TrumpMania: the demise of literacy and the rise of political spectacle

By   /   November 16, 2016  /   30 Comments

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Anyone who is surprised by the result of the recent US presidential election should take a close look at WrestleMania, an annual sport entertainment event created by the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). The show’s content and its format explain a lot about Trump’s triumph in the US presidential election.

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Anyone who is surprised by the result of the recent US presidential election should take a close look at WrestleMania, an annual sport entertainment event created by the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). The show’s content and its format explain a lot about Trump’s triumph in the US presidential election.

Dubbed as “the show of shows” and “the greatest sport event in the world”, WrestleMania is based entirely on showmanship and fakery.

A sexy and violent version of ham theatre, WrestleMania gives its fans, heroes to love and villains to hate. Highly scripted and with pre-determined results, WrestleMania is all about drama, spectacle, and crucially about suspended disbelief- that is the willingness of audiences to sacrifice realism and logic for the sake of entertainment.  

The storylines are normally about treachery and old rivalries and contain characters like the evil communist, the effeminate narcissist and the pretend patriot, etc.

Donald Trump is the 2013 WWE Hall of Fame inductee and one of WrestleMania’s biggest supporters since 1980s.

In 2007, Trump’s own WrestleMania performance before and during a match billed as “The Battle of the Billionaires” caused a media frenzy in front of a then record-selling 80,000 fans.

Raucous crowds held up placards and cheered loudly as the hubris Trump, standing in the middle of the ring, sneered, mocked and belittled his opponent; it was all scripted fakery of course.

Watching Trump’s performance during the 2007 WrestleMania, I couldn’t help but think of its uncanny similarities to Trump’s style of campaigning during the 2016 US elections.

Trump adopted the WrestleMania’s formulaic recipe to energise and attract people to his rallies. He brought entertainment and extravaganza to politics just like WWE brought entertainment to sport.

Like good WrestleMania audiences, the supporters at Trump’s rallies played their part in creating drama and hype; they chanted “we hate Muslims, we hate blacks” and “lock her up, lock her up”.

Trump played his part by being outrageous and shocking: he promised to build a giant wall, to throw out illegal immigrants and to stop Muslims from entering United States of America.

The media and political establishment became the main villains, while Trump posited himself as the new anti-establishment hero.

The media gobbled up the fake garbage willingly and brought in massive television viewers that gave TrumpMania its much-needed oxygen.

Unlike WrestleMania’s pay-per-view format, TrumpMania was free to watch and audiences around America, and the wider world, loved the show.

Meanwhile, another decent anti-establishment movement went largely unnoticed because its protagonist, Bernie Sanders, refused to give in to fakery and sensationalism and preferred to deal with reality and decency.

This is not to say that Bernie’s movement was not compelling or without its own dramas.

The presidential campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders raised $234.3 million dollars from small individual donations and energized young voters to flock to the Democratic candidate’s side.

They were other highlights and dramas too.

For instance, no pre-scripted storyline could have ever matched the almost holy moment a bird landed on Bernie’s podium during a campaign rally in Portland, Oregon.

The crowd went wild and cheered as Bernie shook his head and said while smiling “I think there maybe some symbolism here”, “ I know it doesn’t look like it but that bird was really a dove asking us for world peace”, “no more war”.

In my own Persian culture, legend has it that, at times when a suitable king cannot be found, a bird called Homa will land on a person’s shoulder to signify his suitability to become the next king.  

Writers, artists and journalists all failed to capitalize on the story behind a modern Western version of Homa; to captivate their audiences by telling them an inspirational story of Bernie and the bird.   

The media blackout of Sanders’ campaign continued while Trump dominated the television screens.

A study by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center confirmed that Sanders received far less media exposure than any other major political candidate in the presidential race.  The study concluded that the media blackout badly hurt Sanders’ campaign.

But the success of Sanders’ movement did not go unnoticed by Donald Trump who leveraged on its anti-elitist and anti-establishment language to draw Sanders’ supporters to his side.

