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It’s hard to believe there’s been any figure in American history who has so dominated the day-to-day American consciousness as Donald Trump.  It’s been almost three years since the fateful moment he descended that golden escalator in Trump Tower to launch his presidential campaign, and there’s been scarcely a day since when he hasn’t commanded our attention.

Trump can rightfully claim the title that Howard Stern once conferred on himself: The King of All Media.  In doing so he has been aided and abetted by the media themselves.   It’s no small irony that the same people who purport to loathe him are the very ones giving him all the airtime and ink.  (Or as Michelle Wolf framed it at the White House Correspondents Dinner: “He has helped you sell your papers and your books and your TV.  You helped create this monster and now you are profiting from him.”)

I work in an open space office and the wall-mounted televisions give me a good idea about how dependent TV news is on Trump’s antics to keep the viewers enthralled.  How I long for the days when they would merely exploit a murdered teen or celebrity melt-down to keep the eyeballs tuned in!  Now it’s all Trump all the time.

Dick Cavett recently admitted that Watergate was one of the greatest times of his life because it was a thrilling day-to-day drama that resulted in the ejection of a president he despised.  We’re in the same mindset now.  All those who live in non-stop outrage, either pro- or anti-Trump, claim they’re fighting for the good of the country but they seem addicted to the same adrenaline rush that afflicts gamblers, thrill-seekers and bungee jumpers.

I have a Trump-voting friend who dreads coming home from work because his wife will inevitably meet him at the door outraged over Trump’s latest malfeasance.  She knows these non-stop rants aren’t good for their marriage but just can’t stop watching CNN while doing the laundry or checking Twitter in bed. If that’s not addiction, I don’t know what is.

It‘s now a commonplace to say that Trump has turned the presidency into a reality TV show, but in truth the presidency has been a reality show for decades.  I just listened to John Dickerson’s “Whistlestop” podcast on Slate.com about the increasing role that presidents play as symbolic participants in our national drama.  For example, in 1955, President Eisenhower could go on vacation, completely off the grid while a series of hurricanes slammed the Southeast.  And no one thought it was strange that the President was playing golf while millions of Americans suffered.

That all changed in 1965 when President Johnson decided to take advantage of the TV coverage of Hurricane Betsy to show he was a strong leader in charge of the federal response.  Alas, hurricanes aren’t always a president’s friend.  We all remember that President George W. Bush’s inadequate display of empathy during Hurricane Katrina seriously derailed his presidency.

But high-visibility hurricane response is only a tiny sliver of the vast portfolio of emotional responsibilities the president is expected to master.  He (and eventually she) is supposed to be the mourner-in-chief, America’s dad or grandpa, the exerciser-in-chief, the sports-fan-in-chief, the main arbiter of American cultural taste (at the Kennedy Center), the comedian-in-chief (at the White House Correspondence Dinner) and the overall embodiment of the American nation.

The State of the Union, for example, long ago devolved into a very special episode for the presidential reality show, with one side of the aisle cheering wildly at the president’s every utterance and everyone across the aisle one working hard to frown or jeer whenever they think they might be on TV.  It’s now “Wrestlemania” in suits and ties.

The point is that a lot of the president’s job has very little to do with his actual Constitutional responsibility, which is to manage the executive branch of the federal government.  But it’s the extra-Constitutional responsibilities that we’re most addicted to.  Who cares about housing policy when there’s Twitter?  The presidential behavior that most outrages the Trump addicts is the most inconsequential – the tweets, off the cuff remarks, and verbal flights of fancy at his rallies.  Not coincidentally, these are also the behaviors that draw the most opprobrium on TV and the highest ratings.

Is it possible to break the Trump addiction?  Lord knows I’m trying but there are so many enablers who keep pulling me back.  I’ve “hidden” my most fanatical Facebook friends and unfollowed most political and cultural reporters on Twitter.  I walk right past the TV if a cable news channel is on and I’ve stopped watching all the late night TV shows.

None of this is really helping.  Trump is still everywhere.  In a Wall Street Journal essay a few weeks ago, Joseph Epstein suggested that just as we had meatless Monday’s during World War II, maybe we should now have Trumpless Thursdays.  Oh how divine that would be.  Let’s get on that.

