There has been much said about Robert DeNiro’s recent mental breakdown at the Tony Awards. No need to completely rehash it here. But one thing perhaps overlooked in today’s kulturkampf, in which coddled vacuous aging snowflakes like DeNiro take a slack-jawed part, is how modern political discourse is becoming less about policy, even less about direct politics, and more about cultural indicators better understood by emotion than logic of any sort.
That impulse, not ideas, rule the political roost.
If you looked at the clip of young Vito Corleone’s eloquent broadside, what you saw was an old man having a Tourette’s episode and an arm muscle spasm at the same time. But scan the precious audience and you’ll see them desperately looking around to see who else is standing up. That is before they give DeNiro a richly deserved ovation from their ideologically diverse group of free thinkers.
Yes, Travis Bickle was in his own special safe place.
That kinder, gentler bubble extends from New York City to Washington, DC, and then westward to the smuggy confines of California. And here lies, what we used to call in the Army, the Forward Edge of Battle Area (FEBA). For I’m not sure the Tony Awards got a twenty share in, say, Tulsa?
So every time Jimmy Conway opines, Kathy Griffin spouts, and Samantha Bee nauseates the vast majority of the United States, it is a small-caliber mortar round aimed at their idea of the hoi polloi. The misaimed projectile is lobbed high into the vastness of pop culture, coming down with a Trump vote-increasing hiss in locales like West Virginia and Wyoming, places that the president won with 68 percent. Though, it’s not like high school dropout Ace Rothstein is exactly a policy expert anyway. His violent tough guy roles, as pleasing as they are to me on a visceral male level, don’t exactly have a wide intellectual range. It’s not like he’s doing Twelve Angry Men at The Old Vic anytime soon.
His expertise is limited to make believe and making sure those around him on a movie set, every one of whom makes a living from him and thus are likely to treat him quite above his lowly cerebral station, can coach him well enough to translate his mumbling gibberish into actual dialogue in the English language. While that passes for intellect in some of our nation’s more feverish broadcast salons of note, it has not been traditional political activity and discourse.
Until relatively recently, that is.
These days a tweet by Rosanne Barr, pompous professional athletes taking a knee during the anthem, or an insipid Broadway cast lecturing the Veep-Elect of the United States moves the political meter as much as the federal budget, national security, or SCOTUS decisions. The process started in 1960 when John Kennedy won a debate on physical star quality alone (radio listeners said Richard Nixon clobbered him) has truly come to fruition. No need to be a leader. Being a celebrity will do just fine. The president is both and acts accordingly.
But curiously, the hive violates a sacred rule of the game in regards to our Cultural Cold War. By taking every bait morsel the president throws out, by acting out like hysterical shrews when he makes any move or pronouncement, they do his marketing for him. By the time we get to the political box office, these free unintentional promos have done the work his White House Communications Office can only dream of.
It’s as if they’ve seen one film, one of the versions of Orwell’s 1984. But instead of a warning, they see it as a guide and make the president subject to the daily Two Minutes of Hate required towards all enemies of the reigning regime.
That coarsening of debate brings a dark instinctual emotion to the forefront and our media masters know emotional voters are easier to convince than logical and empirical voters.
Contrast that with a pop culture so in the gutter, so generally bereft of meaning or gravitas, that the policy mutterings from the likes of Fake Jake LaMotta are then made non-credible by a casual perusal online or elsewhere of the world that gives him standing ovations.
And when that happens? The political needle moves evermore in the president’s favor. One has to believe that certain members of the offending set, or at least their corporate superiors, know this and decry the Newtonian Third Law effect.
But a serious corporate trimming of their sting would incur the ire of the whole nest, followed by ominous declarations of a “chilling effect” and “an end of democracy.” Nah, just a likely end of their bloated paydays.
Instead of an old man striving for relevance by indulging in reactionary hippy theatrics, DeNiro could have taken a leaf from his own repertoire and channeled Harry Tuttle one more time. Tuttle was the character in Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil who bypasses the orthodoxy and steps in to fix what is broken.
Asking Robert DeNiro to take a brave stand against the conformist Tony Award crowd may be asking a lot.
But Lorenzo Anello would have done it.