Donald Trump: The World's First TV President
When the president gets his primary information from talking heads on cable TV rather than intelligence briefings, we have a problem.
Adam Mansbach is a novelist, screenwriter, cultural critic and humorist. He is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Go the Fuck to Sleep, which has been translated into forty languages, named Time Magazine's 2011 "Thing of the Year," and sold over two million copies worldwide. The 2014 sequel, "You Have to Fucking Eat," is also a New York Times bestseller.
Mansbach was recently nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and an NAACP Image Award for his screenplay BARRY. The film premiered to rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was acquired by Netflix. Released as a Netflix Original on December 16, 2016, BARRY was directed by Vikram Gandhi and stars Devon Terrell, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ellar Coltrane, Ashley Judd, Jason Mitchell, Jenna Elfman, and Avi Nash.
Mansbach's novels include The End of the Jews (2008) which won the California Book Award, and the cult classic Angry Black White Boy, or the Miscegenation of Macon Detornay (2005), which is taught at more than eighty schools and was adapted into a prize-winning stage play in 2008.
Mansbach also writes in several other literary genres. His debut thriller, The Dead Run was published by HarperCollins in 2013, and the sequel, The Devil's Bag Man, in 2015. The first book in a middle grades series co-written with Alan Zweibel and entitled Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in my Ass, was published in September 2015 by Hyperion.
Mansbach is the recipient of a Reed Award, a Webby Award, and a Gold Pollie from the American Association of Political Consultants for his 2012 campaign video "Wake The Fuck Up," starring Samuel L. Jackson. He was the 2009-11 New Voices Professor of Fiction at Rutgers University, a 2012 Sundance Screenwriting Lab Fellow, and a 2013 Berkeley Repertory Theatre Writing Fellow. Mansbach lives in Berkeley, California, and is a frequent lecturer on college campuses.
Adam Mansbach: You’re seeing Trump bandy around the term "fake news" to describe some of our most venerated, venerable, trustworthy institutions. When the president is calling anything he doesn’t like “fake news,” yeah, it dislocates the term. It dislocates the idea.
I think in general what we’re seeing is an assault on the idea that there can be objective truth, the idea that anything can stand above the political fray. And, you know, he’s seizing on that.
But it comes out of a much, you know, it comes out of the polarization that the coverage and the news media has been mired in for a good long time.
And he’s opportunistically seizing on it, but he didn’t invent it, right. We’ve been in the era for a long time now of polarized talking heads spewing venom at each other on cable news shows in what is supposed to be a fair and balanced and kind of like equal playing-field situation.
But because objectively speaking some of these people are dealing with facts and others are dealing with invented, imagined, biased nonsense there’s often, you know, creating that illusion of a balanced playing field is difficult.
Like you can turn on the news and see like, “A Fair And Balanced Discussion of Climate Change”. And like on this side we have like this dude who’s got like, you know, a doctorate in physics from Oxford and is like a triple Ph.D. in every relevant field and wrote six books, all of which won the Pulitzer Prize.
And representing the other side is like Joe Schmucko from Illinois who like thinks global warming doesn’t exist because he has a snowball in his freezer or some shit. And these people are being presented as if they have equal credentials.
So, you know, the polarization that leads to the dislocation of truth, it’s got to be – the blame for it needs to be spread around. Like it’s been going on for a good long time.
Yeah, I mean satire is an incredibly powerful tool and weapon. And I think we’re in an age where satire seems outdated. It’ll come back around, but at the moment we are living in such an absurd world.
Trump and his administration, his cabinet, his cronies defy satire because they are more ridiculous than anything that our greatest satirical minds can come up with.
So as you say we’ve moved into a phase where, you know, right now satire is not for the masses. Satire is directed only at the president. Like Alec Baldwin’s entire audience on Saturday Night Live is essentially Trump.
We’re in a moment where Trump’s own advisors are letting it be known that the way that they have to get his attention is to go on television. He won’t listen to them if they’re in the same room together. So they go on TV hoping that he will see them and listen because he apparently only pays attention to things and people that he hears on screen.
So, you know, I think there’s a very real sense in which both the satire and the entire sort of talking head infrastructure is increasingly directing itself solely at him.
It’s like, you know, this guy watches TV all the time. He gets his news, he gets his information not from intelligence briefings, not from this treasure trove of classified information that most people would be fascinated to delve into, but from the same idiots that everybody else has access to.
Maybe satire isn’t dead. That’s pretty absurd in itself. I take it back. Satire is very much alive in the form of Trump, you know, an audience of one for everything that goes on in the media.
Until now, the relationship of the President of the United States to the TV had been predictable. The President made news, and satirists made fun of the President. The President did not watch the satirists because he had, um, more important things to do. Well, life comes at you fast. Today, perhaps the most reliable way to communicate with the President is to appear on a cable news show. The poor quality of these programs — especially their habit of featuring unqualified opinion in the interest of balanced reporting — has made maintaining an informed national conversation very difficult. And that was before the President was citing Joe Schmucko from Illinois! Adam Mansbach's most recent book (co-authored with Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel) is For This We Left Egypt?.
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