 

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There are times when I wonder if I am really so out-of-step with the day-to-day zeitgeist of our wonderful country.  How did it come about that everyone collectively decided that Facebook was practically the worst company in the world and that Mark Zuckerberg needed to be frogmarched to Washington and keelhauled before a couple of Congressional committees?

Like Captain Renault in “Casablanca,” the our public thinkers are supposedly shocked! shocked! that Facebook leverages our personal data for its advertisers.  But anyone who didn’t know until last month that advertisers were using our Facebook data to promote their own products is, not to put too fine a point on it, a moron.  Did they not notice that Facebook is a free service and that the only way to support all those servers and graphic designers was through advertising?  Didn’t they think it was odd that when they clicked on an ad for a particular product they were subsequently barraged with more ads for the same product?

The truth is that I don’t really care who has my personal Facebook data.  I just downloaded my file to see what was there and it was pretty dull.  It includes my name, email, age, school, job history, political leanings, marital status and Facebook friends current and former.  That is already publicly available on my page.  It also includes the Facebook sites, ads, games, quizzes and other ephemera that I clicked on over the course of the last ten years.  The fact that this might become available to strangers does give me a slight pause because maybe I don’t want people to know I once played Farmville, but there’s nothing truly embarrassing in this data.

Here is what Facebook does NOT have on me that many other online sites do:  my social security number, my credit card number, my medical history, my drug prescriptions, my income, my online shopping history, or my criminal record (which is nonexistent, by the way).

And they don’t have my search history, thank God.  If Google had been the one that was  a little sloppy with my personal data I would be REALLY pissed.  Some of that could be truly embarrassing.

If anything, my gripe with Facebook is that they don’t do a good enough job of dispensing my data.  I almost never notice the ads in my feed because they are so irrelevant to me.  If there’s a true scandal at Facebook is that they are charging advertisers good money for spots that are ineffective.

But let’s be honest, people aren’t really mad at Facebook because of privacy.  Instead this tantrum is about making it into the latest scapegoat for the election of Donald Trump.  I think most of Facebook’s critics understand that the company didn’t really do anything to swing the election.  I mean seriously, have any of these people ever even been on Facebook?  If there is any voter who decided to vote for Donald Trump because of something he saw on Facebook, I would like to meet him and commit him to the home for the dangerously naive.

Those of you who lived through the 2016 election probably remember that Facebook was a toxic place that ruined friendships; if anything the nasty posts and counter-posts only served to reinforce voters’ existing leanings, doing little to convert potential voters from one side to the other.

Facebook first came under fire in the fall of 2016 with allegations that it had allowed Russian trolls to plant “Fake News” on users’ news feed (remember those innocent days when “fake news” meant stories that were literally made up and not just news pieces that the President doesn’t like?)  No one could seriously argue that these stories had any significant effect on voting and the early grudge against Facebook slowly died away.

Then came the big revelation about Campaign Analytica.  It transpired that a conservative data firm had tricked Facebook into giving them the personal data of 87 million users, deceitfully held onto it when Facebook demanded its return, and then tried to help the Trump campaign develop targeted Facebook ads.

The interesting thing is, the Obama campaign essentially did the same in 2012 (see more on that here.) No one screamed about Facebook being careless with our personal data when the news media’s favorite candidate was playing fast and loose with our privacy.  In fact, I distinctly remember stories about what digital geniuses the Obama campaign were (here’s one New York Times story where the digital team admits to grabbing data without Facebook’s permission and not being forced to give it back once Facebook figured out what was happening.)  The Obama team even bragged about how the pulled the wool over Facebook’s eyes.  As Investors Business Daily points out:  Obama’s campaign director, Carol Davidsen, even tweeted that “Facebook was surprised we were able to suck out the whole social graph, but they didn’t stop us once they realized that was what we were doing.”

I doubt that anyone really thinks that the Data Analytica breach swayed any votes.  Among other things, the Trump campaign claims they didn’t actually use their data for targeting because the Republican National Committee’s lists were better.

Look, there are plenty of legitimate reasons to get off Facebook: 1) It ends up draining your time and hurting your concentration; 2) it makes you dislike your friends who just won’t stop popping off about politics or posting pictures of their meals; 3) it makes your life seem inadequate when you see what your friends are up to.

