The Ethics of Mocking Donald J. Trump

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What could possibly be wrong with making fun of Donald Trump? “Nothing.” Might be the first answer that comes to mind, or perhaps “absolutely nothing, what on Earth could be wrong with mocking such an unfailingly mockable walking farce of a human being.” Well, I come bearing sad news for those in the comedy realm seeking to make their mark riding on this polarizing man’s ridiculous coattails, and I must also burst the bubbles of the vast population of us who simply love to laugh, cringe and be at once enthralled and perturbed at the unprecedented display of meme-ification currently taking place at what all of us would like to tell ourselves is Donald Trump’s expense.

With his candidacy, Donald Trump has confounded establishment politicians of all stripes, galvanizing an independent base by stoking the age-old fires of social conservatism, economic populism, race politics, and xenophobia to name a few. He has also achieved the unachievable in the eyes of America’s center-left; the wholesale fracture of the Republican Party.

Donald Trump has been referred to by Dilbert-creator Scott Adams as a Master Persuader, Adams’ characterization is not far from the truth and Trump perhaps exemplifies his talent most through his skilled manipulation of media outlets and swift command over each passing news cycle. As the New York Times points out, through his adept media manoeuvring, Donald Trump has secured roughly 2 billion dollars worth of media coverage, for free.

The $2bn figure includes in its scope not only the droning of “Trump, Trump, Trump” incessantly bleated by large corporate outlets which we can tune into and out of at will, but also the more insidiously influential and constantly present Trump-centric content on our Facebooks, Twitters, and YouTube feeds. Worth noting here is that many who choose to ignore the corporate media are unable still to drown out the unceasingly Trumpian dialogue (monologue?) taking place on social media. This man has proven Adams’ interpretation of him as “Master Persuader” through the very ease with which he pervades our lives whether we want him to or not, and this simple fact illustrates what is perhaps the most salient point to be had; we cannot hold corporate media solely responsible for handing Donald Trump a $2 billion advantage in media exposure (and possibly the presidency as a result). We are the consumers and producers of social media content, and accordingly we each have an individual share in that responsibility.

Now you may say to me “but 90% of the stuff I see on my feed is content making fun of Trump!” and before I get too critical I must concede that like all high art forms, comedy is a truly wondrous thing. It works a subtle influence on our minds and hearts and through consistent application can twist and alter the shape of public opinion. Through this lens we can understand that comedy is a tool of public persuasion, and like any tool, it can achieve ends both moral or immoral. The ethical quality of a tool never lies within the tool itself – in this case comedy – but in the results produced through use of that tool. To put it simply, a carpenter’s hammer can be used to build a loving home or to bash a dude’s skull in.

Relevant examples of Trump-oriented internet comedy include the always hilarious @trump_googles on twitter; a fictional account of Donald Trump’s Google search history which provides us with such googley gems as “was 7/11 part time job” and “are superdelegates DC or marvel”  as well as funnyordie’s scathingly satirical biopic Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal which in addition to being at times riotously funny, amazingly stars Johnny Depp and paints Trump as a Biff Tannen-esque ogre of a human being.*

The question we must ask is what are comedic specimens like these truly achieving? Yes, they hilariously draw attention to a man’s perceived flaws as both a human being and presidential candidate, but what is really the net effect here? The result in my view of the resounding chorus of mockery is an image slowly imprinted into our minds of a dumb, yet relatable caricature of a man who is anything but dumb and relatable.  This man, this dumb, relatable man, as you may imagine him has in the past staunchly and publicly advocated the sexual objectification of women (“…when I bought [Miss Universe], the bathing suits got smaller and the heels got higher…”) and the murder of civilians overseas. When the most common response in any discussion surrounding Trump becomes laughter, all we are doing is softening the blow that the entire world will take when this man becomes president. Comedy is a powerful tool. If we’re going to use it on Donald Trump, we need to do so wisely and consciously.

 

*Back to the Future writer Bob Gale confirmed that the hyper-evil alternate-1984 version of Biff Tannen from the second film in the series was based on Donald Trump

 

Links:

http://blog.dilbert.com/

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/16/upshot/measuring-donald-trumps-mammoth-advantage-in-free-media.html?_r=0

http://www.funnyordie.com/trump_movie

https://twitter.com/trump_googles

http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/01/donald-trump-miss-universe-beauty-pageants

http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/02/politics/donald-trump-terrorists-families/

http://www.ew.com/article/2015/10/22/donald-trump-biff-tannen-back-to-the-future

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