Infotainment Is Taking Over

Entertainment misinforms. Humans cannot possibly survive into a distant future that includes light-speed travel while simultaneously behaving like feral animals. Torture doesn’t work. Politicians don’t resemble Martin Sheen. The poor little United States is not threatened by irrational evil empires. Violence won’t save us from masked storm troopers, evil wizards, or whomever Boeing and Lockheed Martin armed last year.

But at least we used to pretend there was a dividing line, back before the United States made Ronald Reagan president, effectively declaring that the job was a role for an actor. Then tens of millions of morons voted for TV star Donald Trump, not because he seemed nice on TV, but because he seemed like a real jerk. Of course, I use the term “morons” in the most respectful sense and fully agree that Hillary Clinton would have been her own sort of walking catastrophe.

Worse than a moron was the CEO of CBS who said he was promoting Trump, because even if he was bad for the United States (never mind the world) he was good for ratings. Worse than him were all the other media CEOs who did the same thing without commenting on it publicly. Later the same media outlets turned Trump into a puppet of Vladimir Putin through fictional stories presented as news — with mixed results. Later still, they promoted a pretend coup in Venezuela that failed to transform into a real one. So, that’s encouraging.

Worse than that: I’ve heard ordinary people who actually recognize how horrible Joe Biden would be for the world declare that they look forward to having him in the election for all the entertainingly stupid things that will come out of his mouth.

Even worse than that: I’ve heard admirers of the Dick Cheney film “Vice,” declare their intentions to wait for a similar film about Donald Trump, through which they plan to become aware of what he had done and to become appropriately outraged. Entertainment is not just wildly misinforming; it’s also relied upon to be reliably better informing. Comedians with shows that comment on the news are often more accurate and useful than news readers who comment on the news, although when they’re horribly wrong comedians excuse themselves as being comedians, whereas journalists more respectably blame the government and take a promotion.

Now a comedian in Ukraine has produced a TV show that you can watch on Netflix (in Russian) in which he pretends to be a high school history teacher who is filmed by a student while he is cursing and screaming about corruption in government. The film gets 8 million views on Youtube, and the teacher gets elected president. One might categorize this as entertainment, except that the actor has now been elected president of Ukraine in the real world.

I asked a Ukrainian activist whether she wasn’t worried about the example of Trump, and she was not at all. Ukraine’s TV-fantasy president was truly uncorrupt and independent, she declared. And it’s true that he’s not identical to Trump. On TV he plays the part of a decent, if somewhat clueless, guy, not a fascist thug. He also has a law degree. He also won the election overwhelmingly. And, most significantly, he seems, both as actual person, and as TV character, to not be completely on-board with demonizing either Russia or NATO and glorifying the other.

But can an honest clueless president who wants to make peace with Russia and join NATO do both of those things? Can anyone? Can he learn about the real world the way his character learned about a pretend one? Can he discover the need to make peace with Russia and Europe and stay out of NATO and its wars? It’s very difficult to say. And I suspect it would get terrible ratings.

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