Philosophising about the 'S'-word: Watch… and learn
In the beginning of the first episode of Louis C.K’s webseries Horace and Pete, Kurt (portrayed by Kurt Metzger), a 30-something big-mouthed patron of the bar Horace and Pete’s, shares an unusual point of view about Donald Trump:
MALE NEWSCASTER ON TV (OFFSCREEN): This is Headline News Update.
KURT (gets into the bar and greats Pete): Hey, man. Can I get a coffee, black?
FEMALE NEWSCASTER ON TV (OFFSCREEN): Here’s our top stories that we’re looking at for today. Candidates are gearing up for the nation’s first primaries and the caucus tomorrow night in Iowa. Donald Trump still leading the polls ahead of Ted Cruz. At a rally today in Des Moines, Trump’s supporters said that he is the man…
PETE (lowers the volume of the TV): Trump, Jesus.
KURT: What? Wait, why not Trump?
PETE: ‘Cause he’s a… jerk. Drops out of the debates, and I don’t know, I think he’d ruin this country.
KURT: Okay. So? Why not that? Like, what’s so fucking great about this country? Listen, man, if we vote for him, that just means we want to go down, so let us go down.
PETE: Yeah, I guess.
MARSHA (Jessica Lange) walks into the bar.
PETE: Hi, Marsha.
MARSHA: Hey, Pete.
KURT: Yeah, listen, nothing lasts forever, man, you know? That’s just how a democracy declines, right? The populace degenerates until they elect a guy like that and he just ruins what’s left. I mean, we used to be great. We used to be— have a great work force. We used to be educated. We used to pretend to be moral, right? Now everything’s made in China by fucking babies. Everybody’s stupid on purpose and nobody gives a shit about anything except consumer pleasures, so why not Trump? Let’s just get this shit over with. That should be his slogan. “Trump: Let’s get this shit over with.”
Before he was elected, the American media had long compared Donald Trump to a clown. The orange-haired buffoon was known for his shocking rants on Twitter and in front of cameras. His insults would only nourish his increasing popularity. In June 2016, he would argue that Mexicans were rapists; in August, he would say that the Fox News journalist Megyn Kelly was attacking him during the debate probably because she was menstruating at that time; in September, his opponent Carly Fiorina was according to him too ugly to win the elections. In November, a leaked video would show him bragging about his sexual assaults on women.
According to the journalist Judd Legum, only the French philosopher Roland Barthes could explain why. He bases his reflection on the essay published in the 1957 book Mythologies, that focuses on professional wrestling. In the essay, Barthes contrasts pro wrestling to boxing and according to Legum, during the whole campaign, Trump was behaving like a professional wrestler while his opponents were “conducting the race like a boxing match”:
“This public knows very well the distinction between wrestling and boxing; it knows that boxing is a Jansenist sport, based on a demonstration of excellence. One can bet on the outcome of a boxing-match: with wrestling, it would make no sense. A boxing- match is a story which is constructed before the eyes of the spectator; in wrestling, on the contrary, it is each moment which is intelligible, not the passage of time… The logical conclusion of the contest does not interest the wrestling-fan, while on the contrary a boxing-match always implies a science of the future. In other words, wrestling is a sum of spectacles, of which no single one is a function: each moment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which rises erect and alone, without ever extending to the crowning moment of a result.(…) Wrestlers know very well how to play up to the capacity for indignation of the public by presenting the very limit of the concept of Justice.” (Roland Barthes, Mythologies)
As Roland Barthes explains it, in situations like political campaigns, the lack of rigor and the blandness of the speech are not an issue at all.
“It is obvious that at such a pitch, it no longer matters whether the passion is genuine or not. What the public wants is the image of passion, not passion itself. There is no more a problem of truth in wrestling than in the theater.”
His opponents had accused him of being nothing but an entertainer, but the critic did not really matter because in the role of a provoking entertainer, Donald Trump has gathered an increasing number of admirers who loved his shows. But Legum also points out one of Barthes’ central points: “boxing — or traditional rules and decorum — is not morally superior to pro wrestling”. Trump opponents may also not be morally superior to him. Way before Trump’s candidacy, politicians had had the reputation of being untouchable corrupted people with blood on their hands. Why blame Trump for showing his true colors (i.e. orange and yellow)?