But you’re just kidding yourself if you think you’re making a moral stand about the 2016 election or protecting your privacy.  There are plenty of worse actors to boycott than Facebook.

 

File photo of Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of Fox News  in Pasadena

Last summer I recounted the time that Roger Ailes tried to get me fired from Nielsen, claiming I had leaked Fox Business News’ bad ratings to The New York Times.

But that wasn’t the first time I had run across Ailes and his modus operandi.  An earlier encounter was almost as revealing of the Ailes ideology of enemies, revenge and hate.

In the mid-1990s, I worked for a PR agency that did a lot of work for NBC, which came to us with those in the business called an “executive transition” assignment. Ailes, then the head of CNBC, had expressed his displeasure with the way things were going. Among other grievances, “America’s Talking,” the cable network he created for NBC, had been taken from his control and changed into MSNBC through a partnership with Microsoft.  He’d indicated that he planned to leave CNBC at some undetermined time in the future. But NBC didn’t want to wait until he jumped.  They were going to push first.

So we created a PR plan announcing that Ailes had resigned and that Bill Bolster, the head of NBC’s New York affiliate, was taking his place.  On January 7, 1996, NBC informed Ailes he was resigning that day, and the day after that we made the announcement.

As executive transitions go, this was pretty benign.  NBC said very nice things about Ailes, and the media played it as we wanted: that this was his decision, which was mostly true.

Ailes, of course, was quickly hired by Rupert Murdoch to create Fox News, a competing cable channel, proving that NBC had been right to force the issue when it did.

So everyone should have been happy, right?

Apparently not, because someone started planting negative stories about the new CNBC management in the New York tabloids — personally nasty stories about the new executives and how much everyone at CNBC hated them.  Whenever Ailes hired someone new away from the CNBC newsroom, this would be the occasion for another negative story. Reporters soon told us that Ailes’ PR guy was behind these stories.

There was really no strategic reason for this vindictive campaign against CNBC.  Ailes gained nothing from it other than revenge. The new Fox News was not going to be competing against a financial news network like CNBC.  It was just nastiness for its own sake.

Ailes went on to create the juggernaut of Fox News and changed American politics forever (it’s also worth mentioning that CNBC itself became an immensely more profitable asset after Ailes left).  You have to wonder, though, the extent to which Ailes’ rage powered his success — and whether it actually was a good thing for the political causes he supported.

The day Ailes died, Ross Douthart tweeted that there were two eras in conservative journalism: the William F Buckley era and the Roger Ailes era.   Buckley’s form of journalism was rooted in intelligent argument, wit, and sunniness.  The Buckley approach to politics reached its climax with the Reagan presidency.  Reagan was considered by his opponents to be an amiable dunce, but he was actually a man of ideas and a Buckley acolyte.

By contrast, Ailes began his career advising Richard Nixon and ended up as a consultant to Donald Trump.  What these three had in common was a burning resentment at real and perceived slights.  They passionately hated anyone who dissed them, starting with the political and media elites.

The Buckley era resulted in the most successful implementation of conservative ideas in a century. And the Ailes approach?  The New York Times’ Bret Stephens made a good point about Ailes and Fox: that they were really in the business of hating the Left, not in pushing conservative causes. Ailes-style candidates gave us one disgraced presidency that resulted in a huge expansion of government, and another presidency on its way to disgrace and the potential destruction of the Republican Party.  That’s some legacy.

Here’s the thing. Ailes was a genius to recognize there was a huge audience for a news network that was not dominated by the liberal elite.  For the Right, Fox news coverage actually was “fair and balanced,” for a change.

But a lot of conservatives can’t stand to watch Fox, with its nastiness, conspiracy theories, anti-intellectualism and endless grievances.  Liberals sometimes conflate conservatism with populism, but they are two entirely different things.  Fox’s goal was to generate huge ratings by stoking resentment, decidedly not a conservative approach.

So when Ailes launched his vengeful campaign against his successors at CNBC in 1996, none of us could understand why he couldn’t just move on.  Little did we know that he was in the process of constructing a network explicitly dedicated to not moving on – to being perpetually outraged.  And maybe it made business sense to keep his audience of older white men in a state of fury.  But let’s not pretend he was successfully making the country more conservative.

