thu 05/08/2021

Extract: TV by Susan Bordo | reviews, news & interviews

Extract: TV by Susan Bordo

Extract: TV by Susan Bordo

On 75 years of changing TV, changing habits and the relationship between TV and Trump

Donald Trump impersonator at the White House, Washington DC© Darren Halstead

"Television and I grew up together." As a baby boomer born in 1947, Susan Bordo is roughly the same age as our beloved gogglebox, which began life as a broad box with a ten-inch screen, chunky and clunky and encased in wood. With the rapid changes in technology in the years since, "television", as Bordo points out, has become estranged from its material status.

“In 2020, ‘television’ is what we watch, not the material object we watch it on.” Combining memoir with social and political history, her book is about our changing relationship with TV and the box's far-reaching consequences for our political and cultural life. The extract below is taken from her chapter "Intersections of TV, 'Reality', and Reality":

Donald Trump’s time as President is often casually referred to as a reality show. Commentators never explain exactly what they mean by this. Perhaps they have in mind that Trump’s presidency is performance rather than real. We all know by now that much of reality television is set up, staged, and heavily edited, and when Trump told us that he could be more presidential than anyone, he clearly signaled that he imagined it as a role to take on, perhaps not so different than the wise, managerial mogul he played in The Apprentice. Or perhaps commentators have in mind, paradoxically, the surreality of our lives under Trump: we still can’t believe that we actually elected this man – and continue, despite the corruption, the lies, the outrageous incompetence, the blatant racism, to engage in normal life, most of the time. […] [M]aybe, in calling the Trump Show a reality show, pundits are simply acknowledging that the only way to make sense of any of it is to think of it as television rather than a presidency. Trump certainly does; he measures the success of his presidency by the ratings of his TV appearances.

Front coverMaybe political commentators consider it too low-life a form of entertainment to waste their time on, but I’ve yet to hear one actually talk about The Apprentice – the reality show that made Trump’s rise possible – or consider how the genre (or more precisely, genres) of the reality show itself evolved over the years to pave the way for Trump, to inure us to the level of meanness, self-interest, bragging, and unapologetic narcissism that he exhibits every day. […] The fact is that for the most part, cultural theorists and television critics just don’t watch enough television to comment about it with authority. So James Poniewozik inaccurately describes Donald Trump as the villain of Celebrity Apprentice: “blunt, impolite,” “bellicose,” and an “apex predator who knew how to get things done.” Like many other commentators, Poniewozik finds those qualities crystallized in the culminating “You’re fired,” which came at the climax of every show. For Poniewozik, there’s not much of a step from the Trump of Apprentice to the Trump of the presidential rallies.

Anyone who watched the show regularly, however, knows that Trump fired most contestants reluctantly, often prefacing the famous phrase with compliments and regrets. He left it to the contestants to provide the squabbling cutthroat relations that viewers had come to expect from those fighting tooth and nail to remain on the island. Trump himself was calm, generous with praise, gentle with criticism, and above all impersonal in his decisions. […] The racist, bullying Trump of his rallies did not evolve from his reality television persona, as Poniewozik argues. Except for the ever-present brandishing of himself as the pinnacle of success, the Trump of the rallies was yet another new character for Donald to play – and one, I suspect, that allowed his anger and narcissism to become extravagantly and dangerously unleashed as his previous personae had not.

 

 

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters