Discover more from The Trend Report™
The Trend Report™: Blurred Lines
Why the new Borat movie is very, very bad for America's future.
Welcome to The Trend Report™ where you get a capturing of what happened this week.
Gird your loins because there’s a lot of Election™ and Covid™ trends to report this week. But that’s not all: there’s also the story of a team of Black women winning fishing contests, a wild (maybe unreal) story about neo-tiger parents, “WAP” made from macaroni in a pot, and a dancing cat, here to groove to political news.
XXX starring Vin Diesel,
PS. Forward to your friends and subscribe here.
There is a giant elephant in the political room, one that is more-than-four years in the making. I can’t quite put a finger on a name for it but it lies at the blurry intersection of politics, entertainment, and celebrity.
We all know Donald Trump is not-good for America, nor is he good for the future of politics anywhere, as he seems to have taken the episode of Black Mirror where a joke politician becomes a politician. That’s the closest example I can come to articulating this problem. Our situation is more complex, unable to be contained by sixty minutes of smart television, and the new Borat movie seems to represent the problem.
The 2020 sequel to Sasha Baron Cohen’s 2006 high-brow hybrid hidden camera leaps over the original “Make fun of America!” premise and takes a “Skewer the right and Trump!” approach, serving a dish that isn’t quite documentary but also isn’t not a documentary. This has long been Baron Cohen’s schtick. Where this has become a bit dicey, politically problematic, is the Rudy situation, which casts Baron Cohen as a court jesting version of Michael Moore.
For the uninitiated: a scene in the new Borat was a small October surprise via a prank where Rudy Guiliani – former New York City mayor and the President’s personal lawyer – is implicated in potentially taking advantage of a teen. The news cycle jumped on this, likely only reaching a left-leaning audience, before hitting the White House circuit: Guiliani denied he did anything wrong, the character Borat – not Baron Cohen – defended Guiliani, and part of the 2020 election cycle was overtaken by this “moviefilm,” an entertainment product that was dabbling – and affecting – real world politics. This news dropped on October 21, the day before the final presidential debate, which was the day before Borat came out. Political news as movie promotion. This is weird, right?
Let’s go deeper into the looking glass. The movie Borat, the character Borat, and the actor who plays Borat was then called a “creep” by Trump. Trump has some skin in this critique because Baron Cohen has tried to “scam” him before. Baron Cohen then “clapped back” (Ugh.) by Tweeting that “the world laughs at you” and that the comedian is always looking for people to “play racist buffoons.” Sure, okay, yes. This all happened on October 23 and October 24, which offered just enough time for the think piece machine to start up: The New Yorker called the situation “a parable of Russian interference in American politics,” The Guardian posited this is a new way to straddle film and social media, and The Washington Post shifted the narrative to calling the movie cruel.
The Los Angeles Times summed up the problem and icky feeling best: “The gap between reality and satire that Baron Cohen has so successfully navigated before no longer exists.” This gap isn’t the fault of the film. What is the fault of the film is that it seems to close the gap between fact and fiction, between performer and politician, between entertainment and life.
Remember: 2020 is the year of unreality. Kanye West created a new blueprint for presidential bids, which he has four years to perfect – and will perfect, given his history with failing-then-winning at fashion. A pandemic, which increasingly feels like living in a moment of fiction, continues to spiral. Fringe political hopeful Marjorie Taylor Greene won her election bid, securing the chance to “take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles out.” Our current head-of-state has us all locked inside a television as he spins yarns about election fraud that may incite a coup.
he blur between the fact and fiction, the entertainment and the real, is compounded by the ongoing national gaslighting by the President and the once laughable idea of “fake news” becoming a very real problem. We live in a nation where people don’t think Covid is real, where large swaths of the population believe an internet rumor about politics and demonic rituals. We’re in the thick of an unreality of our own making, of people watching so much television that the television has become real life.