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The events of November 8, 2016 delivered a severe psychological blow to many corners of American society, including the boardrooms of television executives.

The election’s impact on TV news, with its higher ratings and Twitter feuds, has been much discussed.  So has the effect of the new president on the increasingly politicized award show category and the re-energized late night segment.

TV critics have been eager to view scripted entertainment through the same political lens.  About “The Americans,” the FX show about Soviet spies operating in the U.S. in the 1980s, The New York Times wrote: “In the light of today’s headlines, this Cold War drama feels newly relevant.”

When “The Man in the High Castle,” an alternate reality show about a 1960s America occupied by Nazis, returned last December, Newsweek said: “Watching in the aftermath of the recent presidential election, on the precipice of Trump’s America, the series feels different.”

And Slate called the new season of “American Crime,” which is focused on an illegal immigrant from Mexico searching for his son in America, “a worthy, Trump-Era successor to ‘The Wire.’” Looking ahead, you can be sure that when “Veep” and “House of Cards” return, we’ll hear similar commentary about their relevance to our time.

Given how long it takes to conceive, write and produce a season of scripted television, it’s a sure bet that none of these shows was intended to be a commentary on Trump’s America.  This is especially true since these shows were mostly written when everyone in Hollywood expected Hillary Clinton to win.

Eventually there will be TV shows that actually do reflect the Trump presidency. That has always been the case.  The disputatious “All in the Family” seemed to embody the Nixon era, while “Dallas,” with its celebration of buccaneering capitalism, could only have been a massive hit during the Reagan presidency.  And “24,” which preyed upon America’s apocalyptic fear of terrorism, provides essential insight into the George W. Bush presidency.

When television finally does deliver a Trump-era show, I doubt it will be an overt political series, which we are already drowning in anyway.  Seriously, how many dramas, sitcoms, soap operas and satires about the White House can television sustain?  And besides, the conventional wisdom about the Trump administration seems to change weekly.  In just three months the Establishment’s view of the Trump presidency has gone from potentially dictatorial to inept to laughable.  Who knows what’s next?  Any show that attempts to deliver direct commentary about Trump runs the risk of quickly getting stale.

A smart television producer would instead wonder how a complete outsider like Trump got elected in the first place and try to figure out what’s in the mind of his supporters.  That would require a pivot away from the upper-middle class lifestyle that was the focus of so much television programming during the Obama years (think “Modern Family” and “black*ish.”)

In another words, a true Trump-era show would dramatize or satirize the lives of middle- and lower-middle-class Americans who are anxious about their status, culture and economic prospects.  This could be a 21st century “Rosanne” with an even more pointed edge. Or a police drama about an immigration and customs enforcement (ICE) squad operating at the border.

If showrunners can’t wrap their heads around what it would be like to be a Trump voter or ICE agent, they could still do a Trump-era show about anti-Trumpers.  This could depict the lives of refugees or undocumented immigrants trying to adjust in America.  There have been recent shows about immigrants (“Fresh Off the Boat” and “Jane the Virgin”) but the characters were (mostly) legal.   I don’t think there’s ever been a show about refugees or the undocumented (unless you count “American Crime,” which is more about the crime than immigration per se.)

It looks like the TV industry is getting the memo that it needs more cultural diversity in its programming.  Last November, ABC’s president of entertainment, Channing Dungey, said at the Content London conference, “With our dramas, we have a lot of shows that feature very well-to-do, well-educated people, who are driving very nice cars and living in extremely nice places.  There is definitely still room for that … but in recent history, we haven’t paid enough attention to some of the true realities of what life is like for everyday Americans in our dramas.”

If ABC and the other networks see a market opportunity among the 63 million Trump voters, then there’s a real potential for a wider variety of stories and perspectives.  And maybe our television entertainment would get even better — even if our politics doesn’t.

 

 

 

Trump press corps

I am not one for conspiracy theories but I’m beginning to wonder about what’s up with the feud between the Trump Administration and the press corps. They ostensibly hate each other but somehow this bickering redounds to the benefit of both of them.