A Trump ad released a few days before the election is a clear example of this.

Capitalizing on the awareness created by the work of the Occupy Wall Street and Sanders’ movement, the ad lambasted the global power structure that Trump said, had “robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth, and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities”.

Many would be Sanders’ supporters held their noses and voted for Trump as a Brexit-style expression of their disdain for both the media and political establishments.

As Trump’s campaign gathered momentum, the panic at newsrooms around the world came too late. In fact, as the media’s attacks on Trump intensified so did people’s suspicion of the media’s true motives.

The almost unanimous rejection of Donald Trump by the media served the opposite purpose by giving weight to Trump’s laments about media corruption.    

Journalists failed to understand the TrumpMania effect and the suspended disbelief that fueled it.

This year, according to WWE, WrestleMania set multiple records for the company; including grossing $17.3 million and an official attendance record of 101,763.

According to Forbes, WWE stock jumped 5% after Trump won the presidency.

Evidently, there is a healthy appetite for entertainment in both sport and politics. Remember how Boris Johnston’s buffoonish and entertaining character contributed to Brexit’s success.

What surprised me the most about the US election night was not the final result but my 14-year’s obsessive interest in it; such is the TrumpMania’s global appeal and the pulling power of political entertainment .

One thing is for sure: the path to political entertainment has been paved.

Kanye West’s fans have already started throwing their support behind the rapper’s 2020 White House bid.  

It appears the demise of literacy and the rise of spectacle is here to stay.

  

 

 

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About the author

Donna Miles

Donna Miles is a British-born, Iranian-bred, New Zealand citizen with a strong interest in human rights, justice and equality issues.

30 Comments

  1. Afewknowthetruth says:

    The ‘election’ was only ever a puppet show. To think it was real or that the result would make any difference was to be deluded.

    America will continue to destroy itself and the rest of the world via the extraction and burning of fossil fuels whoever is president, just as NZ will continue to destroy itself and the rest of the world via the extraction and burning of fossil fuels whoever is prime minister.

    Not long to wait until collapse starts to really accelerate. Maybe three years.

    • Nitrium Nitrium says:

      You don’t seriously think the world starts collapsing in earnest (i.e. that it’s obvious to everyone) in just 3 years? 30 years, maybe, but 3? No way.
      Even if you mean financial (surely not environmental, where any tangible change is measured over multiple decades, if not centuries?), just look at Japan. They’re the world’s most indebted nation, now with well over an eye-watering 200% of GDP of public debt (never mind private debt) and the Yen is still very strong. The US (or EU) will take another 20+ years to reach that sort of debt level, and further, with the USD being world’s reserve currency, they can undoubtedly leverage that to extend it further out still.
      That a catastrophic collapse of some sort will happen is certain (and the path is likely irreversible at this stage), but you’re seriously underestimating the time frame imo.

    • CLEANGREEN says:

      Come to the Mountains where you will feel the difference of the elements wind rain and changing temperatures all in one day.

      I have lived at 1600ft elevation for 11yrs.

      We have now witnessed dramatic weather pattern changes in that short 11yrs so the planet is reacting badly to the increased human effects of emitting heat and CO2 so we are in real trouble now when the lower elevations weather patterns reach the coastal regions.

      It is coming no matter what we do now.

      The writing is on the wall.

    • Mike in Auckland says:

      “America will continue to destroy itself and the rest of the world via the extraction and burning of fossil fuels whoever is president, just as NZ will continue to destroy itself and the rest of the world via the extraction and burning of fossil fuels whoever is prime minister.”

      Yes, but only over the long term, the elite will manage to survive well, even the upper middle class, while more and more end up on the scrap heap. But those on the scrap heap will cry for food, shelter and so forth, which the elite will continue to primarily provide for with fossil fuel energy, which buys them time to survive the end result.

      Those that survive at the top will also adjust, and they have the money needed to come to places like NZ Inc, to buy property and land here, and escape climate disasters and social and economic collapse. That is why NZ Inc will likely be the last place at the very last period of time have any kind of revolution.

