The revelation that Trump is an obsessive fan of Sunset Boulevard almost buggers belief.
From Olivia Nuzzi's New York magazine glimpse into the Final Campaign
"He had wanted to be in the movie business. It’s important to never forget this about him. He watches Sunset Boulevard, “one of the greatest of all time,” again and again and again. A silent-picture star sidelined by the talkies, driven to madness, in denial over her faded celebrity. When he was a businessman, he showed it to guests aboard his 727. When he was president, he held screenings of it for White House staff at Camp David.
"He once showed it to his press secretary Stephanie Grisham, who later described how “the president, who could never sit still for anything without talking on the phone, sending a tweet, or flipping through TV channels, sat enthralled.” And he once showed it to Tim O’Brien, the biographer, who wrote that when Norma Desmond cried, “Those idiot producers. Those imbeciles! Haven’t they got any eyes? Have they forgotten what a star looks like? I’ll show them. I’ll be up there again, so help me!,” Trump leaned over O’Brien’s shoulder and whispered, “Is this an incredible scene or what? Just incredible.”
The first thing that stirs incredulity is that it is evidence of taste, a capacity to be engaged by art.
Then there's the apparent fact that he identifies with the diva . Who lives in delusion, a bubble maintained by a flunky who secretly fabricates fake fan mail and gives it to her, so she'll believe she's still adored and not forgotten (as is actually the case). Identifies with the deranged diva without realising that she's the bad guy in the story, or at best, an object of apalled pity.
It's all just a bit too on the nose to be believable.
Nuzzi returns to the Billy Wilder movie for a closing twist of the knife:
"Do you remember how Sunset Boulevard ends? Norma Desmond shoots and kills the writer, a fraudster who has fallen under the spell of her charisma, just as he summons the courage to walk away. Her sycophantic butler flips. There are no enablers left to protect her. A final fantasy, a fake movie set, is staged in the mansion’s entryway. The lights go on, and she is lured before the cameras, where the police are waiting to haul her away."
Although it would make for a climactic ending - it's unlikely ever to be topped - this probably won't in fact be the last ever anti-theatricality round-up. Tropes based around the stage and showbiz are sure to continue cropping up in political reporting and commentary.
Still this is possibly a good pause point to unpack what my angle is....
It's double-pronged, the prongs pointing in different directions, or even towards each other, in a self-cancelling thrust
On one hand, like any sane and pragmatic "let's get stuff done" person who votes Democrat and would vote for Labour if still able to remotely, I'm aghast at the extent to which political theatre has displaced governance and policy for one entire half of the political spectrum. I anticipate being nauseated by the string of stunts and photo ops that the new House of Representative majority will be staging for the next two years, rather than fixing problems and making people's lives marginally better. Same for the vindictive theatrics unfurled by various Republican governors simply to play to their sado-populist base via the TV.
On the other hand, it's not that I imagine that there is or ever could be a form of politics purified of the theatrical or the image-based, that could decontaminate itself from the realm of appearances and spectacle and soberly base itself around truth, expertise, facts and policy.
Democrats are beguiled by their own favored brand of wish-fulfilment entertainment, it's just that it's the Sorkin sort, or harking back further still, the civics fantasy fare of Jimmy Stewart / Frank Capra / Mr Smith Goes To Washington, also all those films about newspapers investigating and exposing corruption etc. Not as bombastic and pageantry-oriented as the right wing's ever more openly fascistic theatrics, for sure. Tad more tasteful and restrained - but still corny, still peddling heartwarming happy endings. The Jan.6 committee hearings, for instance, were nothing if not great TV - a brilliant sustained feat of narrative structuring and story telling.
After the mid-term elections were settled, my intention was to tune out Trump-related news coverage (and as much of the antics and theatrics of the Republicans in the House as I could manage) on the grounds that
A/ it takes up too much of my mental bandwidth
B/ staying "informed" about this stuff serves no purpose ( other than sickening me and pumping me full of anxiety), given that there's nothing I can do about it...
I have to assume the Democrats have got contingency plans and the hard-ball will to manage and sidestep as much of the barrage of nonstop evil nonsense as is possible... what happens to Trump depends on internal Republican Party maneuvring, on the seething id-driven impulses of their voting base, and on the activities of various attorney generals and prosecutors....
No, there's absolutely zero point in me "keeping up" with things; the next time I'll be of any use is as a presidential election volunteer in the summer of 2024, when the identity of the enemy will be known. So why not have a break for now, pay attention to the many other interesting and important things in the world?
Certainly I do not need to read yet another in-depth psychological portrait of the dictator-diva fantasist. His internal mechanisms and churnings are thoroughly known. It's still my New Year's Resolution to cut down the intake drastically and free up the bandwidth for otherstuff.
But I couldn't help myself, had to read the Nuzzi piece. Regrettably it remains a compelling if interminable saga, and in these (hopefully penultimate) narrative throes there is a grotesque drama of decline and decay, every bit as mesmerizing as Gloria Swanson descending the staircase in Sunset Boulevard.