ART AND TELEVISION
It was not art to which I was glued for most of the past week, but it was great television. Granted, television does make attempts at art… and, more and more, as the movie makers in Hollywood foreswear the high ground…TV has come forward with some significant attempts at filling that void… that thing called “art.”
But the simple fact is, art is not what television does best. Where the medium shines is something else entirely. You simply cannot beat what television does with a football game, a basketball tournament or something as ritualistic as a World Series. It ain’t art, any more than the telephone is, but for many it is often quite remarkable to experience what occurs almost any Sunday on American TV.
There are, of course, the other things: the launch of a rocket taking human beings into space, the aftermath of a catastrophic oil-spill, a ruinous hurricane, or a breaking news story such as the invasion of the Capitol building of the United States of America. Wow. It does not get much more significant or engaging than that. The reportage, the stringing together of the various interviews, rallies, and individual cell-phone videos, however horrifying, was simply riveting. Great TV. And amid all this chaos, as if my mind’s eye longed for escape, there was also a mini epiphany that stirred my memory.
You see, I sort of “get” Donald Trump… I, too, have stood in front of massive crowds to work them into a frenzy. I have felt the love and the power, experienced the addiction to the adoration and attention of the mob. It was the ‘50s at the University of Southern California, and I was the “Yell King.” The head cheerleader, the personification of the SC upperclassman, back in an era before such an activity was delegated to a squad of young, athletic women in short skirts.
“Beat the Bears!” The crowd would go crazy. I did not have to explain… or even have a clue…as to how that might best be done, but… what the hell… “Beat the Bears!”
Of course, beating the bears was the responsibility of other folks… the team, the coaches, and the training staffs. But I was the guy out front. I was the one whipping the throng into a fury, and I was (seemingly) in control… Big time. There was the freshman coed who came down front to ask my permission to leave the rooting section so that she might visit the ladies’ room. I benevolently gave my assent, but when she returned, I had 6,000 of my fellow classmen ask in unison “Did you wash your hands?” And this was 62 years before COVID.
For over a half century I was featured at the Southern California Trojan rally in San Francisco’s Union Square… my presence requested as “that old guy who knew what he was doing in front of a crowd.” I knew what to do in front of a crowd, alright. I also knew enough to leave with them wanting more. On my 80th birthday, without so much as a goodbye, I led my final Southern California spell out.
I loved that job. I “get” why Trump is so reluctant to leave. Like “Beat the Bears,” it is all so seductive, so exciting, so easy when you have the mic, the lights, and the seeming ability to make everything work for everyone…. Provided, of course, they are in your section. “Beat the Bears” does not work in front of the Cal student body. You must, above all, know your audience. I did… and there is no question that The Donald does as well.
What is disturbing about all of this is the composition of that audience. Guys with T-shirts sporting Auschwitz or the Hitleresque 6MWE (Six Million Wasn’t Enough). Congressmen and women all too eager to discount the vote of anyone whose skin is darker than their own…followers and perpetrators of the Big Lie… as if somehow it was even plausible that 8 million votes could simply be fraudulently cast (I mean, c’mon. Even Mitch McConnell doesn’t believe that, nor, for that matter, does Lindsey Graham… at least some of the time).
I do understand that elections are not always pristine. I “get” being suspicious when the claim of fraud involves only one state where the difference in the vote count is a little over 500 and the winner has a brother who is that state’s governor. I could do a lot with that even without my vast experience at crowd manipulation.
But an 8 million vote difference? How do you get people to yell “fraud” when the disparity is in the millions and an “electoral avalanche” would be a more accurate description than “fraud?” I mean, c’mon… that’s “Beat the Bears” on steroids.
It is also compelling TV.
Although Barney’s excellently written blog does have political overtones, which in ordinary circumstances we try to steer clear of, in this case his comparisons exemplify the nature of how and why people of all backgrounds and ages so easily get caught up in the roar of the crowd, especially when the leader is charismatic. So, what have we learned??? Hopefully, a lot, and with great optimism, let’s wish for a peaceful transition to a new normal with this new political administration. Dena Stewart
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