      People here live off the economic activity of those migrant refugees coming here in ever greater numbers, that compromises the voters here, and hence they continue to vote for Key et al, as they fear, facing the true challenges of the world, and showing solidarity with the rest o f humanity, that asks too high a sacrifice, that most deluded and consumerism addicted NZers are not willing to pay.

      Hence the BS continues here, and it will continue, until the dead corpses of the rest of humanity wash up on the beaches in the thousands, and until we have perhaps a nuclear winter, after a nuclear war, but like Paul Henry, it is MOST NZers, they continue to fall for lies, even their own delusions, and carry on as usual, that is what is going on.

    • Strypey says:

      “just as NZ will continue to destroy itself and the rest of the world via the extraction and burning of fossil fuels whoever is prime minister.”

      Unless you have psychic powers (evidence please), this is not knowledge, it is fatalism. Fatalism leads only to apathy and self-fulfilling prophecies. Fatalism is just a cynical excuse for not making any effort try to change things, even while acknowledging that change is desperately needed.

      Despite its many colonial flaws, the NZ State is not inseparable from fossil fuel extraction. I believe a parliamentary majority can and will pass legislation (eg carbon emissions tax) that reduces the incentives to explore for and extract fossil fuels. I believe a parliamentary majority can and will pass legislation to increases the incentives to research and deploy energy generation from renewables source. However, I also believe they will not do these things without major public campaigns to make sure they understand a) what the problems and effective solutions are, b) how legislation can help in these areas, and c) what will happen to their political careers if they don’t take substantial action (ie getting voted out).

      The information people like AFewKnowTheTruth and Robert Attack share can help with a), but the cynicism they wrap it in is useless for achieving b), and actively damaging to c). I’ve pointed this out before, and yet they persist with their dooming and glooming, but I live in hope they might one day start to produce practical policy suggestions or ideas for effective campaigns to get such policies adopted.

  2. Donna Miles says:

    I agree that unelected officials have undue influence in US politics (shadow government).

    I also believe that we are deliberately steered towards new modes of thinking.

    First came the appeal to our inner desires to turn us into devoted consumerists (Sigmund Freud and Edward Bernays) then came the appeal to our inner fears to accept increasing militarism and mass surveillance (Bush, Blair and the war on terror).
    And now, we’re distracted by spectacle so we don’t get organised and rise against a crumbling system (read Chris Hedges).

  3. countryboy says:

    I see your World Wrestling Entertainment and raise you ‘Idiocracy’.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiocracy

    I , uhh? Win? ‘an stuff ! ?

    The ideal breeding conditions for Morons will bring about the demise of our planet. Just drive a car. Anywhere, at any time, on any NZ road and you will see what I mean.
    My favourite Moron is the driver that’s floating between 80 k and 95 k then speeds up to 105 on passing lanes. They vote, breed and live amongst us freely.
    I stopped beside a fledgling Moron once in a gas station and asked;
    Why did you tailgate me so close I could make out the gap between your eyes?
    He was like “ Uh? Tail-wha’ ? When?”
    I responded, not with a sharp blow to the back of his weighty cranium, but with sarcasm.
    “ Three, maybe four years ago. On this same stretch of road. You were driving the same car. You were younger then. I remember that.
    He asked “ How tha’ fuck do you know that…. Ahhh…. You bullshitting me! “
    I said “ How tha’ fuck? You ask? Oh, I think you know how to fuck. That’s why there’ll be many more Morons like you on our roads giving the cops the unassailably right to judge us good drivers by the likes of yourself. The lowest common denominator. While you fumble with your opposable thumbs the rest of us have to stand in line behind you, waiting on the likes of you to figure out the door handle. “
    After many more fuck words and a little petulant harumphing he stalked off to pay for his gas , and to no doubt buy his Brawndo. Has got electrolytes and makes plants grow dumb asses.