This is obvious but it must be said: we’re living in a reality show, in a televised experiment. We’re all in The Truman Show. This isn’t a new idea as CNN and Vox and Variety and The New York Times are musing on the subject of the reality TV-ness of now. The new Borat is unique in blurring the line, taking entertainment from fake news to real news and back and forth forever, because it was a huge gift rom the left to the right to have people wondering what’s real and what isn’t, if they are a part of a fictional reality when a real babysitter can get duped so tragically.
This is all food for thought and, again, I can’t quite put a finger on what’s happening but something is happening here that is not-great. This concept has been trending in my mind for years, needlessly, without any vehicle to process. I will leave you with this though: a story I pitched my friend and editor Lindsay in 2017. She turned the story down, saying it was maybe too big for an article but might be good for a book.
The Reality Of Reality TV In 2017: I worked in reality television for almost six years and they were strange, strange times. I was a part of shows that were Flavor Of Love spin-offs to Rihanna’s failed fashion show and I’m both a staunch devotee and critic of the format. Yet, as we live in the age of Donald Trump and social media, what does that say about our culture and the format? I’ve noticed increasingly on television shows featuring “real people” that the show being “produced” has extended beyond fake scenes but to even faker people, persons who come onto television shows aware of tropes and with social media personalities curated to their reality TV type. It’s gotten to the point where a person’s performance of self, online or off, has become their reality: their reality television guise is real life. The best case-in-point of this is Donald Trump who, as RuPaul noted (and whose show is a direct representation of the failure of reality TV in 2017), Trump “actually believes he is that thing.” We live in a complicated present where our beings in private are no longer such. In this story, we can do a “state of the union” of reality television that unfolds to explain the overlap between public and private persona and how television is becoming life. We can speak with television critics, reality producers, political theorists, and more to understand where we stand.
Some political items of interest. Feel free to scroll ahead.
Curfews and Plywood: Cities Prepare for Election Night Protests
An interesting look at how cities prepared for the election and protests. I write this as all the businesses on my block are boarded up. Nothing has happened though! Hopefully it stays that way. We shall see.
QAnon received earlier boost from Russian accounts on Twitter
A fascinating story about the early roots of QAnon. Spoiler alert: it relates to Russian influence on American internet consumption.
"Trump’s Dept. of Justice has failed to investigate police departments"
A good thread, especially as election count protestors are facing zero police force and none of the flack Black Lives Matters protestors faced.
YouTube Cut Down Misinformation. Then It Boosted Fox News.
An interesting turn of events, as tech attempts to “help” but seems to do some questionable things instead. Algorithms can’t fix human problems, people!
Trump Camp Uses Online Gimmick to Fuel Donations Into December
Shady mother fucker. This is literal robbery.
Uber and Lyft’s Proposition 22 Win Is a Warning Shot to Democrats
This is a huge story – and huge loss – in California that shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle of this week. Basically, a lot of gig workers are going to lose protections and rights as people voted to back tech behemoths instead of people.
This Wasn't the Climate Election It Seemed to Be
Another big story, considering how so many people turned away from science, voting for persons who will harm the planet and public health amidst a pandemic.
Voters in Jersey City Embrace a New Tax to Finance the Arts
And, now, some wonderful news!
The Problem Isn’t That the Polls Were Wrong. It’s That They Were Useless.
The Polling Industry Blows It Again
I am intellectually unsubscribing from Nate Silver. Officially. Not that I was giving him much credence since 2016! It just has to be said that the time of pollsters has passed.
Election Night on TikTok: Anxiety, Analysis and Wishful Thinking
Here’s what the election was like for the Zoomies.
"The notorious leather bar SF Eagle is being used as a polling place for the first time"
"Can you find the Easter egg on this week's cover?"
It took me a moment! And...I’m mad that I have this (His.) visage burned in my brain.
"Photo of Trump bracing himself against cold"
This photo is so foul but I cannot stop looking at it. It’s quite surreal, disorienting.
A most excellent palate cleanser.
A look at some interesting people, in interesting times.
