What the hell is happening? This is a question I hear uttered so frequently now. Not only from the mouths of my friends and family, but political figures, writers, celebrities, girl scouts. Much of what we've seen unfold this past month in present day America is unparalleled. But I beg to know how it all started, where the stalk met the fruit of this entire fucking mess. On one hand, our country has always had a fascination with train wrecks. It's the same reason people cause traffic on the freeway, slowing down to browse the tabloids on the side of the road, which in most cases turns out to be nothing more than a minor accident. We all have to watch. And now that a verifiable madman has been given the keys to The White House, we all can.
It's as if America has finally premiered season one of a years-in-development reality series for the entire world to watch. And who better a star than an attention-whoring beggar of the national spotlight? I'm not trying to tickle under the arm of despair, but it's hard to feign optimism when it's being bled through the papers daily, with every headline catering more and more to the narrative.
I used to think shows like The Shield (my all time favorite) or The Walking Dead (sometimes) did an okay job of grabbing you early, demanding interest. But this new program seems to be mastering this technique with every passing minute it airs. An over-saturated first season, yes. But it has commanded the world's attention. It's not the velocity of the story's development. It's just the way in which its audience has been triggered to react, both in staunch support of, or as many of the recent protests or memes have indicated, viciously against. And it is not stopping.
But yet I still ask. How the fuck did we get here?
The Past Is Current
When MTV's The Real World debuted in 1992, its creators, aiming to show a side of the network unfamiliar to its audience at the time, invited seven twenty-somethings who had never met before to live together, and record their daily happenings. During the opening credits, the voice of each cast member can be heard saying the now famous: "This is the true story of seven strangers, picked to live in a house, and have their lives taped, to find out what happens when people stop being polite, and start getting real." The genre was slowly learning how to walk but had garnered plenty of attention. It opened a generation's eyes, inviting topics of race and sexuality into discussion. To its viewers, this is how people behaved. And because we saw it with our very eyes, we believed it.
As further seasons aired, phrases like "scripted television" became a common criticism of the platform, while stories of cast members getting evicted due to drug use and violent outbursts arose. It was groundbreaking in how effectively it captured its target audience, bleeding productivity dry for 32 total seasons. Where earlier ones made an attempt to expose its audience to the intricacies of human interaction, the following seasons, as the years and genre progressed, only seemed focused on painting a mural of debauchery and downright buffoonery for its viewers, an approach that some might argue contributed heavily to the birth of the train wreck on-looker we now know.
With the rise of shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians, and even The Apprentice, which Donald Trump himself hosted for 14 years, reality TV tapped into every artery it could, personalities like the Kardashians continually injecting themselves into the veins of impressionable young adults everywhere. That the occupant of the most powerful seat in the world stemmed from this league of fabrication from which he appears to have no plan to depart is what's so frightening. 1992 brought The Real World, New York into living rooms across the world. 2016 and nearly half the nation's residents created a new series: The Real World, America, a shit show of ungodly proportions.
Gone are the days of David "Puck" Rainey pestering his roommates with his eccentricities and snot rockets, or the gel-saturated bravado of the entire cast of The Jersey Shore. This is far more dangerous, not to mention embarrassing. Qualities such as intelligence and commonsense seem like foreign concepts to this new commander in chief, with simple questions, no matter how trivial, appearing to challenge him to no end. If the Blu-ray edition were to see its release replete with behind the scenes footage and never before seen interviews, I fear the suicide rate in the country will skyrocket. Every time the President speaks, we're wondering what he might say next. Do we laugh? Do we correct him, if only from the confines of our living rooms?
We're like victims in a horror movie other nations are shouting at the screen to alert. But we've seen the ax from the moment it was forged, handed over to a maniac and swung like a pendulum at our country's values, free speech and, I worry, its credibility. And that's just a portion of it. Whenever someone posts a clip on Facebook of a dude falling down, celebrities making fools of themselves or some dumb cat video I've seen a hundred times, it shares the same meaningless quality of any clip of the President opening his fucking mouth. It shouldn't be this way. We should want to hear what this man has to say, not be entertained by it. We should learn something from it, not feel progress has receded because of it. Is that a light I see at the end of the tunnel, or just the sun eclipsed by an asshole?
Looking for Anything
Social Media has become one of the strongest enablers of reality TV personalities. It not only promotes them, but almost encourages us to embody them ourselves. Our lives are becoming diluted with endless filters, Snapchat and Instagram stories that publicize our every move. Is this what has made the thought of someone like Donald Trump in the White House a reality? Ridiculous, sure. But who knows? I just know I want to. Are we becoming more and more self centered? Are the percentages of people who really just don't give a shit that fucking high? The media reported of a ghastly amount of Americans who didn't even bother showing up at the polls to vote, following an election season that, sadly, was just the opening credits of the reality show we're currently watching, and even more disturbingly, now cast members of.
This past January, I joined my wife and friends for the Women's March in San Jose, CA in support of equality and human rights. What it really meant for me was a fist raised at the tyrannical views of this new leadership, a rejection of the hate and discrimination this White House seems eager to stimulate. This is a subjective view, I'll admit. But the millions of protesters around the world who contributed to this very message are the collective rebellion so many of us need. Now is that time, where people should speak up, stand on the shoulders of strangers and raise a flag. Even though Trump's presidency is still in its infancy, he has gotten far with his rhetoric and falsehoods.
His recent address to Congress, although more grounded than usual, still begs to be dissected, as his overall message still comes from a place of fear-titillating bullshit, where racism, social injustice, and LGBTQ rights are back burner topics. The American Flag bleeds of the lies this man has told in his first month in office. The treatment of media outlets that don't immediately fall to their knees is startling. How the fuck else do we get our information? Do some media organizations fart all over the pages? Sure. I read stupid headlines on Facebook every day, sometimes posted by people I know. But I don't believe that is what keeps this man up at night. What all reputable news organizations should propose is this: "Dear Mr. President. When you stop telling lies about us, we'll stop telling the truth about you."
But I don't want that. And I'm hoping nobody else does either. We need the media now more than ever. We need the truth. We need Mulder and Scully to set the black oil aside and join the fight. We need presidential Paris Hilton to understand that there are those of us who won't concede to his cabinet of Kaiju. We need the producers of this reality series (everyone who voted for him) to pull the plug on production and rewrite the story. It's a nice dream, a violin-led sonnet to help ease my mind of this dreadful situation. And after that, maybe I'll hand it to Mr. Trump, and thank him for his service. I might even ask him for his autograph. He's a reality TV star by the way. But only if he signs it "Yours falsely, The President." That, I may be able to do.