How Much Did Pop Culture Influence the Presidential Election?

I've been thinking about the presidential election quite a bit this past week. I have a theory which is possibly controversial. Did the rise of the anti-hero in pop culture directly contribute to the election of Donald Trump?

Years ago being a bad or good guy was very cut-and-dried. There were the white hats and there were the black hats. There was the sheriff in the westerns and then there were the outlaws. There were cops and there were robbers. Basically it was us versus them and we were good and virtuous.

And then all of a sudden things changed. We were introduced to characters like Dexter, who is a serial killer (but a lovable serial killer). We're introduced to Walter White, a character that I loathe but that many, many people loved and rooted for.

I'm not talking about your flawed hero like Hamlet; I'm talking about people who are terrible or do terrible things or a combination of both.

So we went from sort of black and white characters, with very little shades of gray, to sort of treating characters, especially our heroes, as a smorgasbord of food we really shouldn't be eating. We took what we liked and we admired, while we tried to ignore the rest and pretend that the shrimp wasn't actually going to kill us. As long as we didn't eat the parts we were allergic to we would be fine right?

But we are directly influenced by what we watch and read, even if it doesn't feel like we are. So while we were learning to ignore that which was disturbing in our entertainment we were also learning to ignore it in real life.

Both Donald Trump, the presidential elect, and former president Ronald Reagan came from an entertainment background. Mr. Reagan of course was an actor while Mr. Trump was a star in reality television. The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice were both wildly popular and, most importantly, made viewers feel as though they were really getting inside of Mr. Trump's head and learning how he felt and what his core beliefs were.

When Mr. Reagan was elected president my circle of friends thought that a great deal of his appeal had to do with the fact that he was very comforting. He was uncle Ronnie, or your granddad, who would sit you down and tell you that everything was okay and you don't need to think about it at all. It was his very easy-going demeanor I think that helped a lot of people relax at a time when there was a lot of stress over the nuclear arms race. But meanwhile he was passing policy that killed many HIV positive and full blown AIDS patients.

Mr. Trump is equally visible; probably even more so given his extensive use of social media. But he doesn't have that you can trust me vibe that Mr. Reagan had. Instead he might remind you more of a brash, blow hard kind of con man uncle that your mother doesn't want you hanging around with. The one who makes money on the side by selling cigarettes and booze to your friends when you're a freshman in high school. The one who takes you to the brothel with a wink and a hundred-dollar bill when you turn 15 and tells you he is going to show you how to be a man. Or if you're a girl, the uncle who's always looking a little too closely at your friends and making everyone uncomfortable.

How did we elect a man who is a self-confessed sexual assailant? A man who has openly bragged about grabbing women by the genitalia? A man who boasts about not getting consent?

Maybe we need to look to the popularity of shows like How I Met Your Mother which features a character who lies and manipulates women and obviously cares nothing about boundaries or consent. Even a movie that may seem like pure fun, and adapted from Shakespeare, like 10 Things I Hate About You is at its core about objectifying women and treating them as prizes.

If the examples I cited above were isolated incidents maybe I would have to dig harder to come up with reasons why we elected a man like Mr. Trump. But unfortunately these are just a tiny portion of the messages that we're bombarded with every day.

Making our culture, and our country, greater is going to take a ton of work at every level.

Bonus Treat

This week's bonus treat is a poem by Langston Hughes, one of the great voices of the Harlem Renaissance. While some people were calling for America to be made great again Mr. Hughes was calling for America to be America. To be the ideal of America that we all long for.

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

https://m.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/let-america-be-america-again