July 19, 2019

Critic’s Notebook: As Primary Season Begins, Who Can Split-Screen Trump?

I know: It is demeaning and depressing to describe the American electoral process as a TV show. Nonetheless it is also true, as proven by the White House’s current occupant. (And not only by him: It was not for nothing that Republicans anxiously tried to dismiss Barack Obama in 2008 as a “celebrity.”)

And while getting media attention is not the same as making policy, it’s not irrelevant to that, either. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has gotten almost-unheard-of political influence for a first-term representative in part by being a media star — which is to say, by personifying a narrative, in TV and social media, of a counter-movement further left, more inclusive and younger than Mr. Trump’s own.

Taking on the president in the media doesn’t have to mean imitating him, down to the insults and the Twitter fights. But it does mean being able to seize attention with an alternative story, and sense what the camera is hungry for. To take down the No. 1 show in the country, you need to be an effective counterprogrammer.

That happens all the time in showbiz. In the president’s protesting-too-much theater criticism of his potential opponents, there’s a hint of the aging celeb’s fear of being overtaken by the next hot sensation — someone dynamic, younger or newer, who will catch and hold the camera’s roving eye. (This may have been the subtext when he told a West Virginia rally that he worries only about “some total unknown.”)

Mr. Trump has become yesterday’s news before. In the 1980s, he was the braggadocious public face of Reagan-era capitalism, dominating tabloid pages and talk shows; by the 1990s, he was a self-parody, doing ironic cameos on sitcoms like “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

For one season, “The Apprentice” was a pop-culture sensation that made him the toast of a grateful NBC; within years, the ratings dwindling and the public bored of the show’s overexposure, he was hosting a farcical, less-popular “celebrity” version.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/12/arts/television/trump-border-wall-beto-orourke-rally.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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