The Mad, Mad World of Niche Sports Among Ivy League–Obsessed Parents
This story is intriguing enough, about rich parents trying to get their kids into sports. But what’s most intriguing? The editor’s note, trying to contextualize how the writer fabricated elements of the story. This is some of the best, juiciest high-end drama.
Meet the Ebony Anglers, Five Black Women Catching Fish and Stares
If this is how the world is going to cover sports from now on, then I now care about sports coverage.
It’s Election Day. Do You Know How Your Matches Are Voting?
I’ve seen memes about this popping up for weeks but it’s officially a thing: cockblocking yourself when someone doesn’t “care about politics.”
Chris Christie Humiliated on Cameo
There will be a bigger story about Cameo at some point in the future but, again, it’s just a perfect format because you get to see celebrities (“celebrities”) unfiltered – and they frequently say shit they shouldn’t be saying.
Grammys Rename World Music Category Over “Connotations of Colonialism”
The Grammys, as an institution, sucks. But this move? Great.
Virtual Influencers Make Real Money While Covid Locks Down Human Stars
This was a major story this week because it speaks to the sort of existential dread that’s been discussed for years, how these virtual influencers are preferred over people because they do not question brand messaging or desires. Why would a brand work with someone who will have an opinion or questions about content when you can buy ad space with a virtual influencer, a de facto humanoid billboard?
CNN Closes Book on Great Big Story
Why CNN’s Great Big Story failed to survive
This hit me hard because Great Big Story was one of the most effective, most nourishing, most creative digital outlets working. They truly spanned the world and created bite-sized content that always wowed. Pour one out and dig into their videos, if you’re unfamiliar.
Remember in early quarantine, in the wide-eyed, “We’ll be back in the office by June!” days of March? This was when people banged pots for first responders at 7PM, when Zoom happy hours and “quarantinis” were en vogue, when washing your hands was sexy, when people were longing for toilet paper, when no cars were on the road and no pollution was in the air: remember those days?
This was also the time when vacationing-at-home became chic, when families cosplayed Disney in their driveway and when travelers figured out how to go away while staying put, using Photoshop to turn your living room into a vacation. Remember that?
This is a warning to you all: the vacation-at-home stories are coming again. And they will be just as annoying the second go around.
The first sniff of this came in mid-October, via the New York Times. “How to Escape Without Leaving Your Home” the story read, turning the staycation (Ugh.) idea on its head (“on its head”) by offering new ways to rediscover your small space during the new lockdown recommendations. A similar “How to Staycation in 6 American Cities” story offered tips to reimagine the place you’ve ostensibly been confined to for the entire year. Yes, it’s important to stay home. Yes, it’s important to stay safe. Yes, it’s stories like these that rub in how we are not able to surprise our inner circle with a trip to a private island. Instead, we stay home and imagine our vacations.
The difference in late 2020 as opposed to early 2020 is that regurgitating “staycation” content now lack the cheery “backyard camping” or “personal summer camps” vibe, instead delivered with more aggressive wrapping: stories about how Millennials are ready to transition full time to staycation or how teens are accidentally spreading disease by breaking staycations are what we’re going to be treated to. These stories represent the tense moment of rising rates, that we all want to run away but must stay put. It sucks. We all know this. Yet, this is but a tree in our communal Covid forest.
Be prepared for the staycation stories. With holiday (non-)travel approaching, we’re going to feel like the year folded upon itself, as brands and publications alike try to make our homes a location that they’re not.
Sorry, more bad news ahead.
Doctors begin to unlock the mystery behind long-term Covid-19
The so-called “long-Covid” scares the shit out of me. But, in the interest of knowing your enemies, read this to understand what the very TBD future effects and affects of the illness are.
Masks Work. Really. We’ll Show You How
As if I have to tell you: wear a mask! They really help – and this visualizes how they help!
A room, a bar and a classroom: how the coronavirus is spread through the air
This went semi-viral this week and, like the above mask item, these diagrams explore and explain how the virus spreads indoors. Keep this in mind throughout the Winter, people!