  4. Mike in Auckland says:

    There is a whole range of reasons for this deterioration in the political discourse and behaviour. One major reason is the continued commercialisation and privatisation of maimstream media, media in general, since the 1980s. Some problems even started before then, that is in the US. This rather good program explains the situation and the causes, and you can draw conclusions where it will all lead to:
    http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/listeningpost/2016/11/trumped-abyss-reporters-reported-161112060429336.html

    Trump and his team managed to manipulate the media, that is the privately owned, corporate media that absolutely dominates the US, and also the new (increasingly corporatised) “social media”.

    Once upon a time we all watched the same kind of “public media” channels on TV, or listened to the same kind of stations on the radio, and there was an attempt to present a balance.

    But private operators soon discovered, most people are not naturally wired, and not inclined to think too much analytically, to bother researching matters, they rather like “action” and “clear talking”.

    With a desire also for switching off, and enjoying more “entertainment”, people embraced private media, which grew, and which resulted in most radio, TV join the already privately owned print media, to control the whole media landscape.

    There was also a swift change in news reporting, that is in the stations that still broadcast such “goods”, and live reporting, competition for market shares, that led to all media to compete for the same short attention spans most have. We ended up being inundated with information, which most could not digest anyway, so eventually those in the media that broadcast news, that survived, they more or less get their news all from the same sources, two or three main news gatherers and sellers in the world. Contracting journalists and various individual operators working in the field, they all “sold” their stuff to these few remaining outlets, who then internally censored and evaluated “news” and on-sold it to the MSM stations all over the globe. Hence we get almost the same news on TV1 as on TV3, when it comes to international news at least.

    Few though really watch much news, so short attention span driven people choose bits that fit into a minute or two, online providers adapted by delivering more click bait, and as these are now the growing providers of news, such that sell only such “bitsy news”, that becomes the mainstream news we have now.

    Most are bored from work, from the usual media diet, even now from infotainment and what else there is, they look for excitement, and when a Donald Trump, already a TV star of sorts, comes and tells them what they want to hear, or what at least excites many, he gets so much attention, he dominates the show.

    We have now what we deserved, having allowed all this to happen.

    The dumbing down has reached levels unheard and unseen before. People vote in ever growing number for “sending home messages” and for “putting an end to stuff”, rather than vote for a set of soundly thought out policies or alternatives offered by various parties. The latter is considered “dull” for many, so we have populism, shock jock operators, Trump and others of his character, who are put in charge, somehow as loose cannons.

    I dread the journey that the world is on now, we are all passengers, and while I love an election upset in New Zealand, it better be one that is not of the type Waitakere Men would like to see.

    Social media is so far a failure, it just breaks up the public sentiment even more, creates endless little bubbles and spaces, where people now dwell and communicate, who do not connect. Blogs have failed to deliver also, as they mostly feed on MSM “news” and offer reflections by various people on that. Few real “news” are broken by blogs, although they raise awareness for some issues at times. Only if the MSM picks these up, do they get wider attention.

    Given the fact the media remains to hold much power, good or bad, I suggest you add your voice to what needs to be done now, and take more action than just add your name to the petition:

    http://betterbroadcasting.co.nz/

    http://betterbroadcasting.co.nz/news/blog/please-sign-our-petition-save-rnz-funding/

  5. Priss says:

    “The media blackout of Sanders’ campaign continued while Trump dominated the television screens.”

    And therein lies one of the explanations to Trump’s ascendency to power. The media loved his outrageous utterings because it sold advertising and generated profits. Then the very same media scratched it’s head in perplexed confusion how on earth Trump could stymie the polls in such a fashion.

    The media gave Trump oxygen, and it worked to his advantage.

    Meanwhile, calm, sane, rational Bernie Sanders wasn’t so newsworthy so the media couldn’t be bothered reporting him. He got nowhere as much oxygen and his campaign withered. (Hierarchical Democrat chicanery didn’t help much either.)

    THIS is the world we live in, a demagogue making insane speeches attacking ethnic and other minorities and women draws publicity, building support.

    Meanwhile the rational person is ignored, and marginalized.

    Is it any wonder that we ended up with Trump?

