Watching Us Watching Him

I did not watch the Emmys because I generally do not watch television, as it were—my most recent TV kick has been a DVD binge of the superlative early-2000s Veronica Mars—but I am glad I skipped it for another reason, in that it was apparently an insufferable few hours of progressive self-stimulation:

From the moment Sean Spicer — yes, the real one, not Melissa McCarthy — stepped on stage at the Emmys on Sunday night, the show amounted to a full-out roast of President Trump.

“And in 2017, we still refuse to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” said Lily Tomlin, who was standing next to an apparently surprised Dolly Parton.

“Mr. President, here is your Emmy,” joked Alec Baldwin, who won for his “Saturday Night Live” portrayal of Trump. (Trump has been outspoken about the fact he never won an Emmy in the reality TV category.)

“On a very personal note, I want to thank Hillary Clinton for your grace and grit,” “SNL” star Kate McKinnon said in accepting her Emmy for her portrayal of the 2016 Democratic nominee.

“We did have a whole storyline about an impeachment but we abandoned that because we were worried that someone else might get to it first,” said “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

And Emmy host Stephen Colbert seemed to crack few jokes –in his monologue and throughout the show — that didn’t tie back to the President in some way, shape or form.

Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump Trump.

…It wasn’t one or two people who made a joke about Trump. Or a single speech that centered on a pet issue or tried to take down Trump. It was that the entire event seemed to revolve around Trump. Or, maybe better put: That the entire proceeding was meant less as a celebration of the year in TV than it was as a response to the first eight months of Trump’s presidency.

As Kellyanne Conway so aptly pointed out: “They got plucked and polished and waxed and some of them didn’t eat for two months and all for what?” Yes: for what? What, precisely, was the point of the Emmys last week? Nominally it was to distribute awards for the best television performances and productions of the year. In reality it played out more like a group of catty high school girls who have all been jilted by the same meanie boyfriend. For the life of me I am not quite sure what to make of this. Even at the height of his incompetent and destructive presidency, I did not feel the need to obsess over Barack Obama in this way. Who gets off on this sort of thing?

This is not merely a political question; it is an academic one as well, insofar as the celebrities at the Emmys seemed to combine the worst effects of oppositional defiant disorder and neurotic reality denialism. I mean, I hate to break it to Lily Tomlin, but: you are controlled by Trump, at least to the limited extent that a president is able to “control” the citizenry (would that it were far less even than it is now). As for the notion that Donald Trump might be impeached: what would he be impeached for? And, look, I’m sorry, but: the notion that Hillary Clinton displayed “grace and grit” during the 2016 election, rather than clumsy ineptitude and one of the worst presidential campaigns in modern history, is a bit of a stretch. Call me crazy! Or, you know, just go back and look at Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

This is American celebrity progressivism’s coping mechanisms: nonsensical political tantrums mixed with an insufferable inability to not be political for even five stinking minutes at a time. Even more than being hysterical and silly, it’s just boring, having to listen to rich movie stars go on about the politician they don’t like. I mean, don’t these guys have any funny vignettes from the green rooms at Prospect Studios? Can’t we hear about the time—one of the times, anyway—that Tina Fey peed her pants on the set of 30 Rock or something? Does it all have to be this weird obsessive political fixation?

I understand that there is a desire on the part of American liberalism to ensure that Trump isn’t “normalized,” i.e. that his behavior, politics and beliefs should be rebuked and held outside of the mainstream wherever possible. That’s fine; they do this with every Republican politician. But the way to get there isn’t by devoting the entire Emmys to a lame and repetitive and histrionic obsession with the man; it is embarrassing and ultimately delegitimizing.

The one upside to the whole affair is that apparently the show was a ratings disaster: very few people actually tuned it to watch it. It is a blessing in disguise, really. Maybe next year they can call a do-over and try a different, less humiliating approach.

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