Donald Trump’s effect on the entertainment industry has been counterintuitively disastrous. It’s true, Trump is hard to satirize because he’s aware of what makes him vulnerable to mockery. (See: covfefe.) Still, he’s Donald Trump. He’s launched both sides of the aisle into a different universe. What happens when he’s out of office?
The left’s years-long reaction to Trump has been to tighten the strictures of political correctness, become more rigid about enforcing those boundaries, and demand full compliance from everyone. That should be great for artists, comedians especially, because boundaries create opportunities for creativity. They should relish the chance to break rules and challenge norms.
Unfortunately, however, high-profile entertainers have responded poorly to both Trump and to his most breathless opponents. That’s partially because many of them are in the latter category and mostly because they’re either terrified of transgressing the new rules of political correctness or they embrace them. Now, a class of entertainers forged in the fire of the Trump era, benefitting from glossy magazine covers and a splintered landscape, is poised to be defined by this moment.
Hollywood’s anti-Trump humor is generally a very distinct flavor of comedy—repetitive, trite, disinterested in critiquing Democrats, too breathless and reflexive to be clever. It’s not great. When you compare the quality of Stephen Colbert’s Trump-era comedy to his ratings, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. (Aside, of course, from this trend.)
Since the president took office, Netflix alone has both launched and canceled a sizable slate of “Daily-Show”-style programs with that distinctly mediocre Trump-era flavoring. From Chelsea Handler to “The Daily Show” to “Saturday Night Live,” a truly dispiriting number of comedic institutions have slipped into activist comedy, a genre that is necessarily less compelling because it protects partisan goals.
This mentality is a disease that impairs creative minds, fencing them in from the intellectual wilderness. It’s infected much of the rest of Hollywood as well, and so pervasively that quantifying the damage is difficult.
“Bridesmaids” (2011), “Trainwreck” (2015), and “Big Sick” (2017) were fine, but they inspired a spate of unwatchable wannabes during Trump’s first term, offering the perfect model to promote soft cultural leftism in a comedic package. Think “Brittany Runs A Marathon,” “Wine Country,” “Palm Springs,” and “Late Night,” all projects with top talent who shined pre-Trump but ultimately lived down to comedy’s new standards, lowered by a desire to peddle vague moral messages.
Beyond comedy, Hollywood’s Trump complex has hit artists like Ryan Murphy, whose spree of high-budget, high-potential projects in recent years have ranged from mediocre to unwatchable. Countless actors, musicians, athletes, and influencers have focused their public personas squarely on politics since 2016. Those whose activism was so inescapable or whose careers were too minor will have a hard time find their footing when Trump is out of office, be it 2021 or 2025.
Some artists, of course, excelled under these conditions, doing some of their best work in the cultural shadow of Trump—Dave Chappelle and Andrew Schulz are only two examples, but they’re clear ones. (Leading lady aside, the “Roseanne” reboot was a good example too.)
From award shows to social media to scripts and lyrics, the Trump era exacerbated all of Hollywood’s worst impulses, convincing entertainers their primary job was activism. Rather than relishing the opportunity to engage with the real forces that created this political climate, they retreated further into their bubbles, often proudly.
“Saturday Night Live,” one of the clearest casualties of this era, actually parodied its own predicament in an episode two weeks before Election Day. If Trump loses, the characters laments, “then what would our conversations even be?” Ultimately, of course, they realize that win or lose, Trump isn’t fading from the limelight.
That’s true. But it’s telling that SNL seems to interpret this as good news. In a healthier artistic climate, one where entertainers weren’t terrified of Twitter mobs or totally in favor of them, cultural unrest would produce exceptionally compelling work. What’s worse, the shift toward activist entertainment is occurring as the landscape splinters into niches, meaning Colbert can get away with cringe-inducing Boomer comedy because he doesn’t need to put up numbers like Johnny Carson to do well.
The good news is that it’s possible these niches could also save us, giving people like Schulz space to find big audiences. The bad news is that Hollywood seems to have learned the wrong lesson from its four-year failure to grapple with the Trump era, which leaves people like Colbert in an interesting predicament. SNL is correct to predict that Trump isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But at some point, he’ll be out of office.
When he’s no longer the center of the political universe, all the artists and studios and networks who’ve shifted to address this cultural moment by diluting their work with dull moralizing, cheered by rabidly anti-Trump partisans, will need to reinvent themselves.
View original post