TV news ratings surged during the 2016 political season, when the media gave the then-long shot candidate Trump billions of dollars in free publicity, and they haven’t abated much during the early days of his presidency. The print media seems to doing equally well, with the New York Times reporting a quarter million increase paid digital subscriptions last quarter.

Consider the case of CNN’s Jake Tapper, well-known to political junkies but relatively invisible to the vast American public – at least until he was the subject of a notorious Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Kellyanne Conway with a fatal attraction for being booked on his show. How many other political reporters have, like Tapper, seen their visibility soar since they started hooking horns with the Administration? Maybe someone like Rachel Maddow, whose All Trump All the Time diatribes have sent her ratings soaring?

For his part, Trump’s refusal to abide by the niceties of established presidential decorum has kept him front and center of the American consciousness almost every single day since January 20. Plus it makes him a big hero among that very sizable portion of the U.S. public that absolutely loathes the media.

I honestly don’t think news organizations understand the full extent to which conservatives despise them. If they did they wouldn’t wear it like a badge of honor or think they must be doing something right whenever conservatives complain. This antipathy predates Trump by thirty years and his willingness to endure media scorn is precisely what propelled him to power.

When Trump and the media go at it, they are like the codependent parents of a dysfunctional family and the rest of us are the innocent kids who wish they’d either stop fighting or just get divorced. It’s exhausting and there’s never a day off because whenever it starts to get normal, Trump will wake up on a Saturday morning and tweet something crazy, giving the media another excuse to go berserk when the rest of us would just like to take a nap.

The reason recent presidents have tried unconventional ways of communicating with the public is that traditional media have lost interest in being the main vehicle through which presidents get their message across. Two or three decades ago you could count on the president giving three or four major policy addresses a year, plus few annual primetime press conferences. These were all dutifully presented live on TV before huge audiences.

Then the networks, under competitive pressure from entertainment cable channels that had no intention of covering a presidential speech, decided there was no “news value” in primetime presidential addresses and dropped them altogether. Adieu primetime Oval Office speeches. What we got instead was the spectacle of the president of the United States appearing on Zack Galafanakis’s “Between Two Ferns,” Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee” and Mark Maron’s “WTF” podcast. It was a short step from that to Twitter.

To hear the media and the left tell it Trump’s attacks on the media are part of a secret plan to inaugurate American fascism. But what has he done besides name-calling? OK, it wasn’t nice to call them the “enemy of the people” or to blast them to their face in an impromptu press conference, but it was the Obama Administration that used the Espionage Act to go after whistle blowers who leaked to the press and who destroyed press privileges in the federal Fourth Circuit court with subpoenas against The New York Times reporter James Risen.

Oh sure, there is the incident in which White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer excluded The New York Times and CNN from a background briefing that was attended by Breitbart and The Washington Times. This has to be the most inconsequential inside baseball story in the young history of the Trump administration.

These small gatherings, called “gaggles,” involve a chosen few reporters who come into the press secretary’s office and get some background information. There is always a pool reporter present who reports back what was said so The New York Times and CNN were able to use that information to inform their readers and viewers of any news that transpired. And besides, remember when the Obama Administration tried to keep Fox News out of their briefings?

What GaggleGate boils down to is that Spicer was petty in not inviting some A-list reporters he didn’t like into his office and these reporters got their noses out of joint. For some reason this was national news.

Clearly there is no censorship or “chilling” of press freedom in this country. Trump gets pounded pretty good by the media every day, and I suspect he secretly likes it, being a practitioner of the “any news is good news” approach to publicity. The media doesn’t HAVE to go caterwauling every time Trump calls them a bad name, but if they didn’t they wouldn’t be able to call attention to themselves either.

So Trump and the media are having a jolly old time slugging it out with us, the innocent public, caught in the middle. This was starting to get old even before the Inauguration but now that we’re two months into the Presidency, can we please dial it back and hear about something else that’s happening in the world?

whcd-red-carpet

If Donald Trump manages to accomplish one positive thing it might be to drive a stake through the heart of the White House Correspondents dinner — that star-studded, multi-platform orgy of preening and mutual ego-stroking that seems to serve no purpose other than to give the Washington elite a chance to show how powerful and well-connected they are.