Kendall Jenner's party sets off social media criticism
Kris Jenner Tried To Justify Kendall's COVID-Rule Breaking
I don’t want to talk about these people but, again, I am a firm believer in looking at the horrible, the infuriating, and the upsetting so that you aren’t lying to yourself about the truths of the world. This is a fitting sequel to last week’s interrogation of the Kim Covid vacation anti-meme.
Don't Ignore the Good News On Covid-19 From Asia
This is a good reminder that we can fix the problem of Covid. Countries like South Korea and China are great proof – and show how important testing is.
Birx contradicts Trump in election eve memo urging coronavirus action
This was quite a power move on Monday, not that it helped, since people actively voted for more Covid.
Republican Politician Who Died of Covid-19 Wins Election in North Dakota
Speaking of! This is not funny but also funny. WEAR A MASK DONT VISIT YOUR FRIENDS INDOORS SOCIAL DISTANCE YOU KNOW THE DRILL DONT BE THICKHEADED
A message of hope from David Hockney for Lockdown 2
A nice sequel to his Spring reminder of hope.
Tierra Whack – Dora (Dir. by Alex Da Corte)
Tierra Whack is a genius and this song is so fun and the lyrics are so sharp. I highly recommend it along with the video, directed by amazing artist Alex Da Corte who is super, super cool.
Pizza Girl by Jean Kyong Frazier
Here’s a book rec! I finished this earlier in the week and it was a delight. The work is particularly of note for Los Angeles people and lovers of complicated queer tales with lots of dry humor throughout.
Jenny Hval and Alexandra Kleeman Talk Magic Words
Two of my favorite artists in conversation!
See Nick Cave’s New Public Art Project for Election Day
Artist Nick Cave has always been one to GO BIG. This Election Day message is quite nice – and a reminder of democracy’s power.
Dutch Train Wreck Ends Up Becoming Part Of Huge Sculpture
See? Art can save lives.
"If they’re doing 🤫 when it plays it makes it clear they aren’t saying it”
A very interesting thread about whiteness, TikTok, and the N-word. Come for the commentary, stay for the incredible Bob The Drag Queen dunk.
"Gap has now deleted this tweet."
I feel like this was somehow Kanye’s dumb idea.
Cardi B’s ‘WAP’ Proves Music’s Dirty Secret: Censorship Is Good Business
A funny story about the ways and means that people “cleanse” dirty songs.
Here Are All the Costumes Celebs Wore to Their At-Home Halloweens
Halloween? It was less than a week ago! Anyway, Bella Hadid as Poison Ivy is actually quite impressive.
13 scents by IKEA and Ben Gorham
The Byredo for Ikea candles have arrived! They are super affordable but be warned: they smell fine. (But they look great!)
These will definitely cheer you up.
"Intoxicating time warp. Every detail better than the last."
Video game history, via Dan Rather history.
Alton Brown’s Crazed Preelection Twitter Rant Is Food for the Soul
This was a highlight this week.
This will make you smile.
All of WAP played on macaroni in the pot
Technically, this should go in the aforementioned section because it is truly art.
"imagine having to explain this to a friend who isn't a very online person”
Expect to see this cat later and, for reference, here’s the reference.
“obviously she's conducting that infamous 11/4 bar from The Rite Of Spring”
Another good riff on the above.
"can’t stop thinking about this tiktok"
An extremely good this-week TikTok.
"2020 ELECTION POLLING"
This is mean but this is true.
"THIS HAS NO BUSINESS BEING THIS FUNNY"
Oh, election map humor.
Japan's mundane Halloween costume tradition persists
These are the best costumes every year and every year I forget to do a costume “like this.”
"THE WALMART DRAMA OMG SHE ATE"
There’s a hero
If you look inside your heart
You don't have to be afraid
Of what you are
"Every day I wake up"
This meme is very not-wrong.
And, finally, me this week.
Next week, we’re talking the meaning of Mariah Carey and robots as people.