    • Mike in Auckland says:

      PRISS – you hit the nail on the head! The media did not love Trump, they did not quite know how to deal with him, as he even insulted many of the people working for the media. But they fell for his rants and extreme comments, and reported on this widely, so they gave him plenty of oxygen, and while he was at it, the media operators also noted, it increased their viewer-, lister- and reader-ships, it pushed up their ratings, so they kept doing what they started doing, and delivered Trump the perfect fertile ground to win.

      Many out in the public already mistrusted the MSM, and when they criticised Trump, or showed all his extreme comments, they thought, hey, they try to destroy Trump, here we go again, I WILL VOTE TRUMP NOW, JUST BECAUSE THE MEDIA HATE HIM.

      • Donna Miles says:

        Yes Mike. As you say, the media did it, not because they loved him, but because they have become slaves to the ratings, forgetting their moral obligation to be the 4th state

    • Mike in Auckland says:

      While KEY and his campaigners, including Crosby and Textor, took a more moderate approach, they used the same methods, really, getting attention by making BS claims and creating BS slogans, that the people fell for, and most still seem to fall for them now.

  6. WILD KATIPO says:

    Trump the showman.

    Anyone would think you either forgot or deliberately neglected to state what exactly was President Ronald Reagans occupation in his past life…

    That’s right ,…

    He was a ‘ B ‘ grader.

    A ‘B’ grade actor in ‘ B’ grade cowboy/western movies. And he led the world during the final days of the cold war and ushered in the most destructive economics ideology known since Lassez fairre from the 1920’s…

    Neo liberalism.

    Now we have another actor, except this time round this character actually thinks establishment politicians , bankers and arms dealers are arseholes. And wants to NOT set up foundations to funnel donations from middle eastern country’s and support IS with arms purchased from those donations and signed off by the Senate, who wants to deport ILLEGAL immigrants with the blessings of large portions of the Hispanic vote, who wants to keep jobs IN America by slapping tariffs on those USA company’s who relocated to poorer nations to take advantage of sweat shop labour, who wants to COOPERATE with Russia instead of using wars in Syria to line the pockets of certain politicians and arms manufacturers, who wants to scrap or renegotiate so called ‘ Free Trade Deals’ that advantage only the corporate’s to the detriment of the American worker, who wants to avoid stupid wars because its bad for business and NOT support the excesses and intimidation’s of Russia by NATO , – and make em pay for their own damn war games – and finally CRACK DOWN on the political system and its corporate interest inspired lackeys and lobbyists.

    GEEZ.

    What an arsehole , eh?

    Or perhaps we could have had Hillary.

    Take literally 5 minutes to watch this :

    https://www.rt.com/viral/365783-assange-pilger-wikileaks-election/

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1Ho8OrBzig

    • Andrea says:

      “Have you heard the expression ‘talk is cheap?’ It’s a shortened version of the original saying which was ‘talk is cheap but it takes money to buy a farm.’ It basically means that it’s easy to talk, say nice things or make big promises but it takes much more to actually make things happen, to stay true to your word and actually achieve things.”

      ”What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say”

      For me – Mr Trump is a little too fond of the art of the bankruptcy to be entirely trusted with other peoples’ dreams and livelihoods.

    • Michal says:

      I doubt that Donna thinks that we want Clinton either. After all she is simply making comment on how he got there. I have seen before the Assange interview, and like everyone who writes on these blogs it appalls me that the MSM take no notice of this sort of thing and never reports it. She is an evil woman and he is a nutbar. There is nothing between them.

      • Donna Miles says:

        Michal, you are right. The thought of Clinton as the US first ever woman president filled me with just as much horror as the thought of Trump’s presidency. How could a woman with so much blood on her hands ever be of any inspiration to any woman or help the feminism cause in any way?

    • Mike in Auckland says:

      Oh, RT again, give me a break, they are really “independent” as a media source, are they not (financed by the Russian government)?