The annual dinner probably sounded like a good way to establish closer relations between Calvin Coolidge and the men who covered him back in 1924, when Presidents started attending.  President Coolidge was a famously tight-lipped guy so an off-the-record night of roast beef, cigars and brandy at fancy hotel undoubtedly helped to loosen everyone up and give reporters a better understanding of the president’s thoughts.

Since then the dinner has metastasized into a bizarre marriage of the worst of the Oscars and Davos.  Calls to end the extravaganza have increased over the years and Samantha Bee, for one, has launched an alternative gala, which is being called “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.”

And now Trump himself has said he won’t attend, which is not much of a surprise considering his feud with the press.  It would have been pretty hypocritical of all involved if he’d showed up and everyone had made light-hearted jokes about each other.

Back in the Reagan Administration, I attended one White House Correspondent’s dinner.  That was so long ago that the evening’s entertainment was a comedian that no one had ever heard of but who killed that night – Jay Leno.  This was also the notorious night that hooked the press corps on celebrity. I’m sure the Baltimore Star had no idea what they were unleashing when they invited Oliver North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, to sit at their table, but ever since then media outlets have competed to land the most talked-about guest.

fawn-hall

Until the Fawn Hall invitation, the informal rules for the dinner were pretty straight-forward.  Media organizations and lobbyists bought expensive tables and invited sources to sit with them.  These might be Senators and Representatives, White House staffers, agency press people – someone who had something to do with governing and who could be helpful to the media in their coverage of the government.

Fawn Hall changed all that because her appearance was so sensational. In 1987 she was Washington’s idea of a celebrity – in addition to being beautiful everyone at the dinner knew her through her televised testimony during the Iran-Contra hearings. She wasn’t at the dinner because she was a source but because she was a famous footnote to the biggest scandal of the 1980s.  All anybody could talk about that night was how the Baltimore Sun had snagged Fawn Hall and wasn’t that such a great idea to get someone who could lend some glamour to the occasion?

In the overall scheme of things, Fawn Hall was only a B Minus celebrity, but in the years to come, news organizations tried to one-up themselves with actual celebrities, including movie and TV stars, ranging from George Clooney and Steven Spielberg to Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan.  Vanity Fair started hosting an after-party and the cable news channels started to broadcast it live.

And now there’s a red carpet component: the idea that the White House Correspondents Dinner can justify having red carpet news coverage makes me want to puke.  Something else that revolts me is that people have started calling it the “Nerd Prom.”  Celebrities think that nerds are smart in addition to being antisocial so this is a self-deprecating way for them to imply there’s a hidden depth underneath all that glamour.

Aside from the red carpet, the main event at the dinner is the entertainment, in which, traditionally, the President makes self-deprecating jokes and the emcee, usually a comedian, makes snarky jokes about the President (if he’s a Republican) or snarky jokes about the President’s critics (if he’s a Democrat.)

President Obama was born for these events and his performances at the dinner were rapturously received.  Obama is smart, witty, and tied in with the cultural zeitgeist so his speeches and one-liners were snappier and funnier than the monologues of any late night hosts.  Last year, for example, Keegan-Michael Key for Comedy Central’s “Key and Peele” appeared as Luther, Obama’s anger translator, and “translated” Obama’s moderate comments into angry rants.  This of-the-moment humor, combined with the deft flattery of the White House press corps made Obama the undisputed star in a room full of Hollywood A-list actors.

There is no chance that President Trump could have hoped to match Obama’s performance.  He has no sense of humor, much less a self-deprecating sense of humor and the audience was unlikely to fall to their feet in supplication as they did to Obama.

Of course if Trump had wanted to play the inside Washington game he could have hired the best speechwriters and joke-smiths and shocked the world by offering an olive branch.  Nancy Reagan did exactly that when she performed a skit at the Gridiron Dinner singing “Second Hand Clothes,” which mocked her image as a clothes horse and White House China addict. By making fun of herself in front of the press she transformed from Marie Antoinette-like to a beloved Washington insider herself.

nancy-reagan-second-hand-clothing

Trump won’t play Nancy Reagan’s game.  He’s getting too much mileage out of his press feud and becoming their darling, no matter how temporarily, is not in his interest.  And that’s fine with me.  If the President is not at the dinner, it becomes exposed for what it is: not a nerd prom but a regular prom where the most popular and most beautiful people swagger and celebrate themselves. The White House press corps already think they’re pretty special, they don’t need a night to emphasize it.

meryl-streep-golden-globes

Remember those halcyon days when you could turn on a football game or awards show and not worry that you were going to be assaulted by someone’s inane political opinion?  Those were the days, way back in the early 2010’s.

