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Two Viral Moments From Two Americas
Trump at UFC, Celebs and Jake Tapper
Viral moments from either side of the American divide come so frequently these days that they are forgotten just as fast — but a few stick in our memory as signposts on the wandering, treacherous road we find ourselves on as people who have to share a country. The first is from Kristen Bell’s Instagram, featuring a star-studded cast at dinner at Jimmy Kimmel’s $8 million Idaho fly fishing lodge, featuring Jennifer Aniston, Jimmy Fallon, Courteney Cox, John Mulaney, Olivia Munn, Adam Scott, Jason Bateman, Shiri Appelby, Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid, Bell’s husband Dax Shepard and, of course, Jake Tapper.
“Excited to join your new cult,” the CNN anchor commented on Instagram.
The second viral moment was from Las Vegas, Nevada, where UFC 290 witnessed the triumphant arrival of former president Donald Trump. Walking out with Dana White to Kid Rock’s “American Badass” — “The chosen one, I’m the living proof / With the gift of gab from the city of truth / I jabbed and stabbed and knocked critics back / And I did not stutter when I said that” — Trump gripped and grinned with his own set of celebrities from the fighting fandom set. He pulled Joe Rogan in for a close handshake, chatted with Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson and Guy Fieri, did a thumbs up with a Versace-clad Shane Gillis and said hello to the hosts of Bussin’ With The Boys. Fighters leaped over the ring to shake his hand. Here for the fans of the Octagon, the Orange Man is a Golden God.
The contrast is impossible to ignore. Both of these images are from the American west, filled with Americans, but neither wants anything to do with the other. The difference is that one image is full of people who believe their fellow citizens in the other place need to be ruled or destroyed. If a bunch of celebrities and actors and their CNN bestie want to get together for a good round of glamping, no one excited for Volkanovski vs. Rodriguez cares. But for those elites, this imagery is offensive, fascistic and even, if you’re seriously afraid about Trump’s nature as an existential threat to the country, terrifying.
For any Republican with a hope of seizing the nomination from Trump, this imagery is a reminder of his Obama-like status for some Americans: he’s the biggest celebrity in the world. That’s what you’ll have to beat if you want to be the man, and these types of reactions show why it may prove impossible in 2024. But it shows something else, too. There is nothing that table of elites vacationing in Idaho can do to change the minds of that audience in Las Vegas, enraptured at the entrance of their defiant leader.
The gatekeepers have lost or squandered all their power. The roar of the crowd is too loud for anyone to hear their chiding. Having failed to convince them, that’s why the elites have and will turn to other means to rule or destroy their fellow citizens and their political avatars. As Bertolt Brecht wrote: “Would it not be easier for the government / to dissolve the people and elect another?”
“He’s Not The Joe We Thought He Was”
Behind closed doors, Biden has such a quick-trigger temper that some aides try to avoid meeting alone with him. Some take a colleague, almost as a shield against a solo blast.
The president's admonitions include: "God dammit, how the f**k don't you know this?!," "Don't f**king bullsh*t me!" and "Get the f**k out of here!" — according to current and former Biden aides who have witnessed and been on the receiving end of such outbursts.
The private eruptions paint a more complicated picture of Biden as a manager and president than his carefully cultivated image as a kindly uncle who loves Aviator sunglasses and ice cream.
Why Does Kathleen Kennedy Have a Job?
Indiana Jones 5 overtaken by Insidious 5 at the box office after one week. Which I didn’t even know would happen when I wrote this at The Spectator:
Since seizing the throne atop Lucasfilm in the wake of its sale to the House of Mouse back in 2012, Kennedy has presided over reboots and reshuffles and Disney+ launches that have, with few exceptions, amounted to a steadily spiraling series of failures. The excitement around The Force Awakens steadily decreased over the following films, to the point that the last episode of the sequel trilogy did less than half the box office. And the output from Lucasfilm on Disney+, while initially impressive with Jon Favreau’s The Mandalorian, has meandered with a mostly disappointing Obi-Wan Kenobi series, a very disappointing Boba Fett series and a Willow series so disappointing it was yanked from the service within a year of its launch. Is everyone excited for The Acolyte? I bet you are.
Kennedy’s decision to hire young, up and coming directors like Gareth Edwards and Rian Johnson backfired when she had to hire Tony Gilroy to scramble to fix Edwards’s mistakes in reshoots of Rogue One (the most iconic scene in the film being one of them), and when Johnson’s decision to “subvert expectations” went so far it left many viewers going “what the hell was that?” before returning to the bland jumble of J.J. Abrams for The Rise of Skywalker.
