Like many students on this campus, I was devastated at the victory of Donald J. Trump in his rise to the office of President of the United States. I sat there with my friends who had just been canvassing in New Hampshire as we all asked ourselves how in the world this happened. I was shocked like everyone else, but I shouldn’t have been. I should’ve seen this coming.
I’m not qualified to speak on the politics of this election. All I can do now is read articles from my more knowledgeable classmates in The Sun or professional journalists from the variety of publications covering these results. What I can speak on is how our pop culture in television, film and comedy has informed the outcome of the 2016 election. I believe that white liberalism is starkly to blame for how this happened. On a social policy level, we ignored these people as their businesses failed and they were further and further marginalized. But then we went even further. We twisted the knife, and we laughed about it.
Now I want to make one thing very clear. I do not protect the sentiments of racists, xenophobes, homophobes, sexists, transphobes and all the other -ists and -phobes. I think our media should consistently criticize those who practice these hateful sentiments and explain in clear terms how it’s so damaging.
That being said, all the things I just mentioned above inform our current culture of representation. There has been a huge push for this lately, and it’s been pretty terrific. Of course, we’re far from done, but I’ve seen some really positive progress made in my lifetime, admittedly along with some complete embarrassments (looking at you Dragonball: Evolution and The Last Airbender). With this push in representation and a greater social consciousness, filmmakers and screenwriters realized they couldn’t use easy targets anymore. They couldn’t ridicule homosexuals or black folk or Latinxs in their scripts because people rightfully so would call it out as oppressive garbage. So instead they found the next easiest target: rural white people. No one would get angry at making fun of white people!
So they turned an entire half of the country’s population in backwater hicks. Alcoholic assholes with missing teeth and less than a high school education. Think back to every time you impersonated a “dumb person” and used a thick Texas drawl. I remember doing that. Think back to every time you or your friends made jokes about people in Arkansas marrying their cousins. I remember doing that, and I lived there for three years.
If you need an ignorant character who is obese, wearing ratty clothes and smells like cheap liquor, making them from the South is efficient shorthand. Think of the homeless guy in Back to the Future or the country bar in The Blues Brothers. This trope became so integrated, we started to find comedy in subverting it through movies like Tucker and Dale vs Evil or the character of Old Man McGucket from Gravity Falls. It came to its worse in films like Deliverance, where two country hicks sexually assault a man, telling him to “Squeal like a piggy.” This scene was even parodied in an episode of South Park which depicted Steven Spielberg and George Lucas assaulting Indiana Jones. Spielberg and Lucas are considered generally civil people until they’re depicted with missing teeth and thick drawls.
And even in the modern day, we continue to depict these people through parody like Trailer Park Boys. And when we do actually show their real lives, we choose laughable, ignorant people for reality TV like Duck Dynasty or Honey Boo-Boo. There’s little argument against the fact that the media is ruled by the left, so when producers and writers release this content to the public, they only saw us respond positively to it. We loved watching it because we loved feeling superior, and the ratings showed. But now, an entire population had been reduced into cartoon characters, and nowhere they looked could they find any representations of themselves that weren’t aggressively demeaning. And finally when their values were treated legitimate in films like God’s Not Dead, liberal critics panned it outright.
You most likely disagree with the attitudes and opinions of these people. I do too. They’ve been built from, and currently implicitly support, systems of oppression, so I understand how you may not feel a great deal of sympathy. But like or not, they have just as much voting power as you do, and their feelings are just as salient to them. We ignored them in our media, we turned them into jokes, and they hate us for it. And I can’t really blame them for that last part.
But then someone came to champion them. Someone they had recognized for years. Someone who said they would make their way of life great again and push back at all the idiots who ridiculed them and painted them as monsters. He was a reality TV star, and he was a huge, HUGE asshole. But as David Wong points out in his brilliant Cracked article, “How Half of America Lost Its F**king Mind,” we love assholes. We relish in them. We root for Tony Starks and Walter Whites and Tony Sopranos. Bad people who do bad things, but for the “right reasons”.
There’s an amazingly crude but brilliant speech from Parker and Stone’s Team America: World Police. A stranger at a bar speaks to our main hero, explaining to him the trifecta of the world. Please excuse the language.
“See, there’s three kinds of people: dicks, pussies and assholes. Pussies think everyone can get along, and dicks just want to fuck all the time without thinking it through. But then you got your assholes. And all the assholes want us to shit all over everything! So, pussies may get mad at dicks once in a while, because pussies get fucked by dicks. But dicks also fuck assholes. And if they didn’t fuck the assholes, you know what you’d get? You’d get your dick and your pussy all covered in shit!”
For many of us here at Cornell, Trump is that asshole, but for these people, he’s their dick. Trump’s rise as an American business mogul and TV personality has been inflamed by the media. Their coverage of him during this election only fueled the flames, and we kept those ratings skyrocketing. He was sensationalized and publicized. He was memed. It only fed his power. Through years of media exposure and pop culture, we’ve glorified those who “get the job done” and Trump, the great salesman that he is, sold half the country on that idea. I hope looking back through a cinematic lens we can see where we’ve gone wrong and look toward something better, more patient, more understanding in the future. But for the meantime, we’re going to have a rough four years.
Brendan Coyle is a junior in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.