Movies? Ha. Remember Crash? Probably the most politically minded mainstream film of the 2000s? When’s the last time you watched Crash? Because I watched it recently, and let me tell you, Crash is not a movie that will stop anyone from being racist. It was one of those “everyone is racist” type films that doesn’t understand power imbalance, and spends a lot of time humanizing bigoted cops, and hurts a lot of people of color in-between. Meanwhile, the Nolan Batman trilogy justified the surveillance state, and income inequality. Lord of the Rings, one of the biggest cinematic hits of the Bush era offered virtually nothing in terms of actual cultural criticism. It’s a blanket “good vs. evil” plot that allows anyone, of any ideology to insert themselves in the role of hero. Trump can imagine himself as Frodo or Aragon just as easily as you can. In fact, the best post-9/11 movie came well after Bush in the form of Captain America: Winter Solider.
It is undeniable that there was some good art in the Bush era that wouldn’t have occurred had Bush not been president. Culture, however, tends to bend in various directions. The 80s saw a slew of comedians, television shows, and movies that adopted the politics and ideas of Reagan’s America. The same happened under Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump, for all his divisiveness, will be no different.
Dylan James Harper is the Chief Political Editor for CSuiteMusic
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