Worst of all was her botch of a promising standalone, Solo, directed by 21 Jump Street and Lego Movie pair Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Six months after filming started, Kennedy — urged on by Lawrence Kasdan and his son, the writers of the movie — got cold feet and fired the young directors to bring in her contemporary, the old reliable child of the early Fifties Ron Howard. Howard reshot about 70 percent of the film, ditched the humor and improv of Lord and Miller, scrapped Michael K. Williams as the villain for Paul Bettany, and turned in a film so poorly received it remains the only Star Wars movie to actually bomb at the box office.
And whatever happened to Lord and Miller? Within six months, their release of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse hit theaters with a bang, made almost as much money as Solo on less than a third of the budget, and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Their sequel, Across the Spider-Verse, has already almost doubled the prior film’s box office on the same $100 million budget. The Spider-Verse series is a phenomenon, a blend of nostalgia with a new take on an old character, with humor and emotion and a plot that plays with time travel and (obviously) the multiverse — all things Disney in general, and Lucasfilm in particular, have failed to achieve with their plethora of properties.
Meanwhile, Indiana Jones and the Irritating British Brunette are trucking right along toward emulating the performance of Bryan Singer’s bomb, Superman Returns. (Phoebe Waller-Bridge may soon hold the notable distinction of starring in the worst performing Star Wars movie and the worst performing Indiana Jones movie — perhaps some people should stick to television.) Not a good track to emulate in any case, and particularly not one that can inspire hope for what comes next.
How Twitter Enables Boycotts
As of this writing, however, Bud Light sales are still down almost 30 percent since Anheuser-Busch decided to partner with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney; at one distributor, the beer is reportedly selling for less than a case of water. Target recently dialed back its Pride displays, the Los Angeles Dodgers rescinded an invitation to a controversial LGBTQ+ group, and jurors at an advertising festival were recently instructed to focus on ads that make money, not weighty message advertising.
I have been puzzled and intrigued, and so for a couple of months I’ve been asking smart people in business, academia and media what’s going on. Over and over, I’ve heard the same answer: “Twitter changed hands.”
Initially, this sounded crazy. The timing is suspicious, I grant, but coincidences happen. And it didn’t look to me as if Twitter was the main vector for attacks on Mulvaney, et al; they seemed to emanate from conservative sites such as the Daily Wire.
Over time, however, I’ve come around — and what convinced me was watching people try to agree on a Twitter alternative…
I don’t think Twitter made the boycotts work because that’s where conservatives organized. Rather, I think the Twitter pseudo-consensus caused some irrational corporate behavior — and its collapse caused even more.
One reason boycotts fail is that major institutions generally avoid taking stances that are guaranteed to make a lot of people very mad. Yet, Twitter Brain convinced a lot of corporate bosses that controversial progressive views were actually quite mainstream. This might explain why Bud Light tried to partner with a trans influencer even though its customer demographic is roughly the opposite of Mulvaney’s “wacky Audrey Hepburn” persona — and triggered a strong enough emotional response to sustain at least three months of boycott.
The Bud Light backlash, and the rightward shift in Twitter’s moderation policies, punctured this illusion. But this meant that suddenly companies were in a position of radical uncertainty: Was this “vibe shifting”? And toward what? I suspect this is why Target panicked about some minor pushback to its Pride displays.
Over time, I assume companies will find a new equilibrium, in part because I don’t think progressives will find a new Twitter. The old Twitter was the creation of a specific time and place — the old open internet, where left and right expected to share certain public forums, however noisily and grudgingly. Dominating these meeting places gave you a fair bid at calling your views “the consensus.”
But now many progressives want to “deplatform” opposing views, while others object (not unfairly) to the obnoxious conservative counterculture that has developed under the old regime. Once Musk readmitted the views and people they abhor, the left began abandoning the common space for smaller, more ideologically homogenous services where it is easier to police one another, but harder to police the discourse. And the more peripheral progressives become, the more institutions will grope their way back to the middle of the road.
Items of Interest
“Napoleon’s final nemesis, the Duke of Wellington – that self-appointed epitome of the English grandee – is reputed to have rebuffed a man who called him ‘Irish’, with the withering reply: ‘Just because a man was born in a stable, it does not make him a horse.’”
— Michael Broers