      • Strypey says:

        Sure, and the BBC, CNN, Fox, and every other TV news network have their biases too. That doesn’t mean they broadcast nothing of value. It just means you need to watch them critically, especially when the topic is of great interest to their owners. I am aware of no evidence that Wikileaks has any links with Putin or the oligarchy that runs Russia, and they have leaked stuff highly damaging to them in the past. The idea that we should ignore Wikileaks exposure of the Clintons’ corruption just because it was covered enthusiastically on RT is as absurd as supporting the TPPA because there is criticism of it on RT.
        https://www.rt.com/usa/317706-what-is-tpp-trade/

        • Mike in Auckland says:

          I totally agree, watching, listening and reading CRITICALLY, that is what I also recommend. There are some programs on RT that have more credit and authenticity than others, and yes, all media has some kind of bias, often dependent on the soil they are based on.

          Reading between the lines is a skill, that I recommend people learn and use more often. Many of us do, but there are some who seem to think anything that RT broadcasts is just the truth, and all else is biased. Sadly it does not work like that.

          There is no black and white in the media, some are less shady than others though, and Fox is at the shadier side in my view.

  7. Mike in Auckland says:

    What some people here do not get is the fact, that Trump only succeeded due to his father’s influence and help, he got advantages by his family and so forth, he did NOT achieve success himself, he is a fucking bludger.

  8. Mike in Auckland says:

    Learn about the mans offspring:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Trump

  9. save NZ says:

    I’ve read articles that say that Hillary’s campaign managers with MSM worked to get Trump exposure early on to get him elected because they thought that his lack of experience and radical ideas would mean he would be an easier opponent to beat than other Republican candidates.

    So clearly that back fired!

    • juliania says:

      The reason it backfired is that even with all the deficiencies of Trump as a candidate, many people saw him as the only option for defeating Hillary Clinton. Many or most of the people who voted for him would have voted for Bernie Sanders, who was not as unheard of as the article says but was actually the person ordinary Democrats voted to be the candidate in the primaries. They were ‘outvoted’ by special delegates chosen by the Democratic Party bigwigs.

      To cut a long story short, people voted for Trump because they felt they had no other option. And they were right. If anything, the defeat of Clinton was the end of Clintonmania and it was the right thing to do. Whether now Trump will do the right thing is anyone’s guess – I’m hoping he will. This is not the demise of literacy, but it does mark the end of one terrible time in American history.

      Did you really want to see more of the same and worse?

    • countryboy says:

      I think Trump was groomed by select Republicans to use as a scape goat when ‘ Everything’ goes NATO.
      Those select few will certainly be unimaginably well educated, well resourced and worldly on all levels. If we think Trump was a surprise contender coming out of the gate? Think again, we all.
      I think he’s been set up and we’re all bashing around like fly-sprayed flies trying to figure out his inner workings when clearly he doesn’t have any. On a global scale, his anti Mexican, pussy grabbing comments are barely worth a conversation, no matter how many beers.
      What’s really going on here?
      Here’s my insane explanation.
      He’s an excuse to start a global conflict. Very likely the last one. Millions will die immediately, billions will die on the longer term then when the dust ( radioactive ) settles those elite will pop their little heads up in NZ.

      “Those who die with the most toys win”
      Remember that catch phrase on car bumper stickers back in the 1990’s?
      It was around the time that greed was sexed up while empathy and fairness was marketed as a weakness.
      By now, surely, most Kiwis would be considered unwise to not prepare for an earthquake in the middle of the night. You have your stout footwear, second cell phone with a different carrier, a head torch and leather gloves.
      What if Trump’s used to wind up the Chinese and/or the Russians? Or the Iranians or the crazy fucking North Koreans?
      What have you got to prepare yourself for that particular event? A wide screen TV and a Prius? A massive, plasti-house on a tiny, ornamental section?
      I really do think it’s time to get very, very real.

  10. Samwise says:

    I still can’t believe the number of people who’ve been sucked in by Trump. what next, a John Key fan club?

  11. Mike in Auckland says:

    The working man’s hero???? FFS, what a spoilt brat:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhiEIfKJGJQ