Sigmund Freud wrote that “humor is rebellious.” And if, as Samuel Johnson said, “patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels,” then satire is the first refuge of clowns seeking to lampoon the establishment.
Set off by Alec Baldwin’s hilarious impersonation, Trump has tweeted anti-SNL tirades to his 22 million Twitter followers such as:
SNL’s merciless mocking of Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer, featuring the hysterically spot-on Melissa McCarthy, has similarly incurred the wrath of Boss Tweet. The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, Late Night’s Seth Meyers, Full Frontal’s Samantha Bee, HBO’s John Oliver, among others, all contribute to the televised satirical stew.
The theater community in L.A. is joining in. On January 31, Artists Rise Up LA, which included cast members of Broadway's Hamilton, produced a sold-out variety show of vignettes, songs, skits, etc., protesting the Emperor Trump. In “The Tower,” actress Stasha Surdyke daringly portrayed Melania Trump as a battered woman and suggested son Barron was a bullied, special needs child. Actress Noel King defended people with disabilities, whom Trump mocked during the campaign. From a wheelchair, actress Santina Muha slyly revealed how blatant bias against disabled people persists. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison made an appearance in a skit called “Vote!,” advocating against the electoral college.
In mid-February, Culture Clash—a renowned satirical Chicano trio—adapted the Greek playwright Aristophanes’ comedy The Frogs, about a journey to Hades. Co-creator Richard Montoya explained, the characters “can’t get into hell because there’s a travel ban. No one can cross the border, even into hell—it has its parallels to the over-the-top ridiculousness we’re finding ourselves in now. If you’re a Dreamer or undocumented person, or gay or lesbian, or a Muslim or person of color, the current state of where we’re going seems hellish. If you’re stuck in an airport terminal for seventy two hours, as some people recently were, it was particularly hellish for them. ”
The brewing culture war claimed an early casualty when Katie Rich, the SNL screenwriter, was suspended after tweeting during Trump’s inauguration that “Barron will be this country’s first homeschool shooter.” Trump groused to Fox’s Sean Hannity, “for them to attack, for NBC to attack my ten-year-old son, is a disgrace.”
Boss Tweet reportedly plans to slash funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which could devastate PBS and NPR).
Welcome to the Twilight Zone, or what Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi calls “the post-factual moment.” Obviously, a new sheriff is in town, defending a skewed version of reality and seeking to silence critics, truth-tellers, and dissenters.
These are just the opening salvos in a looming collision between film, theater, artists, news media and activists in a face-off against a thin-skinned, authoritarian bully who can dish it out but can’t take it. As Sinclair Lewis put it in his 1935 anti-fascist novel, that It Can’t Happen Here, the creative community is not taking all this lying down.
The Writers Guild of America, the union representing TV and movie screenwriters, issued a public statement condemning Trump’s initial executive order temporarily banning travel from seven majority Muslim nations and all refugees. John Ridley’s mini-series Guerrilla—about black activists in 1970s London who turn to armed struggle to oppose police brutality and oppression, co-starring Idris Elba and Indian actress Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire)—debuts on Showtime in mid-April.
Lars von Trier has stated that his upcoming serial-killer thriller, The House That Jack Built, is partly inspired by Trump. The Danish writer/director told The Guardian that the feature, to be released in 2018, “celebrates the idea that life is evil and soulless, which is sadly proven by the recent rise of the Homo trumpus—the rat king.”
And as George Orwell’s dystopian 1949 novel about futuristic fascism—where the Ministry of Truth rewrites history and mass produces endless lies—once again becomes a bestseller, the film version of 1984 is being re-released on April 4 (the date at the beginning of Orwell’s book) in ninety independently owned U.S. theaters to protest Big Brother Trump and his proposed NEA cuts.
This movie, which was originally released in 1984, stars the recently deceased John Hurt as Winston Smith and Richard Burton as high-ranking Party leader O’Brien. A statement released by the United States of Cinema, which organized the event, asserted: “Orwell’s portrait of a government that manufactures . . . facts, demands total obedience, and demonizes foreign enemies, has never been timelier.”
If the first 100 days of a new presidency is supposed to be a honeymoon, imagine what the inevitable divorce will look like.
Excerpted from Ed Rampell’s forthcoming book, Cause Celeb.