We now live in a world where even a feel-good Budweiser ad can’t be shown during the Super Bowl without splitting the country in two over its purported political message.

As for the awards shows, they have become increasingly mouthy.  Even back in the Age of Obama, when award winners adored the president, they still found something to gripe about.  But now that Donald Trump is in the White House, Hollywood is melting down and the awards shows have become a major platform of dissent.

Meryl Streep, the industry’s grande dame, opened the floodgates with her anti-Trump tirade at the Golden Globes.   Then the SAG awards unleashed nearly a dozen speeches condemning the Administration.  The subsequent Director’s Guild Awards took it easy on the president – only five direct attacks.  As recently as last Saturday night, Streep doubled down at a fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign and called Trump’s supporters “brown shirts,” a commonly used term for followers of Hitler. And then at the Grammys on Sunday, Busta Rhymes blasted “President Agent Orange.”

And into this environment comes the Academy Awards, the biggest stage of them all.  The Oscars show is usually the most-viewed non-football broadcast of the year.  It’s one of those special live events that keeps some people holding off on cord-cutting just a little while longer.

But while there is no official anti-Hollywood Oscar boycott in the works (not yet at least), there does seem to be considerable word-of-mouth chatter among Trump voters that this is the year to skip it.  I’m surprised by the number of people who have told me they won’t watch because of the politics.

This could be more than an idle threat.  In 2008, the left-leaning Jon Stewart delivered the least watched Oscar broadcast in history, drawing just 31.7 million viewers.  By 2015, the number of viewers had climbed back to 37.3 million but last year, in the middle of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, viewership fell back to 34.4 million.

Even if ABC and the Academy would like to see politics kept out of the ceremony, and they probably do, there’s no way for them to accomplish that.  For starters, there’s the case of the Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, whose film “The Salesman” is nominated for best foreign language film.  As a foreign national from one of the seven countries from which the Trump Administration suspended travel, Farhadi would have been prevented from coming to the U.S. if the travel pause hadn’t been suspended. He still might not attend in protest (and of course if the pause is reinstated by February 26, he will be officially shut out again).    Given that he is someone directly affected by a government policy, Farhardi becomes a potent symbol for Hollywood “resistance.”

Farhardi won the Oscar in 2012 for the excellent “A Separation” and would have been a favorite again this year, even without the martyred status.  Now, if there’s anything more certain than “La La Land” getting the best picture it’s an Oscar for “The Salesman” and a righteous speech by whomever is designated to accept on his behalf.

But if Farhardi has a legitimate reason to make a political statement, what’s the excuse from the fine folks who brought us “La La Land”?  If Ryan Gosling wins Best Actor is he going to mention that he’s an immigrant (albeit from Canada)?

“La La Land” is a lovely movie, but it’s a self-reverential paean to the movie-making industry itself and the fact that it is poised to win a slew of awards demonstrates what’s so aggravating about the political posturing at the Oscars.  After all, this is a movie about a white guy who wants to save Jazz from bastardizers like the African American bandleader played by John Legend.  Its hands aren’t exactly clean on the political correctness front.

The entertainment business is as brutally capitalistic as any industry in America, with a price tag applied to everything and executives who are as richly rewarded as you can get.  Male actors are routinely paid more than females.  By constantly portraying Muslims as terrorists Hollywood has done more to shape negative perceptions of Islam than any other institution in the country.  It doesn’t take much courage to stand up before a group of film colleagues and criticize Donald Trump.  It would take a lot more courage to criticize the industry itself.

Until now, conservative viewers have responded to the Oscars’ political speeches with bemused eye-rolling but in today’s hyper-politicized environment they might now be so forgiving.  We’ll know whether they voted with their eyeballs on February 27, when the ratings come out.